The Most Important Part of the Creative Life

There are countless books, products, and resources geared towards aiding the creative process. There's so much to learn and consume. What's an artist to do?

Creative Space
Photo credit: Gary Radler

If you make art, your skills have never been in higher demand. There have never been more people willing to help you do your work and vying for your attention. There's just one problem:

You will still be misunderstood.

Your work will be misrepresented. You still won't be appreciated, in spite of your popularity. And at times like these, when the spotlight is on you, you must remember the most important part of a creative life:


Without it, you flounder and get frustrated. You burn out and blow up. But what does this mean — space? The very absence of something is hard to explain, but essential, nonetheless, especially when it comes to creative work.

If God created from chaos, if he spoke earth into existence amidst nothingness, then we have good reason to believe that having a little space in order create is a good thing.

But space is multifaceted. There are, in fact, three different types for an artist to consider.

Physical space

There is a relationship between the place you work and the work you do. If your space is cluttered, you will feel anxious. At times, a little nervous energy can be a good thing.

But if all you ever do is work in a mess, don't be surprised if you feel unprepared for the Muse when she shows up. And don't be surprised if she doesn't come at all. She's waiting for you to get your act together.

When I find my creativity flustered, here's what I often do:

  • Do the dishes (because this actually relaxes me).
  • De-clutter (throw away old magazines, pay bills, etc.)
  • Clean off my desk.
  • Put papers into neat piles.
  • Move junk out of sight.
  • Find a clean space to create (or make one).

Whatever I need to focus on the work, that's what I do. And if you want to create compelling work, you must do the same.

Mental space

If your mind is consumed with worries and concerns, pending deadlines and to-do items, you won't be thinking clearly. And this will affect how you write, paint, or design.

So what's the best way to overcome this? Finish your chores. Whatever is upsetting or distracting you, just get it over with. Walk through the discomfort and get back to work.

Here are a few things that hold me back, mentally:

  • A confrontation with a coworker that I'm procrastinating.
  • A lot of email piling up in my inbox.
  • A long list of household chores.
  • A bank statement I haven't reconciled.
  • A bunch of windows open on my computer.
  • A cluttered desktop.

Whatever it is, my mind will not rest and won't be able to focus until I get it done. So I make the mental space to be able to create.

Spiritual space

Creativity, I believe, is a spiritual act, a work of the heart. So if my internal life is messy, can you imagine what that means for what I create?

You guessed it. The messier my internal life is, the messier my external one will be.

The pain and plight of the artistic life is too romanticized. Creativity and suffering are closely connected, but not dependent on each other. Art exists in spite of pain, not because of it.

As an artist, you will always be rebelling against injustice, always pushing back darkness. So you can create with a grudge or with gratitude. The difference is how you face the pain.

  • Is there brokenness in your life? Acknowledge it.
  • Unresolved conflict? Deal with it.
  • Hurt from your childhood or issues with your parents? Voice them.

Whatever you fill yourself with, it will come out in what you do. If you want to share joy and beauty with the world, you must fill your life with these things.

At times, this is hard, because as artists we're often resisted. But as Anne Lamott reminds us, this feeling of being “blocked” is often emptiness. And here's the rub: Emptiness and space are not the same.

Space is something you make in life, amidst the busyness, so that you can fill it. Emptiness is a void that cannot be filled, no matter how much you create. If you find yourself empty, it means your life is lacking space.

  • Space to dream.
  • Space to think.
  • Space to believe.

Before you can create, you have to make sure your soul is filled. This may require facing some demons or slaying a few dragons. But once you do, you'll be ready to make your contribution to the world, and all the better for doing so.

What space do you need to create? Share in the comments.

This post was inspired by the Luminous Project. Luminous is an event for spiritual creatives in Nashville, happening May 6-8, 2014. To find out more, visit Use the promo code “BLOGtour14” to get 15% off the registration (only 50 spots left!).