The Daily Work of Making

If you are alive, you've probably heard the trope of the scatterbrained artist. Disorganized, messy, erratic, or, to soften the blow, "quirky." Clothes on the floor, half-finished watercolor paintings on the table or desk, a considerable lack of time and financial management (closely tied with the "starving artist" stereotype). The general attitude: "I'll get to it when I get to it." There is a massive temptation to give in to this kind of disorderliness just because it's the way of the "typical artist." Even if there weren't such an expectation, I have a difficult time doing normal adult life-structuring activities, such as keeping a calendar, without risking an anxiety attack. This is to the detriment of my psyche, people who are dependent on my responsibility, and occasionally my checking account.

But where this truly wreaks havoc is in my art and faith.

Like many amateur and professional artists, I have struggled with consistent creation. Like many people, I tried to justify this: "I can't create unless I feel the inspiration. I don't really feel like making much right now. It's not flowing, so why try to force it?"

Waiting for that feeling of inspiration is like waiting for a hip youth conference to live like Jesus. In both cases, these small doses of intense inspiration result in a lot of fruit all at once. For example, in a burst of creativity, I might write two full songs. After a great spiritual experience, I might try to get to know a homeless person for an afternoon and play lots of four-chord worship songs on my guitar.

But after that enthralling flash, what does life revert back to? The same unstructured sloppiness, saying, "I hope I have another one of those moments." Let's face it, no one is excited to live like that.

Those moments of artistic inspiration are wonderful and intense and beautiful and I love the feeling it gives me. But what I've realized is that when you wait for those moments, your art never improves. Maybe marginally, just by figuring a couple things out, but by and large, you aren't practicing your art, so you aren't getting much better. The same goes with our faith journeys. We have these moments--maybe it's after a Gungor concert or you've just finished a Shane Claiborne book or something. Those are both wonderful experiences I have had. But a spiritual life ruled by stagnant apathy and punctuated by little shots of spiritual good vibes doesn't ever challenge you to grow. You're not being pushed, questioned, encouraged daily. You aren't practicing your faith, so you aren't getting much better.

The answer is exactly what artists like me tend to resist: getting up every day and working. If the only time you work is in a time of raw inspiration, do you love your art or do you love feeling inspired to do art? If the only time you listen to what Jesus says is when you feel super spiritual, do you love Jesus or do you love feeling spiritual?

I'm not saying that to love those things is bad. Everyone loves feeling inspired or spiritual. But if you want to get better at your work, you need to do it consistently when you don't feel like it. Daily decisions determine your destiny, and what you practice the most is what you will be best at doing. You will still have times of inspiration and creative doldrums, but what you'll find is that when you're inspired, you will produce better work because you've practiced working when you're not inspired.
The freeing truth is that a lot of the difficulty is up front. Once you start a rhythm of creating, a rhythm of loving others and enemies, it's so much easier to do than you thought it would be. You might find yourself falling in love with the act of creating, the act of following Jesus, more than you love inspiration and spiritual experiences.