By Noelle Sterne
Many of us feel a strong calling to express our talents—in the literary arts, music, dance, media, crafts, sciences, or any other field. In my profession of writing, almost every writer I know feels guilty for not writing enough, producing enough, and sending out enough pieces. But for “creatives,” as spiritual creativity guru Julia Cameron labels us all (The Artist’s Way, p. 33), I’ve recognized another unproductive, thwarting, and possibly paradoxical self-recrimination.
Too Much Creation?
Preoccupied with pulverizing our blocks and eeking out a few precious minutes to devote to our passion, we rarely speak about this type of guilt. It is this:
We feel guilty because we are creating.
Especially during our most prolific times, an insidiously rational voice whispers, “I’m spending too much time here . . . I should be doing something more socially useful.”
In The Artist’s Way, Cameron calls this guilt the “virtue trap”:
We strive to be good, to be nice, to be helpful, to be unselfish. We want to be generous, of service, of the world.
For creative women especially, Cameron quotes Leslie M. McIntyre’s wry observation:
Nobody objects to a woman being a good writer or sculptor or geneticist if at the same time she manages to be a good wife, good mother, good-looking, good-tempered, well-groomed, and unaggressive. (p. 99)
Do you experience such guilt-making constraints? Put everyone and everything else first? Give your time, energy, and attention to others and skimp on the same precious resources for yourself?
These questions connect to a startling and profound passage by Jesus in the apocryphal Gospel of Thomas:
If you bring forth what is within you, what you have will save you. If
you do not have [bring forth] that within you, what you do not [bring forth] within you [will] kill you. (The Gospel of Thomas, no. 70, The Five Gospels: The Search for the Authentic Words of Jesus, p. 513)
That is, when we allow ourselves to express through our chosen mode of creative expression, our production will “save” us. But when we keep our drive to create bottled up, deny or ignore it, and deprive ourselves of even a little creative time, we stop creating at all. And we get depressed and sick, overeat, overspend, oversleep, overtube, and snap at everyone within mouthshot.
The Guilt of Honoring Ourselves
Unfortunately, as soon as we give ourselves time to create, others may react and fuel the guilt of honoring ourselves. One writer finally let her answering machine take over during her writing sessions. When she chose to pick up the phone, her best friend fumed, “Why are you hiding from me?”
As this writer found, whatever our passion, it’s hard to allow it. We’re bucking the entire expected social order, attested by everyone we say No to.
I recall agonizing for weeks with a block the size of a giant cement slab. At last, carving out two evening hours for writing, I sat down. But all I could think of was the list of essentials missing from the refrigerator.
On the phone, I whined to a friend. “How can I sit here and scribble? I should be doing something useful, like being a decent homemaker—or a social worker!”
She laughed. “Do you know how valuable words are? Their power?”
“Ever hear of the Bible or Hamlet, or the Declaration of Independence?”
Her words about words cracked my block, and it shattered for good when I read this stirring description of writers—and it applies to every creative:
Visionaries, we predict the future . . . interpreting social trends, human nature, and historical patterns, punching holes in our readers’ complacency, revealing unpleasant truths, exposing possibilities and destroying our pretenses. (Rosenbaum and Rosenbaum, The Writer’s Survival Guide, p. 93)
These words helped me get back to writing. But to truly corral and put out to pasture my guilty feelings, I needed to practice. The following four imperatives, applicable to any creatives, helped me overcome creative guilt.
Erroneously, we think our creative desires and dreams are frivolous, bad, ridiculous. Creating feels too good, and we tell ourselves that it isn’t “God’s Will” for us. We’re wrong: our work, and the drive for it, come directly from God. Many spiritual teachers encourage us.
In the Bible, Paul instructed his fellow evangelist Timothy, “Do not neglect your gift”(1 Timothy 4:14). This admonition echoes down to us.
Cameron declares, “Creativity is God’s gift to us. Using our creativity is our gift back to God. Our creative dreams and yearnings come from a divine source” (The Artist’s Way, p. 3).
Metaphysical teacher Eric Butterworth explains, “The will of God is the ceaseless longing of the Spirit in you to completely fulfill in the outer the potential within you” (Discover the Power Within You, p. 143).
Motivational author Peter McWilliams directs us: “Your job is to fulfill your Dream” (Do It! Let’s Get Off Our Buts, p. 419).
So, dare to believe that your dream of creating is given to you—you only and specially—from a divine source.
Know that your yearning is far from silly, meaningless, or groundless. Rather, know you can accomplish your dream. Of course, you may need training, practice, and experience, but the very strength of your aspirations means you’ll succeed.
