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What Creativity Really Demands. | Bethany Suckrow

What Creativity Really Demands.

My senior year of college I had to hide away in the bedroom of my dorm apartment to study. My three roommates and I had arranged our desks in the living room, right next to our couch and television because it was all the room we had. But as the semester wore on, my desk sat vacant. I found that my best work happened in that little red armchair in the corner of our bedroom with the door shut. I just couldn’t crank out 15-page papers with Flava Flave and roomie chatter as my background noise. I even swore off social media that spring so that I could ace my 40-page capstone research paper. (It worked.)

Today my writing requires that same level of discipline: a quiet space, no distractions. I have a full-time job and for the last year I’ve been working on my memoir proposal. I sacrifice free evenings and weekends, I wake myself up earlier than I want to. My bedroom is my makeshift office. I shove my phone in my nightstand drawer, perch my laptop on my legs as I sit on my bed, and eventually the words come.

If I want to write, I have to accept the fact that these scraps of space and spare time are all I have to work with.

I thought that was hard enough, but then my laptop display light died last week. You can imagine my horror. The screen went dark and I was absolutely sure that my career as a writer was snuffed out with it. I took it to a techy friend who confirmed that yes, my trusty old 2007 Macbook was finally showing its age, and no, it can’t be repaired. My only option was to buy a $20 adaptor to hook it up to a PC monitor and use it as a desktop. So that’s where I write to you now : not in my cozy, quiet office/bedroom, but in my living room/dining room/kitchen/office (bless the open floor plan). My husband is watching a movie 10 feet away from me and I’m trying to ignore the siren song of that last slice of blackberry pie in my fridge.

Last week a famous author who has been hugely influential in my work wrote a blog post about what writing a book really requires. He told the story of having to spend a week away at a cabin in the woods recently in order to finish his next book. You have to live inside it, he said. You have to go to the cabin; a book will demand your all that way. Think you can’t afford the luxury of time away in a cabin to write your book? That makes me sad, he said, because it probably isn’t true.

Truthfully, his words really stung. Not because I’m opposed to the idea that writing a book takes sacrifice, but because his post implied that the sacrifices I am already making are not enough. I read those words and sat there thinking to myself about my Macbook’s failing health. What I wouldn’t give for a new computer, let alone a cabin in the woods, amiright?! And yet even I enjoy certain privileges that others don’t have : I have a job that pays the bills, I am child-free, I have a spouse that will pick up my slack when I need an extra hour to write, I have a roof over my head; I have a computer that, despite its issues, still works.

I’m not writing this post today to attack that writer for his post, or even the idea that writing a book takes sacrifice. He’s not the first famous author to talk about isolating oneself with their work. He’s not even the first to evoke the cabin in the woods. In fact, this idea isn’t even limited to writing, but applies to nearly every form of creativity. It would be fine, perhaps even challenging, if it were just a metaphor. But when it’s not just a metaphor, when it’s a literal prescription that everyone has to live up to if they want to “make it” as a writer or an artist, then it becomes a classist ideal meant to prop up one’s own elitism. What was meant to challenge and encourage writers to be faithful to their work becomes a discouragement because they can’t afford the cabin.

I’m writing this post today because I want to call this idea what it is : scarcity.

Scarcity says that without the cabin, we’ll never be a published writer.

Scarcity says that our story, our words, our resources, our daily lives are not enough.

Scarcity keeps us from starting where we are, because we can’t afford the perfect writing conditions – total isolation, total freedom, total separation from our daily responsibilities.

Scarcity demands perfection and privilege, and those will kill creativity. Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, says Anne Lamott, and she’s right – I can’t write with those voices in my head, telling me that I’m not enough.

So what does creativity really require of us, then? Abundance. Faithfulness.

And that looks different for everyone. For some, it’s a cabin in the woods. For others, it’s late nights and early mornings and spare moments.

A very wise – and I should say published – friend said a few days ago that writing is like the loaves and fishes. What we have to offer seems so meager and inadequate, but we give it anyway, and somehow it multiplies. It becomes more than enough.

So from one artist to another, from one Macbook-turned-makeshift desktop to another, I want to offer you abundance today.

