In the early days of the new year, over morning coffee, I had a brief conversation with an old bandmate. One thing that I appreciate about this friend is that I can always pick up on a steady creative pulse coming from his general direction, whether on social media or in personal interactions, regardless of his current occupation. And I had never quite thought about it this way, but that has been my unspoken and subconscious goal for the last number of years, and particularly since having a kid: to maintain a current of creativity in my life, no matter what other daily matters occupy the majority of my time.
The really interesting thing that I realized during that conversation, though, was that aIthough I am a full-time mom of a toddler and he is a full-time copywriter, and it might seem that we have very little in common, we've actually got this one mutual pursuit: that we are both working to maintain a creative current, no matter how small, in the midst of (or in spite of) the day-to-day concerns of our primary work. And suddenly I felt a whole lot more connected to the creative world. Because there are people around the globe who work to keep their creativity alive while doing a day-to-day job that doesn't always feed into the creative current. Being a full-time mom is no different at all (although it's often more pigeonholed than other professions). Your job can change, your kid might be a font of inspiration or a real pill on a given day, you might be a full-time paid creative in one season of life and in the next, a full-time parent who sneaks off to write blog posts about creativity during stolen moments, but the creative current is something that is yours to keep. It's also common ground that you share with creatives everywhere.
Here's what else I've realized about the creative current (and this is the encouraging part): you don't have to maintain a fire hose or a roaring fire. Just a pilot light. You only have to keep enough of a spark going that you can turn up the heat when you want or need to. For me, on a great day, keeping the current alive means spending a few hours working on a paid or otherwise ideal project and achieving the result that I hoped for. On a pilot light day, that means listening to Bowie's last album and spending three minutes dreaming about potential projects that I might not get to until three months from now. But the point is that you force yourself to do a little something. I think the moment we shut off our pilot light is the moment we step into isolation as creatives. Luckily, it only takes a little effort and desire to turn it back on and get that current flowing again.
I don't think there's any magic to keeping the creative current alive, beyond these two things: 1) the sheer desire to maintain it, and 2) input: feeding the current, fueling the pilot light. I really believe that while the pilot light is burning, it only takes the tiniest bit of fuel to keep it going. You don't even need to create anything in order to do that. But sometimes we just forget to feed it and we need the simplest reminder, which is why I'm writing this, for my sake and yours.
Input is the singular solution I keep coming back to, because it can take so many forms and fit into whatever other tasks you're embroiled in, and it doesn't require output energy. Any sort of creative stimuli or new ideas can count as input, whether it's a 10 minute podcast, a new album or killer song, a chapter of a good book, a good conversation, or something that caught your eye in the grocery line. Carry around index cards to jot down ideas or words or any inspiration that pops into your head. Talk or text with other creatives. Ask other people, "What are you working on?" even if you're not sure of your own answer at the moment. Listen to something great. Pay attention. Get a little fresh air, a tiny change of scenery. Go for a walk in the city. Go for a walk in a bookstore. Lay in the grass and spend three minutes looking up.
The truth is, creatives everywhere--paid creatives, closet creatives, stifled creatives, back-burner creatives, thriving creatives--are working to keep their creative current alive, whether they put it in those terms or not. And that in itself is cause for hope, because you're not in it alone.