It was the beginning of the summer, and I was overwhelmed. For a while now, I've been searching for a clear direction in my creative life, for this blog, over and over again listing all the different things I'm working on. Blog, novel, book club, Etsy shop, photography.
Structuring and scattering. Finding my focus and losing it again.
I have tried to live my creative life with a big flaw.
I have tried to do everything I want to do.
It may sound like living the dream, to do everything you want to do. But the reality is that it often interferes with your dreams, turning you into a stressed person half-assing many projects at once.
I don't know about you, but that's neither how I want to live nor create.
The messy creative life, with a hundred projects going at once, creating a little here, a little there. It can be ever so attractive. We feel alive, following inspiration and the whims of our creativity, ditching structure and giving routine the finger.
If your creativity is only an outlet, a happy place that you go to, a way to explore and create your way through life, which can be a fantastic way to be creative, then the messy style might work very well.
But if you're haunted by a tingling creative dream, an urge to create something bigger, to turn your creativity into a job or make people think or write as beautifully as your favorite author, then you might need a different kind of creative life.
I'm an enthusiastic kind of person. I'm easily inspired and I enjoy many things. The messy puzzle of a lifestyle attracts me, but nowadays I'm finding myself increasingly drawn to slowing down. To sinking deep into my creativity with a cup of tea in my hand and a dream on the horizon.
I think this might also be me coming out of a year and half long period of exploring, with a clarity that I've lacked, ready to slow down and focus. The mess was probably essential to figure out where I want to go, but now that I have, I'm ready to draw smaller circles.
So how do we do it, simplifying and focusing, when we would prefer to do everything that inspires us?
Well, we do just the thing that is hardest for us. We choose.
Everything isn't equally important
In my search for a way to simplify my creative life, I bought the book Essentialism by Greg McKeown. I wanted to choose, to prioritize, but I didn't know how. Everything seemed important, because I wanted to do everything I was doing (and more). Greg McKeown quickly reassured me that I'm not alone in feeling like that. He writes:
A non-Essentialist thinks almost everything is equally important.
The book then goes on to tirelessly force you to shift your requirements for saying yes to something. That is, it makes a compelling argument to be more picky with what you spend your time on.
If you're one of us with a dream on the horizon, getting there will be that much longer if you're also running after a dog who's going left, a pretty flower on the right and turning back home for a snack. The road to that horizon is complicated and curvy enough on its own.
The point is that you need boundaries towards your own inspiration to be able to choose your most important creative work, when your brain goes ooh that would be fun.
You may need to say no to a whole bunch of fun things that isn't as important as that dream of yours. It can be painful, I know. It can be that thing you deep inside know you should do, but really don't want to.
But consider this: saying yes to a bunch of things in fact means you're saying no to your dream. Or at least pushing it way ahead into the future, confusing and overwhelming yourself along the way, not to mention the frustration of not making any progress.
Is it worth that?
Start with the core
Looking back on how I've tried to simplify my creative life, I now understand I've been going about it backwards.
Before, I looked at my current creative life, searching for ways to simplify it.
Essentialism taught me to instead start with my most important creative dreams and figure out what is essential to making them happen.
When you ignore status quo for a moment, you force yourself to reevaluate what is really bringing you closer to where you want to go. Then it's much easier to see which things are pulling you away and which are helping you.
So if you're serious about this, if you're ready to focus, then it's time to ask yourself the hard questions.
Which is your strongest creative dream?
What is it you really want to do in your life?
What creative work could you never let go of?
Then look at what work is related to that fierce core, and what isn't. What's most important to getting there, and what is less so. Then, dear, you may need to take out the big scissor and snip off some non-essentials.
My simplified creative life
Working through Essentialism, I identified the two most important things in my creative life.
Helping creatives like you.
Writing my novel.
Know what isn't there? Sharing and selling my art, and you can probably guess why by now. Painting and drawing is something I enjoy, it's been important in exploring my creativity, but it's not as important. Right now, it's pulling my energy away from my strongest dreams.
So as much as it saddens me, I've decided to close my Etsy shop. This doesn't mean I will stop painting and drawing entirely, but I won't sell and the practice will take a backseat for now. Maybe I'll reopen it in the future, maybe I won't. Maybe it will give a new level of freedom to my art, that will make it more important in the future.
For now, doing the work it would take to make it a good, happy Etsy shop isn't the kind of work I want to focus on. It would overshadow my more important creative projects.
You could say that I'm at a crossroad between whether I should go deeper into my Etsy shop project, or let it go. And I've decided to let it go.
For a while now, I've known in the back of my head that my art is like an add-on, rather than a core project for me. I resisted letting go of my shop partly because I have invested time in it and because it's a concrete way of earning a little bit of money from my creativity. Not because I actually, deep in my heart, longed to do the work.
Now I'm choosing my fiercest dreams, I'm choosing a slower and deeper pace, I'm saying no to overwhelm and it's a decision I'm very happy with.
Maybe there's something that you in your heart know isn't your most important work. Something that pulls your attention away from the dream on the horizon, the one you know you need to head towards.
If so, what is the choice you need to make?