Five Ways to Deal with the “Creative Spark” Excuse

My husband is an artist. Naturally, I think James is a very talented artist. He paints vast, colorful abstract landscapes. Each painting can take weeks (and some months) to create.

Since I live with him, I get to see his creative process from beginning to end. I see the days where he paints for hours with little or no food. I see the times where he struggles to get one hour of painting complete.

The critical point is that he paints every day – well, almost every day. (And honestly, I can tell when he hasn’t painted in a day or two because that’s when Grumpy McSuffins comes out.)

On the days when I’m dealing with Grumpy McSuffins, I’ll ask him if he needs to paint. He’ll give me some excuse about his need to clean the house or to have to grade papers (he teaches art history).

A year ago was the first time (in our 15 years together), that he told me he was waiting for his inspiration. He had just been given his first big show and had a timeline to complete several large-scale painting. He was a few months away from his deadline, and nothing was getting done.

I joked and asked couldn’t I be his inspiration. Gumpy McStuffins said, “No. It doesn’t work like that.”

He and both knew the elusive “creative spark” was an excuse. It’s an excuse I’ve used much more often than he.

I lived with Grumpy McStuffins for a few more days. Then it was time to get my husband back. Since I considered myself an expert on the excuse, I decided to try to some of my tactics for kindling the creative spark:

  1. Hiking (or a quick walk) – Our family started to take quick walks after dinner. This was an excellent way for us to spend quality family time. It was also an opportunity for me to ask him graphic design questions. My favorite is to take long hikes. Occasionally, I would talk him into the day-long hike. (On one hike, we hiked 16 miles, and only four of those miles were on the actual trail. We got lost. I guess that he was thinking “I could be painting right now.” He was within a few days of that trip that a bulk of his work began.)
  2. Focus on the Process – I was not surprised that “the creative spark left” James right when he had a massive show. I find that it is easy to get wrapped up in the final product. For example, when I’m writing, I have to check myself because I can almost become paralyzed when I think of someone reading my work. James got to a point where he had to focus on the process of painting, not the final show.
  3. Start a ritual – I love putting my daughter to bed every night. It’s our time together. And James found that time to start a routine of his own. He would give Sierra a nightly kiss and then he’d head downstairs to his studio. Even if he didn’t paint, it was enough for him to acknowledge that his creative work was essential to him. Most times he was down there, I think he was painting.
  4.  Call yourself out on the “creative spark” myth – (and have the wisdom to know when the timing is right to call someone out, especially if you live with them). There was a moment when I could no longer live with Gumpy McStuffins. I let him know (with kindness) that I wanted my husband back.
  5. Laugh – I can never underestimate the power of humor. It would have been one thing if I’d told my husband he was being a complete and total jerk, that he needed to paint, and remind him of his looming deadline. It’s another thing to call him Grumpy McStuffins, laugh with him, and remind him that he’s capable of doing great work.

Since that time, James had a fantastic show. In fact, as a result of that show, he’s sold more work than ever and been approached by larger museums to exhibit his work. I’ve not heard him talk about the “creative spark,” instead, he makes time to paint.

I have to say, my husband is a role model for me and making time to write and design. Now he encourages me (and our daughter) to create. When he hears me using the “creative spark” excuse, the first thing he tells me to do is “to go take a hike.”

We laugh.

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