Does Creative Work Need a Purpose to Be Worth It?
A couple of my writer friends and I have ongoing discussions about faith, spirituality, craft and the nature of creative life. We find common ground on our exploration of spirituality, how we approach our work, and the questions, i.e., chiefly – where does creative work come from and does the artist belong to the work or the work to the artist. Sometimes, though, we dig down deeper, especially when we’re struggling and hit the root of purpose. Why are we writers? What’s the point? Why do we pick ourselves (and each other) up after we get knocked down and return to the work, more determined, more decisive, unwilling to stop? What drives us? Or are we the ones being driven? Why do we write?
I became a writer to give people a voice. That’s still my purpose, though inspiring and nurturing the human spirit is equally important to me now. While the roots of writing trace back into my childhood, the need to make a difference goes even further. Writing, to me, has always served a utilitarian purpose. I’ve never been a writer’s writer, never been in love with the so-called glamour of the writing life. Never written just for the sake of writing. I’m not even that good of a writer. What I hope to be, though, is good at communicating to the human spirit.
Because that’s what matters to me. That’s my calling.
But the question, “does creative work need a purpose to be worth it” is an intriguing one. And I’m inclined to say, yes, it does. Why? Because creative work is not for the faint of heart. It’s not for those seeking fame, fortune or ease. (Though success can provide all three, it’s still never about that.) No, creative work is generative work. It’s a delicate balance between seeing into new worlds and leading others into those worlds. And keeping your sanity and your balance in between. It’s heart-work and soul-work and that type of work means that you hold a responsibility toward humanity far beyond what you imagine.
No, it’s not life and death work – at least not to the world at large. But it is often life and death work for the human spirit. Because we deal in spiritual realms. Disagree? Where does your creative work come from? It’s not you. You’re a channel. A conduit. And when you’re most deeply engaged in the creative process, you’re in another realm. You can feel that, right? Time ceases to exist. Energy flows. Something is at work, leading you. And it’s glorious and thrilling and beautiful.
It’s also the easy part.
Then comes the deep work. The re-tilling, the toiling, the weeding, the watering, the praying for sun to shine instead of rain, and rain to fall instead of sun, the covering from frost (no I’m not talking about gardening), the showing to master gardeners who sometimes think it should be like their work and all the work that has come before it, because, well, what to do with something new that doesn’t look familiar…and being present, being present, being present to it and to yourself so neither you nor the work withers away. It’s a form of spiritual wrestling that engages the deepest parts of your being, and forces you to grow stronger or die. You need a solid bedrock of purpose to stay rooted and withstand the spiritual forces of the work. I’m not saying your purpose needs to be altruistic, but I am saying it better be something that means something to you. Because it will take every once of strength, trust and constant decision-making between fear and faith to keep yourself convinced it’s worth it.
Very few are called to be creators. Most people are consumers, critiques and fosterers of status quo. They embrace new creations when they are handed to them conveniently and have no idea of the amount of spiritual and psychic energy that went forth into the creating of it. (Something we should be mindful of as technology hands us new gadgets, right? People make those.) It all comes from within. And to stand up to the challenges of being that channel requires that we are utterly convicted of our purpose and that our purpose matters.
How do you find your purpose?
You look within. You ponder what matters to you. What disturbs you. What you want to see more of in the world. (Always fight for something, not against.) You pray to your spirit and you listen for answers. And you remember that purpose doesn’t have to be an “answer.” It can be a “question.”