You have permission to write in the imperfect, un-isolated insanity of your life right now. If you’re writing on the margins of your life because it’s all you can afford, if you’re writing in the middle of the night while your kids and partners are sleeping, if you’re writing in the early morning hours before you go to work, if you’re writing in between half-a-dozen part time jobs, if you’re writing from the basement of your parents’ house, if you’re writing in a scrappy little notebook on your lunch hour (or during a boring-as-hell staff meeting), if you’re writing in the bathtub with the doors locked because it’s the only place where you can get some peace and quiet, I want you to know :

Your story still matters. Your words still matter. Your dream is still worthy, still possible, still real. You are no more lazy or less dedicated than me or the New York Times Bestseller hangin’ out in a cabin in the woods.

May we be artists that acknowledge our privilege.

May we be artists that honor one another’s creative processes, even when they are vastly different from our own.

May we be artists that start where we are, rather than sacrificing our work at the altar of perfectionism and elitism.

May we be artists that are faithful with our work, faithful to the daily miracle of creativity.

May we be artists that work from a place of abundance.

  • Joel Mimbs

    “May we be artists that start where we are, rather than sacrificing our work at the altar of perfectionism and elitism.”
    Thank you so much for this Bethany. It’s so often a struggle to remember that what we’re doing is worth as much as the next person, or the person we look up to, or the person who inspired us.

    • http://www.bethanysuckrow.com/ Bethany Suckrow

      Thanks, Joel. :)

  • Tammy Perlmutter

    Damn, Bethany, this a gorgeous piece of writing. It gave me goosebumps. I agree with EVERYTHING you are saying here and love that you are calling us out of a place of scarcity into a place of abundance. I receive that call.

    • http://www.bethanysuckrow.com/ Bethany Suckrow

      Thanks for reading, friend. Can’t wait to talk about this more and catch up on ALL THE THINGS at brunch this weekend.

  • Abby Norman


    • http://www.bethanysuckrow.com/ Bethany Suckrow

      *high fives* Thanks, Abby!

  • http://jasonandkelliwoodford.blogspot.com/ kelli woodford

    {stands and applauds} You go girl. Spot on.

    • http://www.bethanysuckrow.com/ Bethany Suckrow

      Thanks, Kelli!

  • http://hiswonderfuldeeds.com/ Debbie Crawford

    I love this. Especially since I just dragged in an old wardrobe door to make a desk.

    • http://www.bethanysuckrow.com/ Bethany Suckrow

      Ooooh that sounds awesome! Would love to see it once it’s set up. I love taking things that were meant for one thing and making it functional for something else.

  • http://www.estheremery.com/ Esther Emery

    Yep. This is great, Bethany. May we be artists!

    • http://www.bethanysuckrow.com/ Bethany Suckrow

      Thanks for reading, Esther! :)

  • http://somuchshoutingsomuchlaughter.com/ suzannah | the smitten word

    how’d ya get so wise, so young? yes and amen.

    • http://www.bethanysuckrow.com/ Bethany Suckrow

      What’s that phrase those internet young’uns keep saying these days? Oh yeah : I woke up like this. Haha. Thanks for reading, friend. :)

  • Sarah Joslyn

    I said it last night and I’ll say it again, THIS IS PERFECT.

    • http://www.bethanysuckrow.com/ Bethany Suckrow

      I love you. Thanks for reading my words. <3

  • http://clairikine.blogspot.com/ Claire Webster

    This really hit home. I’ve been comparing myself for the better part of a year with other cartoonists and writers on the basis of how much time they (can) spend on their work, and consistently finding myself lacking in comparison. As such, I will strive to remember the quote on the multiplying of loaves and fish, as I think that’s the only way I should be looking at my own work right now. Thanks Bethany!

    • http://www.bethanysuckrow.com/ Bethany Suckrow

      Claire, I can SO relate. I’ve struggled not to feel guilty or ashamed of how little I blog, but then when I really think about it and take a look around I realize two things: 1) The writers/bloggers that crank out more content often tend to have way more time to do so because they don’t work full-time. 2) There is no rule that says that you have to post that much content that regularly. Sure, it would grow your platform faster. But content volume isn’t necessarily correlative to good writing. My goal now is just to be a good writer, whether or not I can “keep up” with anyone else. Always thankful to have you here in this space, friend. Thanks for commenting!

