The Ups and Downs of Committing to a Creative Project
When the coffee's on, I know it's almost ready when its thick, earthy smell fills the kitchen. There's been a lot of prep to get to that moment. It's been grown in fields, harvested, dried, roasted, ground, packaged, distributed, purchased, and scooped into a filter. But that moment when I'm sitting across the kitchen and the scent wafts over, and I know it's ready, that's a sweet moment. I know the day is about to begin.
For most of us, coffee isn't the end. It's the beginning. All of that growing and prepping and scooping and brewing was to get to the beginning.
Art is like that. Maybe everything in life is like that. There's a moment when the project, path, or idea that's been simmering away for years has finished brewing, and it fills the space of my brain, and suddenly everything about it is clear. I am ready to sit down with it. I am ready to commit to bringing it into the world.
It's a beautiful, shining moment of hope. And so I commit. I take my first sip.
And then the world dumps all over me.
In the past month, I've committed to two major projects - one in my writing, and one with my art (you're reading the result of that one now). With the prodding of a writer friend, I realized that a novel I'd left on the shelf for some time is one layer away from being ready to shop to agents. And, after some wonderful trial runs with Percolator Paint Nights, I decided to make them a regular, recurring event.
The day after I committed to getting my novel ready for Pitch Wars, a biennial contest that pairs writers with mentors, one of my dearest friends had a crisis. This is someone who has dropped everything for me - I stayed in her home during my divorce, she came to the doctor's with me when I was facing a daunting diagnosis. This is someone I will always drop everything for as well. So we sat and talked and cried and had cups of coffee. And when we had nothing to say, but she wanted someone nearby, I wrote while she fell asleep. That week, my car needed expensive repairs, my daughter needed rides across town for band camp, and the list goes on.
In the moments I could steal away, I wrote.
Then, a couple weeks later, when it was time to start building this website to give presence to the Paint Nights, there were concerns with my parents as my stepdad's dementia continued to progress. There was the beginning of my daughter's school year, and ramping up for this Fall's round of auditions. Again, people and events too important to push aside. And so, again, I found ways to create in the spaces in between.
Over time, what I've learned, is that this is part of the process. In The Artist's Way, Julia Cameron's fantastic book on creativity, Cameron talks about synchronicity: the way God and the universe will align to support our launching creative endeavors. But she also talks about how, the moment we have the courage to say Yes to this help, we can expect to be challenged by everything from crazy circumstances to what look like reasonable excuses for not putting in the work to people who fear facing their own creativity bringing doubt into our lives.
Here's the thing: I know myself well enough to know if I turned away my friend, ignored my parents, and refused to schlep my daughter and her tuba to the various lessons, musical clinics, and events that feed her, I will start becoming a person I don't like very much. But, I also know that if I say I'm submitting my novel to Pitch Wars, and then I don't do it because I let life get in the way, I will hate myself for that, too.
Some projects have soft deadlines, and I can flex them around life, as long as I don't ignore them completely. Other projects, like writing contests, have strict deadlines, and then I have to weigh whether it's worth it, whether that clear path, that fully brewed cup of coffee, was just to get me started on the journey, or whether it was to get me to the particular destination I have in mind. Either way, I have to honor the art for my soul to be full. Otherwise, I resent everything and everyone that I perceive as standing in the way.
Some coffee dates and movie nights and minor dramas can wait. But some relationships are too important to put off without damaging myself and others. These tend to come to a boil at exactly the same time as the coffee. And that's OK, and here's why:
If the dust of the universe that has lay still and dormant for years suddenly kicks up right when a project is ready to launch, there's always a lesson I need to learn that is essential for the path I've chosen.
The two may look unrelated at first glance. What does my friend's crisis have to do with my novel? On the surface, nothing. But in the stuff of who I am, everything. The novel is about overcoming fear and denial in order to experience authentic relationships and community. And this friend is the first person I ever did that with in my own life.
Some of the challenges that rose at home as I started preparing Percolator Paint Nights had to do with letting go as a parent. Meanwhile, this endeavor is what I am growing for myself as my daughter moves away from childhood and toward independence.
The challenges that rise when we say Yes are just as much part of the path as the the commitment to walk it. The journey is full of perks, and also full of the daily grind. Both are necessary.
P.S. Although this post is about process, not results, I realize that you may be wondering how Pitch Wars went. The mentor I approached received around 200 submissions. She selected 10 finalists. I was one of them. Ultimately, she chose to mentor someone else.
Thanks for visiting The Percolator's blog. I'm a big believer in using art to make a positive impact on our communities. Check back often for ideas, articles, and more about art, writing, and creativity in general. ~Bethany