Finding my own rhythm again hasn’t been easy, but it’s still there. Sometimes the waves just seem to take longer to crest, but they do. This was the first time I really picked up a camera since the accident. It took me two months to get there. Photo: Cynthia Haynes.
Every creative person I know goes through ups and downs, as though our creative life rides on top of the water and rises and falls with the waves. We experience brilliant highs and depressing lows. When the wind kicks up and the ocean is wild, the highs are higher, and we feel glorious, unstoppable, and they crash harder, the glory gone. Stopped.
What helps is not looking too closely at the wave, but at the ocean itself. Pull back, look at the water from a hill ten miles distant and the water looks smooth as glass – as your creative life does, or will, from a distance. The dips and peaks evened out. This helps not because it makes one bit of difference when you’re at the bottom of a wave cycle and you feel like you’ve made your last good, beautiful, photograph or written your last honest word. It helps because it allows us to understand the cycle, to use it, to ride out the waves, even building momentum.
Our creative life, the very nature of how most of us work internally, is rhythmic. Brilliant creativity is unsustainable day-to-day. A wave that has a high, but is not flanked by lows, is not a wave, it’s placid water. No lows, but no highs, either. We have a word for it in the creative world – mediocrity. Todd Henry, in his book The Accidental Creative, says, “mediocrity is a high price to pay for a lifetime of safety.” You can’t have this creative life, ask for the highs, and never get the lows. That doesn’t make the lows easier, but it’s nice to feel normal, isn’t it?
Creativity happens in the space between taking in and incubating as many influences as the world allows us, and the sudden rush of a newborn idea who comes into the world in a mix of hard work and joy, sweat and tears. The birth of that idea, and the execution of it, are often on the crest of the wave. They are the high points for which we live. If the high point of that wave is adoration and praise, then you’re missing out. Singer/songwriter Josh Ritter sings, “I’m singing for the love of it, have mercy on the man who sings to be adored.” Russian actor (and originator of Method acting) Konstantin Stanislavsky, said, “Love the art in yourself, not yourself in the art.” But that’s a digression, not really my point.
My point is this (man, he’s long-winded!): it’s in the lows of the wave where we feed inspiration. If we are conscious of the shape of the wave and the way our process works, we know that wave will crest again. What we do at the bottom of the wave determines how much momentum we have at the top. We can spend that time being depressed and feeling sorry for ourselves, or we can feed the muse. We can go to the museum, the gallery, the coffee shop, the library, the theater, wherever it is you find your own paint stirred. Forget how you’ve suddenly lost your brilliance. Go find the brilliance of others and let it feed your soul. Go be with your family, read a book, and then, most importantly, do the work. Don’t set your camera down simply because inspiration hasn’t yet come. Inspiration, says French poet Charles Baudelaire, comes from working.
Riding these waves gets more predictable the longer you do it; you see the rhythm in it, you begin to know your process. I will often mumble this to myself in the lows, when I am doing the work and my Muse (wretched, unreliable, prodigal Muse, where the hell is she?!) is nowhere in sight. “Trust your process, David. It’ll come.” and I keep working, mumbling other things, less savory and less family-rated things, but I keep at it, and the movement of the wave carries me forward, pulls me upward, as it always does, and I begin to get excited about what I might find at the top, and I get more grateful for the Muse (wonderful, reliable, always-present Muse!).
Do the work. Trust your process. Ride the wave out.
Creativity is our single greatest asset. If you want to nurture that asset, and understand your process more, here are two suggestions. Corwin Hiebert just wrote an eBook called Your Creative Mix and it’s a brilliant book about creativity. Read more HERE. And I’ve got two eBooks – The Inspired Eye and The Inspired Eye 2. Both of those talk directly about ways we can understand and strengthen our creative process as photographers.