Honor Thy Creative Impulse


Creative impulses have been sparkling in my mind - big ones like hosting a creative retreat for women writers and little ones like building a rainbow bookcase.

When these ideas started to arise, I questioned them. Aren’t they distractions from my main gig of novel writing? Should I really be doing all this with my energy given that it’s in short supply as a full-time mom of two?

Turns out, spending time on artistic projects that are separate from your main endeavor strengthens your creative mind. Let’s call this—creative cross training. Creativity is all about generating innovative ideas. Bending, breaking and blending concepts to produce something new, and people who have lots of diverse inputs can do this even better than people siloed in one skill.

Research shows that Nobel Prize-winning scientists are significantly more likely to have artistic hobbies compared to their technically skilled peers. They are 2 times more likely to play musical instruments, 7 times more likely to draw or paint, 12 times more likely to do creative writing, and 22 times more likely to perform as actors, dancers, or even magicians. I wonder what the prize winners in literature do in their spare time.

Curiosity is the driving force behind creative impulses. The force that wonders, “What would red wine and rosemary taste like in fig jam?” is that same force that veers my characters out of cliché and comes up with my plot twists. Embracing these impulses when they show up rather than banishing them as superfluous invites them to come around more often. Even though picking figs cuts into my word count goal, it keeps the mind nimble and inquisitive.

Creative cross training also helps me practice imperfection. And boy do I need the practice. During my first attempts at watercolor, I had to face the nasty voice of my inner critic telling me, not only, that my painting was crap, but that I was crap. Strengthening my resistance to this thought pattern has helped me begin my second book. Returning to the shitty first draft stage after working with polished prose has been hard, but my artistic side hustles are reminding me to relax. Perfection is an enemy of creative endeavors, especially at the beginning.

But what about my time and energy?! In my own experience now, spending time creating has always given me more energy rather than less even in the face of sleep deprivation as a new mom. Creativity is generative. It’s not a zero-sum game. The energy that comes with a creative impulse is not really all that transferable either. When you have the urge to collage a coffee table, it’s not like you can bottle that enthusiasm to do your taxes. So when the energy comes, I let it flow and it often spills over into the next things on my to do list, especially my novel.

Many creatives recommend sitting down to work on your craft every day, whether the muse or creative impulse shows up or not. I agree with this advice. That discipline makes novels happen. It’s the only way that I finished my first book. But the opposite is not necessarily true, ignoring the muse to write and only write is not great advice. Do both. Don’t wait for creative impulses but honor them when they show up.

Creative cross training is not procrastination. Hopefully, creative impulses are showing up just as much for your main endeavor as your side projects or hobbies. If they aren’t, then that might be something to consider. Maybe you aren’t letting yourself embrace the imperfect and the whimsical with your main project like you are with your side ones. Maybe the main and side projects should be swapped. Maybe the joy of the side projects can help you get through a challenging and not so fun part of the main one.

As a busy mom, creative cross training has been especially important. Sometimes I don’t have the space or mindset to dig into my novel but letting myself follow creative impulses that fit into smaller spaces has kept my creative soul humming. I don’t need to do a complete revival when I get the time to sit and write. I am already alive. My mind is primed.

And lastly, but possibly most importantly, following these creative impulses in my life has brought tremendous joy. It’s so easy to belittle them as silly ideas, but they bring light and sparkle to the mundane and the difficult. This is neither silly nor superfluous. This is everything.

So I have become a disciple of my creative impulses. I trust them. I follow them. And I can’t recommend it enough. Pick up some hobbies. Dabble in something new, something superfluous, something pointless and see what might come of it. You know that itch to learn the ukulele. Or that idea in the back of your head to knit a sweater for a stop sign. Go for it. It might set you free.