What If It's Work?

As a writing coach and editor, I often get questions from my clients about establishing a routine within a chaotic schedule. What if our inspired times don’t overlap with our calendars? How do we press on and remain faithful to the call to create, even when we may not feel like it?

That’s the paradox: we are moms and wives and full-time employees and volunteers and business owners, and the time we get to create just may not be the inspired time. The one hour you set aside to create may be a frustrating Tuesday morning after you lock your keys in your car. It may be an evening when Netflix and a glass of wine look ten times better than pounding away at your laptop. Or, if you are lucky, the edges of your schedule and that stir to create may overlap just enough to make something and enjoy the process.

On the other hand, what about the times we feel flooded by inspiration but just don’t have time to take our ideas for a spin? It happens to me frequently--just as I am dozing off in bed, the most cadent, meaningful sentence floats into my brain, assaulting me until I dart out of bed to write it down. (That’s why I tell all my clients to keep a bedside notebook--those midnight hankerings don’t mess around. And your morning self may not forgive your midnight self for letting that idea go. Trust me on that one.)

The truth is, inspiration slips in and out of our creative lives as it pleases, frustrating as often as it elates. But if we frame it just right, that’s a beautiful truth, because it reminds us we are human, and we aren’t in control. It schools us in the art of discipline, or engaging with our craft even when we don’t feel like it. And if we are willing to dig for it, I think we will find some very powerful material resides in that place. Perhaps the words that will change the world are hidden beneath the parts of ourselves we haven’t explored yet.

That exploring takes discipline. Think of it this way: if you have a gym membership, how many mornings do you actually feel like going to the gym in any average week? If you’re like me, the answer is a boldface, all-caps ZERO. But the mornings I tear the covers off, get dressed, and drive to the Y as the sun rises--those mornings are special. I would even argue they are holy. Because I’ve chosen to deny myself, my comfort and my emotions, for the sake of tending to something much more lasting than that cozy, underneath-the-covers haze I face every morning.

My workouts on those days may be slower or even begrudging, but that’s not the point. It’s my mind I’ve really invested in. In physically moving when it’s actually the last thing I want to do, I’m training myself to believe I can do it. And more than that, that I get to. Every time we surprise ourselves with our own endurance and capability, we carry that with us into the next day, setting ourselves in a new and healthy rhythm.

For us makers and creators, I think the discipline is similar. Sure, the amped-up, inspired times are romantic, but they’re not reliable. They’re euphoric, but they’re also elusive. They’re stimulating, but they’re not sustainable. How do we achieve balance? Where’s the sweet spot?

Maybe the answer is in the self denial. What if the act of creating, and writing in particular, isn’t about inspiration at all, but about the choice to dig into ourselves until we uncover beauty? What if art-making is more about soul-mining than serendipity? What if it’s the mundane, physical act of putting pen to paper until truth outweighs deceit, and light outshines darkness? What if it’s work?

When we begin to reframe the creative life, inviting grit to work alongside inspiration, we get to grasp a new degree of glory. Because the act of creating mimics sanctification, and I think that’s no mistake. God, coy and clever like always, designed hard work to be part of the plan. Just like the spiritual-mountaintop seasons don’t and can’t carry us through our Jesus-following lives, the inspired moments that punctuate our art-making aren’t a steady foundation for our creative lives.

Inspiration may invigorate, but discipline integrates, uniting our inner and outer lives until we look like Jesus. When we create without the corresponding emotions and say “yes,” however faint, to the call to write or sculpt or paint or photograph, our flawed, human selves encounter the selves Heaven longs to adorn. And in that tension, beauty flickers into being.

Keep writing. Keep creating.  Because when you are pressed for time and for inspiration, when you tap diligently, rhythmically into the core of who you are, the God-hid beauty inside you will flood out and into a thirsty world.