With a three-day weekend stretching out ahead of you, you might be considering a creative project or two. Don’t be discouraged if you start and feel blocked. Stoking the Creative Fires: 9 Ways to Rekindle Passion and Imagination by Phil Cousineau, offers some ways to get fired up again.
At the crossroads of creativity, the artist is like a pilgrim on the road to Assisi, greeted by local peasants whispering “Don’t give up, don’t give up.” At the crossroads, we learn of our need for the guidance and support of a mentor, a model, an elder–someone who can keep us on the path. Emerson urged on the young Whitman; Louis Leakey believed in Jane Goodall when no one else did; Woody Guthrie encouraged Bob Dylan, even as he lay dying in a hospital.
Despite our living in a more-ironic-than-thou era, we can still find mentors and muses, these sources of fiery encouragement, if we just look carefully enough and have the sense to accept their help when we find them.What will you do? Who will you listen to? How badly do you want to move on? Maybe the gods will overlook you, but the great teachers tell us we have to look out for ourselves.
At this critical juncture in your creative journey, you must be ready and willing to ask for help to get you past the crossroads and keep you on the path. To do this, you need confidence, encouragement, and a model you trust enough to emulate. If you are stuck, seek some mythic guidance. This is the moment for the mentor, the muse, the wise elder. Your guide–whether found in the present or the past, in your studio or in an old book–can help you avoid calamity, encourage you, give you back your own heart, and, in some mysterious way, keep you going.
Your guiding force may be as near to you as the vein throbbing in your neck. Everyone has what Ray Bradbury calls “a secret self”–a mysterious stranger who lives in the imagination and is responsible for creativity–who keeps them on the path and helps them through the journey. “You have to believe in [your] secret self–or you shouldn’t be writing,” he said in a provocative interview.”God–give me guts!” shouted the message on the locker room bulletin board.
An extraordinary effort is required to achieve the prodigious creative works of this world. It takes an inordinate amount of energy and commitment to get past the crossroads and journey on to creativity. Because of this, many travelers on the creative path eventually quit, or turn in work that isn’t quite their own or isn’t the best they are capable of.
Dorothea Brande, the short-story writer and author of Becoming a Writer, a classic study of the creative life, summed it up like this: “Succeed–or stop!” Her not so subtle message was that, if you keep going, if you pass the crossroads, you can journey farther and go deeper than you’ve ever gone before. In doing so, you can even “disturb the universe” and tickle the curiosity of others. But to succeed in that way, you need guidance–the help or example of a mentor. As Pausanius said: “No man can live without counsel.”
As you consider who your models are in your own creative process, ask yourself these three questions:
1. Who do you turn to when you’re stuck?
2. Is there a mentor network in your community?
3. Do your guides lead you forward or hold you back?
Adapted from Stoking the Creative Fires: 9 Ways to Rekindle Passion and Imagination by Phil Cousineau (Conari Press, 2008).