What To Do When You’ve Quit Your Creative Pursuit(s) Too Many Times

Oct 01, 2018

Creativity Inspiration Dreams Artist Art
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Photo by Steve Johnson

We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.

Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society

This is the quote I turn to when I want to write again but hesitate knowing all too well how often I’ve given it up. Or when I’m lacking creative inspiration because my muse hasn’t come around in a while. I remind myself why my endless attempts to start writing again matter. Because it’s way too easy to give up. To find something else to do. To justify the distractions. It becomes second nature to abandon yet another new project or idea.

I have a running list of the stories I tell myself to defend my decision to quit. You may have your own. Let me know if any of mine sound familiar:

Of course, there is no rational point, ultimately, to any creative pursuit, in the larger scheme of things. Life will still go on if ballet suddenly vanished, or if a symphony orchestra was never again conducted. No one would stop breathing if poetry ended or galleries all shut down. But that is the point Robin Williams is making in his quote — the arts aren’t necessary for our physical survival, but they are for our emotional survival. They feed our soul.

All that is good and dandy but it often won’t hold up against the weight of the resistance we will feel in pursuing the arts, both from ourselves and others around us. The stories we tell ourselves that cause us to quit writing, dancing, painting, can be so much stronger than the one that simply says “but this is what brings me joy.” And so we quit, yet again. Or put it aside “for later.” Or decide it’s just a “nice side hobby.” And life moves on, you survive, you find other ways to pay the bills.

But then it comes back, knocking anew. That subtle feeling of something missing. The desire for something deeper, something beyond the mundane and day-to-day realities. We try to answer but feel defeated. We have quit one too many times and no longer feel worthy of the muse’s calling. We don’t believe we can start once more. “Why bother?” we think. “I’ll just quit again.”

If you find yourself in this place, creatively, there are only two things you need to do:

Step 1: Forgive yourself.

Step 2: Try again.

That’s it. Easier said than done, yes. Difficult to actually put into practice, yes. But nevertheless, that’s it.

Elizabeth Gilbert puts this well when she says:

As for discipline — it’s important, but sort of over-rated. The more important virtue for a writer, I believe, is self-forgiveness. Because your writing will always disappoint you. Your laziness will always disappoint you. You will make vows: “I’m going to write for an hour every day,” and then you won’t do it. You will think: “I suck, I’m such a failure. I’m washed-up.” Continuing to write after that heartache of disappointment doesn’t take only discipline, but also self-forgiveness.

Quitting does not, and will never, define you as an artist. What defines you and me as artists is our expression of that yearning we feel to write, sing, waltz, knit, cook… no matter whether anyone else ever sees it.

The creative path is a mine field amidst a lush garden, full of crippling thoughts and messages that can explode at any moment and wound our soul and hurt the process, all the while flowers are blooming and the possibilities for growth are endless. It is full of risk and reward, heartache and hidden delight. We must learn the fine balance of treading lightly and planting our feet firmly in order to leave footprints.

So forgive yourself, creative one, and try again, and again, as many times as it takes.