Finding your creative self in the New Year

By Hugh Gilmore
Posted 1/8/21

Is there some way in which you're hoping to live a more creative life this year? Are you hoping to express yourself? Begin wood sculpting, or quilting, or writing a novel or memoir? Writing songs?

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Finding your creative self in the New Year


Is there some way in which you're hoping to live a more creative life this year? Are you hoping to express yourself? Begin wood sculpting, or quilting, or writing a novel or memoir? Writing songs? Are you hoping to lead an authentic life, one where you follow your personal star and not passively allow yourself to get sucked into the soft cushions of pop culture?

Those ubiquitous earbuds everyone wears, the internet they dabble with, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, television: they are all provided by people who intend to make you become passive and inexpressive.

They're not people, actually, they're corporations with products to sell. They hire "entertainment" companies to entice you to sit still long enough to absorb their ads. The more attention you give their products and the more money they make, the more brain cells you lose. They capture the greatest number of eyes and ears by appealing to the trite and obvious. Television, even cable TV, is the elephants’ boneyard of received wisdom. YouTube is endless fun but leaves you feeling you've eaten nothing but cotton candy for a night.

You only get one life. Tomorrow is never guaranteed. When should you begin your creative life, start capturing in print or song or paint the things you've noticed about life on earth? Does the fact that you worked all day, whether in or out of your home, mean you have to swoon onto the sofa every night?  

When does the time come to start living our real lives? No gong is ever going to sound and no celestial finger is ever going to point and say, "You! Yes you! Get up and start your true life's work now. The time has come."

Life doesn't work that way. Life creeps by, insidiously, quietly, entertainingly (if you have enough gadgets, you'll never get bored enough to notice), until it's all gone. It's possible that the only way to start your creative personal life is to pick a date and start. If you pick a date and you mean it, even though it frightens you, you'll figure out how to start.

Most people say, "I don't have time right now." They'll wait till there's a little more time in their busy schedules – not getting it: there will never be more time. 

How much time can you give your project?  An hour a day is probably good. Two may be better, but even a half-hour will do, as long as you stay consistent. Try with all your might to make your work be daily, for the same length of time. A page a day of a novel or memoir means you'll be done in a year.

If you feel on any given day you have nothing to say, sing, or whittle, it doesn't matter. Go to your chair at your appointed hour and sit there the whole time. If you're writing, for example, just tap one key over and over. You'll probably get bored and start typing words, or sentences. And a story, or memory, will come and you'll write it down. And you'll teach yourself to write that way. Read your writing back to yourself aloud (or record it and listen). Everything you do in your chair counts toward your time.

Once you start, you'll have many temptations to quit. You'll have to face your own laziness and self-pity, your feelings of worthlessness, your negative energies and your own weariness after years of letting American commercial culture do your thinking for you. And the only way to undo that is to show up, every day, and stay the appointed time. Before long, the mental and spiritual muscles you were born with will redevelop. If you put in your time, you'll feel good about yourself. If you don't, you'll feel like you're lazy, and an excuse-seeker.

On a more personal note, I want to say that in the year 2000, on my birthday, I made up my mind that I'd delayed long enough and I started to write nearly every day. Along the way I learned to recognize what I call "the enemies of writing." Leaking roofs and crying babies are obvious inclusions on that list, but the real enemies are more invisible and inhibiting. They dwell in our own hearts and minds as the enemies of our artistic selves.

Sometimes it's this simple: a writer is a person who writes, an artist is a person who paints or sculpts or plucks or bends or sings until they've created something no one's ever seen or heard or thought or felt. before. Whatever your form of expression, there's no time like now to start expressing it. We have never lived in more terrible or more interesting times.

There's much more to finding your creative self than what's been said here. And there's no guarantee you'll get to Carnegie Hall. But you'll be able to say, "I tried." A hungry soul can find much solace in saying that.

Hugh's first book, a novel called "Last Night on the Gorilla Trail," was written in the back of his bookshop. He arrived each morning two hours early, and hand-wrote the story in old-fashioned marbleized-cover school copybooks. Writing exactly 10 pages a day, he finished in six months. And then the work began. He says he never felt more alive.