Creativity as Self-Care (a.k.a. The Joy of Turning Nothing Into Something )

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A few days ago, I logged on to social media and discovered that a friend of mine had co-opted a creative idea/business plan I’d shared with him. Stunned, I shut the computer down and went to bed for the night. I wasn’t sure what I felt, except for shocked.

The next morning, I began to process. The entire basis of my friendship with this person had been creative projects. He initially approached me looking for guidance with writing, and a friendship developed from there. He had a hard time actually putting his head down and getting to work on his project, so I coached him, and even set up regular meetings to encourage him to get up and running. Although we would meet up, the work never got done. He was stuck.

In the process of all of this, he asked me a lot of questions, both about my field and writing in general. I happily answered.

And then I found this. Not only is he claiming my idea as his own, but the project also involves a collection of information I provided him with, with him now positioning himself as an expert in the field. Not to mention citing biographical details and accomplishments that are patently (and pretty grossly) untrue.

At first I felt low-grade anger. Then I tried to put myself in his shoes, imagining what sort of scenario might compel me to do such a thing, or what line of reasoning might lead me to believe it was ethically okay. I ultimately came to the conclusion that I would never pull this type of move for one primary reason. And once I had that realization, I was able to dial into compassion (or, perhaps more accurately, pity), and leave my anger behind.

It is impossible for me to imagine what sort of pleasure could be derived from such a scenario because, as a creative, I know full well based on experience that it is the journey to the finished product that makes the entire process compelling. It’s stumbling across an idea; getting that indescribable feeling in your belly that comes only in those rare moments when you realize that not only do you have an idea, but a winning idea; and then putting in all of the hours and hard work it takes to bring that idea into the world. It is the experience of taking literally nothing and crafting it into something. It is the understanding of all of the emotional and logistical hurdles and obstacles you were victorious over in order to get to that moment of completion. That is the joy of creativity. Sometimes creativity comes in the form of business, yes—but it is so much more than that. Otherwise, I assure you, most creatives would have far more money stashed away in their 401K.

This experience also led me to realize how lucky I am that after nearly twenty-two years in the writing and publishing industry—which can often be incredibly cut-throat—I have never before encountered the scenario I now find myself in. I have a new appreciation for my creative cohorts who I have a long history of tossing ideas back and forth with, as we brainstorm and question and finesse together. Not once has there ever been so much as a  remote fear that any of these individuals would idea-snatch.

I suppose that, in this particular situation, I also feel sort of indignantly protective of writers as a collective. Yes, there are wonderful--dare I say downright euphoric--moments when you get in The Zone and it feels as if the words are flowing through you rather than from you. But there are other moments when the right words refuse to show up; when you can't get what you're putting on paper to match what you see or hear in your head, no matter how hard you try; or when you are forced to fight through the fear of putting something that feels emotionally revealing out into the world. Writing takes courage and determination. For someone to claim stripes they have not put in the work to earn is--well, it feels insulting, somehow.

The theme of The Balanced Ninja is self-care. What I realized in the course of creating it, though, is that while self-care is important to me, the best, most loving thing I do for myself is give myself the time and freedom to write. I started this web site over Christmas break. It was the first break I had since giving birth to Izzy last summer. Since I write for a living, I kept wondering why I was spending those precious days of freedom doing the same thing I do in my working life—writing. Nonetheless, every day I found myself enthusiastically sitting down at the computer to build the site, come up with ideas, then string those ideas into words. At the end of the break, during which I wrote every day, I felt totally refreshed and renewed. Completely reinvigorated. And it was all because I found the time to write for myself, to pluck an idea out of the air and turn it into something real. To create something.

There are no shortcuts when it comes to creativity, and I feel bad for anyone who believes differently. They are missing out on the thrill entirely.