I am a writer. There’s nothing that brings me more joy than having written something excellent. And there’s nothing that brings me more despair than trying to write something excellent. Some days I get a wonderful idea in my head, but as soon as I sit down, that crystal-clear picture turns milky and fades. Other days I make myself write, but every word on the page is one I know I’m going to end up deleting tomorrow. And still other days I want to create but have no ideas worth writing. At the moment I’m writing this, I’ve got a major project that I started with ease but cannot seem to finish no matter how hard I try. I need a way to cultivate my artistic talent so these situations don’t hold me back as often. And as I talk with God and meditate on Scripture, I’ve started to recognize a pattern that I think might be crucial in getting there.
I’m taking inspiration from the first part of Leviticus 25. The Lord gives commands about working and resting. The Israelites work six days, and rest on the seventh. For six years straight, they do hard, back-breaking labor to force the ground to produce as much bounty as it possibly can, and in the seventh year they let it go fallow and grow what it will, allowing the soil to replenish its nutrients and recover. This is the pattern the Lord God has built into the fabric of the universe, and I’m starting to think it applies to art as well.
Planting Is Optional
Verse 3 in the NIV reads “You MAY plant seed in your field for six years, and you MAY trim your vineyards for six years and bring in their fruits.” (emphasis mine) As I was going back to reread this, it struck me how optional this was. God gives no commands on what must be planted, nor does he command everyone to do the same task. Some will be farmers who work to bring forth crops of grain. Some will tend their vineyards. And some will have only small gardens or nothing at all. If you want to be a dedicated artist, mastering the craft and making your living from your art, great! If you want to do this as a hobby, as a source of entertainment and not another piece of stress in your life, that’s fine. If you want to sit back and appreciate others’ art, and you feel called elsewhere, God be with you in that.
If You Want to Reap, You Need to Sow
A lot of times, when I’m stuck in my writing, the only way out is through. It’s discouraging to struggle for two hours and get only a pair of measly sentences that I’ll be rewriting tomorrow. But I’ve found that if I continue coming back to write again and again, every failure teaches my brain to have something ready next time. When I come back after a period of not writing regularly, it’s hard at first, but eventually writing begins to trickle, and then flow freely. Sometimes it’s easy. Usually it’s work. But with dedication and diligence, eventually it comes. I don’t think there’s a way around that. If you want to be the kind of person who is able to regularly create art, you can’t wait for inspiration. You have to sit down and practice being the person you want to be.
Rest Is Essential
I previously observed that pushing yourself to create art is a key component of being an artist. The other key component is taking time off to recover. God commanded the Israelites to let the land rest every seven years. And so, as important as dedication and perseverance are, rest is also essential—a cessation of striving. The Israelites did not spend the seventh year fasting; they were free to pick anything the land chose to produce on its own. But they couldn’t force it to produce things it no longer had the capacity to bear. And the plants that were most likely to thrive in that depleted soil were the ones God designed to put back what had been taken away by the years of harsh farming.
Hopefully, you’re already seeing the parallels to art, but I’ll point out the ones I spotted. I think it’s crucial for artists to periodically step back and let their mind relax—stop forcing it to produce. If you’re finding art is stressful, if you’ve fallen into a rut, if the process is draining you dry, you might just be ready for a season of rest. In this time, you stop worrying about what you think other people want you to produce, you stop relying on routines you’ve established, you stop pushing yourself to create far after your mind has told you it’s had enough, and you let whatever happens happen. The word “should” is banned from your vocabulary for a time. If no ideas spring to mind, you don’t create art. If something sounds fun, you do it as a hobby. You doodle, you write fanfic, or you dabble. You try what seems interesting rather than the things you know you can succeed at. Or you focus on other parts of life and set down the art supplies for a while.
Now, obviously, this idea runs directly counter to my previous point about hard work and focus, but the harmony is found in patterns of rhythm. Write for sixty minutes and get up and stretch for ten. Work on your painting for six days and take a day off to step back and give your mind a break. And if you’ve spent the last six years recording songs and churning out albums but are finding that everything you make is sounding the same, maybe it’s time to step back from songwriting and try something new, anything new, just to get out of the rut.
One of the biggest confrontations Jesus had with the Pharisees was over the Sabbath. They claimed it was a time for man to strive and struggle not to do anything that could be considered work. Jesus claimed it was a time for rest. And then He fulfilled the law so we are no longer under its burden. I would be heartbroken if anyone took what I’ve written here and made it a legal burden on their shoulders. And yet, when what you’re doing isn’t working, it can be helpful to see how God ordered the universe, and see if there’s some way you’re working against His plan and, as a result, going through more difficulty than you need to. And for me, I’m looking forward to using this new approach and seeing how it works. So far it’s going well. After taking a break from my big project to work on this blog post that’s been bubbling up in my heart, I’m already feeling re-energized with new ideas for my main project.
~ Cameron Miller, writer
~ Photo by Dương Trí on Unsplash