Thursday, January 28, 2010

Misery & the Creative Muse

“Why Grumpy Can be Rather Good for You”
[by Guest Artist Samantha Brightwell]

Inspiration. It's mysterious, it's evanescent, it's transcendent. When we've got it, we feel great. Life is good and days are too short. But what happens when the inspiration thins, disappears or just seems to have flat out packed up and gone? Do you frantically search for it in places you last saw it, like a favourite lost pen? Or do you wait for the next wave of new ideas to come rolling in, bringing a hit of the blessed endorphins we all love so much? My guess is it depends on how patient you are. I’m not, at all. So here are my thoughts on inspiration and the dilemma of waiting for my Muse to drop in.

Roadblocks and doldrums

As an artist, I've hit roadblocks before that have interrupted my creative flow for weeks or even months. For me, it's a visit from Churchill's 'Black Dog' that usually does it. Though art can be the thing that gets me out of it again (and please know that I mean writing, as much as painting or crafting, when I use this term). But this time around it wasn't depression or stress that was interrupting my work, because this time around I was happy. I’d just met someone great and was cruising through the contentment of being admired and feeling attracted to someone. It was a beautiful meeting of minds. Only my intelligent writer’s mind seemed to have vanished, leaving me adrift without a care.

I did the only sensible thing I could do at the time: I surrendered to the thing and let it flow. But little nigglings started to creep in after a few weeks. I’m a subscriber to the view that as a writer you turn up at the page, regardless of the whimsy or the mood you’re floating through. There will always be a million other things going on in my life that attempt to distract me from my art (my work – I see the two terms as interchangeable … one and the same thing). But the urge to write is always there and can always be relied on. Or so I thought. Yet here I was, staring at the keyboard, with nothing coming out.

Look on the bright side!

I started to face the possibility that contentment could be antagonistic to my creative process. Years of writing forged from struggle and discontentment might have just conditioned me to working from that place. Is my writing often grumpy? I don’t know. Perhaps there is a certain amount of what I hope is humorous self-deprecation involved (it’s a Brit thing – think Hugh Laurie or Rowan Atkinson). Darker subjects often seem to hold more depth and mileage for me but I don’t think I’m the only one affected by this bug.

Recently I came across an interesting review in the Telegraph, about Lady Antonia Fraser’s newly published memoirs of her marriage to the great British playwright and poet, Harold Pinter. They were together for over 30 years, until his death in 2008, but many of the critics believe that his truly great works were those written before his relationship with Fraser began in 1975. Fraser herself attributes the changes in his writing and political views to a change from an unhappy, complicated personal life, to a happy, uncomplicated personal life.

Endorsing grumpiness, ‘down under’

There, I thought. This could be the proof that I need to show that there is a definite link between misery and the creative muse. But how can I write about this? The Positive Thinking Police will never allow it to pass into real circulation as an idea.

Don’t panic. I’m not about to start promoting grumpiness as a way to cultivate your creative flow. However, you might like to think about this first before you dismiss me as a total crank:

A psychology expert in Australia, who has been carrying out a study into emotions at the University of New South Wales, has found that being grumpy can be good for you. Apparently, being grumpy makes you think more clearly and miserable people are better at decision-making. In a series of tasks carried out by his subjects, he found that that those in a bad mood outperformed those who were jolly. How surprising is that? And this is where it gets particularly interesting for those of us who spend a lot of time writing: he found that sad people were better at stating their case through written argument and had a more successful communication style.

Embracing dissatisfaction

Is contentment antagonistic to my creative process? Well, does it really matter? I won’t always be this ridiculously happy. The sheen of new love will one day fade to the pleasant fulfilment of building an ordinary life together (please, I’m just being realistic). I won’t always feel satisfied with the way things are right now. And this is where I think the Positive Thinking Cult can do us a little more harm than good. Because it’s ok to want to strive for excellence in your art. In fact, I firmly believe it’s good to know your weaknesses and keep pushing yourself to achieve mastery. But if we’re always repeating the mantra of gratitude and appreciation for what we have, then aren’t we always saying that we accept things the way they are and we’re not really hungry for more?

What’s wrong with wanting more anyway? Because more is what brings us great changes and developments in human evolution. Wanting more is what drives social changes and makes the world a better place. And in order to want more we have to be a little bit dissatisfied with what we’ve got right now. I know I am. Aren’t you?

I’m signing off today with an open mind to the notion that maybe my Muse loves a little bit of misery. And I think that that’s ok. I also think that we’d all do well to embrace our grumpiness a bit more readily, because though there may be beasties within, there also may be diamonds.

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{For more thoughts on inspiration and the creative process, please visit my blog, Out of the Void}

I'm a writer, a conscious-living coach and a business advisor. I juggle all that with being a mum and letting my inner artist out to play. When the inspiration is flowing, I write about creativity and conscious living at Out of the Void .  In February, I'm launching a business support programme for arty-types, creative souls and innerpreneurs, called How To Build A Really Good Business  My goal is to help you create success. There are 50 million Cultural Creatives out there, and when we all step into our power, we just might change the world.

1 comment:

  1. Well fancy that!! I get a two-fer in my visit today....

    I can certainly relate to the angst=productivity approach..I just look back to the reams and reams of fabulous poetry I wrote in my turbulent and antagonistic youth...

    Hmmm....perhaps I should rethink my quest for Zen...;)

    Fab article, glad I wandered by!!

    ~much love~



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