A few weeks ago Danielle Street asked me to write a little about what I learned after spending a year with the one word CREATE. She wanted to share my thoughts with the women in her creativity workshop. I thought some of you might want to hear them too, so that’s today’s post. Go forth and create, friends.
I spent the year 2012 with the one word CREATE. See www.myoneword.org for more explanation on this concept.
At the turn of that year I’d signed a contract to co-write the My One Word book with my pastor (a non-writer) and I sensed God wanted me to make that a priority that year. To make creating my main focus and work that year.
I’d been a writer for quite a while – roughly 15 years by that point. I love words, and the process of creation that writing ultimately is whether it’s fiction or non-fiction. And yet, any creative endeavor gets hard at times. There are days, weeks, even months when it can come so slowly.
Add to that the pressure of a deadline. And what was once a fun, creative act can turn stressful.
Everyone thinks it would be so amazing to get paid for their art. And it is. Until you get paid for art you haven’t yet produced, and you must produce art on demand. There is a definite shift that happens there.
Plus, there is the public critique (or seemingly worse, ignoring) of your work to stomach. Even the anticipatory fear of that critique can dry up creative juices. I often think factory workers, or retail workers, or maybe pharmacists probably don’t stress as much about how their day’s work will be received by the public -every time they go to work. Or whether or not their voice/art/work will connect with anyone in a moving way.
I learned that, for a Jesus girl like me, part of the act of creating is handling critique well. I have to take it in and examine it for what it is worth – learn from it if need be (and need doesn’t always be). But then I have to lay it aside and press on with the call to create. I cannot let someone’s opinion – even if it has merit – sideline me from my life, my joy and my calling.
There is but one negative review at Amazon on my latest book My One Word: Change Your Life With Just One Word (Zondervan). I responded right there on Amazon to my critic, in love. I corrected any false perceptions they had about the work, apologized for any ways the work disappointed her (I truly want everyone to enjoy it), and then wished her well. She responded. I responded. She responded again. At the end of our “exchange” there, she thanked me and wished me blessings on this book.
I love the fact that her review and my response is there, because it is tangible evidence of my personal character and growth as an artist. I didn’t take it to heart, stewing on it and letting it paralyze me. Nor did I get angry with her. And the outcome was entirely positive. In fact, from my perspective there are no negative reviews on Amazon on that book!
My friend and fellow writer Emily Freeman writes: “How we respond when confronted with the critics has the potential to be the most beautiful art we’ll ever make – we have the capacity to reflect the relational glory of God no matter who we’re with, what we’re doing, or what’s gone wrong.” (A Million Little Ways, Revell Books, 2013)
Artists have to fight against internal resistance as well. Creative types can become fraught with self-doubt or self-criticism. Our inner editor can be way harsher than our loudest critic. We can judge and compare and decide we don’t really have what it takes. And take ourselves right out of the game, so to speak.
For me that’s not acceptable because if I refuse to create – because I am afraid or for any reason really – I’m refusing to live the life God has called me to live.
So my desire for that year with this one word was to keep stirred up all the creative juices, to keep renewing my mind regarding the act/pleasure of creating, and to flat out produce some great work that would please me and please God.
Overall, I made tremendous strides in all those areas in 2012. And I loved having CREATE as my one word – I didn’t want to give it up for another word come January.
Sure, there were still hard days and moments of doubt. But there’s a great comfort that comes in believing, this is what God intends me to do. This is His will for me right now. This is His gift to and through me. Knowing that made it easier for me to prioritize and protect time for creating. And to just keep going until I was done.
I always choose a verse to go along with my one word for the year. The year my word was CREATE I chose Psalm 51:10, “Create in me a pure heart, Oh God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” This verse yanks my focus from the outward act of creating and its product, and forces me to look at what God is trying to create in me. In my heart and character.
He’s the potter; I’m the clay. He’s the Artist; I’m His masterpiece (Ephesians 2:10). My creative impulses and my acts of creation stem from His Spirit, from His creative nature in me.
I came to understand that part of a steadfast spirit is refusing to give up when it feels hard, and refusing to give in to doubt about what I am called to do, or how well I can do it. I sought to become more “steadfast” in my creativity in 2012.
I also saw that I could learn to create from the Creator. Right from Genesis we see that He took the time to stand back from His finished work and declare it good. So can I. They say some of the great European painters were barred from the museums where their masterpieces hung – because they would come with paint and try to keep tweaking the painting.
I believe we must get to a place where we stop seeking to improve it, and celebrate the work we’ve made. By the time I finished writing my earlier book It’s No Secret (David C. Cook, 2010), I had become a better writer in the year-long writing process. When I looked at my earlier-written sections, I knew that I could write them better if I could rewrite them. I also knew I’d be an even better writer by the time that book hit the shelves many months later. We always want to show the world our best work – what we are fully capable of.
So I chose to see that book as tangible evidence of – as a written record of – my growth as a writer. That is how I was able to celebrate it and release it into the world, even though I felt it could be improved upon. And you know what? I am darn proud of the writing in that book. It is good.
Jennifer Lopez once released an album called This is Me … Then. That makes perfect sense to me. She knew that later she will make different and perhaps better art, but this creation was a reflection of where she was at that point in her life.
I think that is one of the coolest things about art of any type – it is in some way a reflection of us and our journey through life. Just as we are a reflection of God and His on-going redemptive work.
So blessings on your art, my friend. If you are a dancer, do your dance. If you are a painter, paint your visions. If you are a photographer, capture the world as you uniquely see it. And as you do, celebrate the creative spirit given to you by an immensely creative God.
And take the time to call it good.