If you’re questioning your calling and talent, don’t. A “deep desire,” says McWilliams, “also comes with an inborn ability to achieve that desire” (Do It! Let’s Get Off Our Buts, p. 65).
Abraham reassures: “Within the seed of your desire is everything necessary for it to blossom to fulfillment. And Law of Attraction is the engine that does the work. Your work is just to give it a fertile growing place in order to expand” (Abraham-Hicks Workshop, Albuquerque, NM, No. 509, May 9, 1999).
But we need mental vigilance to be true to ourselves. Every time our fledgling self-confidence peaks out, negatives swoop in like preying crows. To send them flapping, we need the discipline of declining.
Observe your thoughts for a minute or so. You’ll be amazed at how many carry pessimism and anticipation of the worst:
- I’ll never become a real writer (or painter, singer, dancer, musician, filmmaker, photographer, inventor, chef, wood carver . . . ).
- I’ll never get published (or commissioned, called back, signed up, assigned, optioned . . .).
- I should have stayed in school to get another degree.
- I’m really very selfish.
Such thoughts may feel natural, especially because most people think pessimistically. But a negative outlook is not natural, nor is a martyr resolve.
Nor is a putting-off mentality. Some of us live by the law of “Someday.” “Someday, I’ll make the junk room into a writing studio.” “Someday, when my oldest kid leaves, I’ll make her room into a darkroom.” “Someday, when I retire, I’ll convert the basement into a workshop.”
Someday comes, all right, but that Someday room and time always get filled with other “necessities,” a kid returning, more outgrown and no-longer-used stuff.
To stop the Someday chorus, with or without your equivalent, start thinking “I create now.” Writers, for example, work everywhere—at the kitchen table, in the car, the library, the park, a café. Take an inventory of places and spaces for your private space—a garage, attic, sun room, friend’s place, rented studio, space in a collective.
A warning, though: As we saw above with the writer who dared to let her answering machine pick up, changing your behavior often provokes others’ shock, disappointment, hurt, anger, tears, or outrage. After all, they’ve always counted on you. Your refusal, though, doesn’t mean you’ll never do anything for them again. It means that now you’re in charge of if, when, and how much to do. Set your limits, explain with kind firmness, and stick to your guns.
When you do, family and friends may become surprisingly understanding and secretly proud of your new self: “Oh, he’s an inventor. You know how they are.”
They may also share startling admissions. One writer mustered the courage to tell her father she’d take him shopping only once a week instead of four times for things he “forgot.” She told him she needed the time to write.
He shook his head. “I wish I had your discipline. I’ve always wanted to develop my photography, but there were so many other things I thought I had to do.” Julia Cameron’s “virtue trap” is unisex.
As you take the physical steps, bolster your new sense of deserving with affirmative declarations. Spend five quiet minutes daily, morning and evening, repeating affirmations:
- I deserve to create.
- My creative desire is God’s gift to me.
- No one stands in my way.
- I don’t stand in my way.
- I have enough time, money, energy, interest, and cooperation from everyone to create consistently.
- The more I give to myself, the more others are blessed.
- Being a creative harms no one.
- Being a creative makes me feel good and keeps me healthy.
- Being a creative blesses me and everyone I meet and know.
During your sessions, other similar words or phrases may float in. They’re your wiser Self talking to you. Listen and use them.
As you practice the principles and your affirmations, you’ll wrestle less with creating too little or too much. You’ll know deeply that you deserve to create in your chosen medium, enjoy it greatly, and profit rightly from it. Your creativity will flow and your deservingness and conviction in your gifts will strengthen. And you’ll perfectly crush your creative guilt.
Noelle Sterne, Ph.D. (Columbia University), author, mainstream and academic editor, writing coach, workshop leader, and spiritual counselor, has published over 400 writing craft and spiritual pieces, personal and academic essays, poems, and fiction in print and online periodicals and blog sites. Publications include Author Magazine, Chicken Soup for the Soul, Children’s Book Insider, Funds for Writers, InnerSelf, Inside Higher Ed, New Age Journal, Ruminate, Thesis Whisperer, Transformation Magazine, Textbook and Academic Authors Association Blog, Two Drops of Ink, Unity Magazine, The Writer, and Writer’s Digest. In Trust Your Life: Forgive Yourself and Go After Your Dreams (Unity Books, 2011), Noelle helps readers release regrets and reach lifelong yearnings. In Challenges in Writing Your Dissertation: Coping with the Emotional, Interpersonal, and Spiritual Struggles (Rowman & Littlefield Education, 2015) she helps doctoral candidates complete their degrees. Noelle is finally rounding the completion corner of her first novel. For more, see Noelle’s website: http://www.trustyourlifenow.com.