It's the challenge, one that even the most celebrated authors and artists have made clear when in conversation with dreamers (like me) -- the creative life is work, hard work. It's not just making the art, it's making the time to make the art. Herding ideas. Capturing them to keep them when time is not at hand.
Who has the time, that elusive, crystal time? I have the time that ticks toward an end, ticks like an egg timer with a single, awkward "ding", saying it's all over. I always pictured the creative life as the writer possessed by idea and time, in the room designated "own". Artists in their barns. Gardeners, morning til night, coaxing flowers to bloom, boundless time to ward off weed and rot.
Summer Night, Winslow Homer, 1890
I just read a piece on Winslow Homer in Downeast Magazine, a study of the artist's studio, aloof (and precious) in its Maine Coast grit and ruggedness. Turns out there was nothing pristine about the spot, not in Homer's day. The Homers were loud and numerous when he worked in Prouts Neck; picnics were events, peopled with waving arms and flying retort. All this shatters my image of quiet productivity. And yet, Winslow Homer's paintings were tightly constructed, perfect, and no one but Homer lives in that iconic crash of Maine waves.
Surely, creativity must thrive in wide, empty space. I know empty space is an elusive thing. Here are some prompts, structure that could give permission to be fractured in these fractious and fraught times.
Keep Track of Yourself
Write it down. Different notebooks for different outings is my approach. Consulting clients in development have their own Moleskin paperback. When I travel, it's a Moleskin hardback, palm-sized. I keep my every day brainstorms in a series of orange elastic-banded notebooks. Journals come in every shape and size to reflect the chapter you're in. I just ordered my latest journal from Etsy. A genius creation by a Toronto artist, each hand-bound diary is inspired by a vintage publication, depicting the first edition cover on its hard and colorful binding, and including the first chapter of the book you choose. I chose The Luckiest Girl.
Create in Groups
Last week's Sunday Styles featured Dream Groups, gatherings often led by experts and sometimes operated autonomously to explore members' nocturnal activity of the mind. While the article posited the groups a bit scarily as channels for seeking intimacy, I like the idea of using dreams as writing prompts.
My dearest Maggie told me of her Journaling Group in Galveston. They meet weekly in the morning, artists and writers, non-artists and "never wrote a things". One particular member is plugged in, does research on journaling prompts, has a book or two and leads her group with 10-to-20 minute writing sessions. Journalers then "share" (if they want to) as part of the exposition and development of their art.
The Diarist Workshop is a resource for writing in groups, and has some great links for writing prompts and inspiration.
Creating the Space
Writing it down, no matter your medium, is where to start. Dani Shapiro wrote in her recent blog entry called "On Talking" that capturing an idea or thought or story, instead of talking about it, is what makes or breaks momentum as an artist. It's a spontaneity thing, and for sociable people, discussion is tantamount to life.
Good pen, right setting, best paper. An elastic band to snap shut around it. Capturing the moment. Maybe that's the art, itself.
Even the Icons struggled to Capture It
Virginia Woolf and Katherine Mansfield were literary friends in the early part of the last century; they were prolific writers, artists, diarists. In 1918, Virginia Woolf published Katherine Mansfield's great book "Prelude" from her own Hogarth Press. She and Leonard printed and bound the first 300 copies of her friend's creation, by hand. About this time, Virginia wrote Katherine about dealing with her own challenge with elusive ideas in a letter I found in archive at Smith College. These are truly journaling words:
Virginia Woolf writes:
“What is your ultimate desire—to what do you so passionately aspire?"
Then answers, for her friend Katherine, for herself.
"To write books and stories and sketches and poems.”