  • http://www.allthingstruthful.wordpress.com/ Bethany Grace Paget

    I love this. So much. A cabin is such a nice dream however right now I write while my daughter plays and takes a bath. It’s working it in to the reality of life that makes each moment so worth it. Thank you for this.

    • http://www.bethanysuckrow.com/ Bethany Suckrow

      Bethany, I could not agree more – I think the struggle infuses what we do with so much meaning. And I believe with everything in me that someday your daughter will look back and remember that her mama worked hard and she’ll be thankful for setting such an incredible example of faithfulness for her. Keep at it, friend. <3

  • http://www.twitter.com/teenbug Tina Francis/ @teenbug

    “May we be artists that acknowledge our privilege.

    May we be artists that honor one another’s creative processes, even when they are vastly different from our own.

    May we be artists that start where we are, rather than sacrificing our work at the altar of perfectionism and elitism.

    May we be artists that are faithful with our work, faithful to the daily miracle of creativity.

    May we be artists that work from a place of abundance.”

    A thousand times AMEN!

    P.S. I’m so sorry to hear about your Mac status. Ugh.

    • http://www.bethanysuckrow.com/ Bethany Suckrow

      Thanks, Tina! And I’ll be okay – I have this funny little makeshift setup to last me until a friend gives me her old Macbook next week. I’m really lucky that I have such generous people in my life.

  • Sarah

    This is soooo what I needed to read today — thank you! I’m currently trying to cobble together some time to blog/write/maybe scrounge up a few speaking gigs, and wrestle two kids while I”m at it. It’s tough. Thanks for the encouragement. By the way, I also live in the Chicago suburbs, so PLEASE hit me up if you need someone to commiserate with :)

    • http://www.bethanysuckrow.com/ Bethany Suckrow

      Oh I love meeting fellow creatives in my area – I’d love to connect sometime! Thanks for reading my post and commenting, Sarah! :)

  • Ryan Haack

    Love this, friend! Well said.

  • http://hopefullyknown.com/ Tamara Rice

    I needed this: “Your story still matters. Your words still matter. Your dream is still worthy, still possible, still real.” Thank you, Bethany, for your beautiful words, as always. This is one to remember.

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  • fiona lynne

    Yes and Amen. Printing this out to remind myself every day of how true it is…

    • http://www.bethanysuckrow.com/ Bethany Suckrow

      Thanks, Fiona! :)

  • Laura

    Wow, Bethany, this was just.. wow. This part really resonated with me: “May we be artists that start where we are, rather than sacrificing our work at the altar of perfectionism and elitism.” Yes, yes, and yes. It’s so easy to fall into the trap of wanting to be perfect on the first try. I think also this “alter of perfectionism” and the idea that you need a cabin in the woods to create a masterpiece is a result of all of the cliches and fantasies surrounding the act of writing. It’s never as glamorous as we want it to be. It’s always harder than we think. And yet the rewards of “starting where we are” are so much greater than if we try to fit into that writerly ideal. Thank you again for this wonderful, encouraging post!

    • http://www.bethanysuckrow.com/ Bethany Suckrow

      Laura, that’s such a great observation about the cliche & fantasy of writing. I think it kind of fetishizes that lives of classic authors in a way that makes it unattainable for ourselves. What we really need to be focused on is creating good work in the reality of our lives right now. Thanks for reading and commenting! :)

  • Lisa

    Bethany, this is amazing. I want to read it over and over again until it’s how I live.

    • http://www.bethanysuckrow.com/ Bethany Suckrow

      Thank you so much for your sweet comment and for linking to my post, friend. :)

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  • http://paulagamble.blogspot.com/ Paula Gamble

    Wow Bethany! I really love this! We already have Everything we need from within, and we are already enough as we are. It’s God who multiplies our loaves and fishes. We just offer what we have before Him. Thank you for this encouragement! I needed it!