Last week, we went spelunking into the caverns, today, we're going to continue our in-depth exploration of the quandary-filled letter JDZappa submitted two weeks ago.
I hope you brought some sturdy boots, as we are about to climb a mountain in search of the Secret Springs of Creative Joy.
A wild letter reappears!
2. Do you have any suggestions for taking joy from the creative process itself? I know I tend to over-focus on the final goal of being published and the risk-reward. It's especially hard to justify the long hours if I never get published or make money from my pursuits.
John, aka JDZappa
Your question is one of outcome versus process. I touched on some of this already, but I wanted to make sure we took an opportunity to engage with it in a deeper fashion.
You already know that you over-focus on the final goal, and I think your self-assessment is likely correct. My question for you (and I want to stress that there are no wrong answers here): why do you over-focus? Perhaps the final objective is inspiring to you, drawing your entire focus like a shimmering jewel atop a rock pile, spurring you forward. Perhaps the jewel just makes the pile of rocks uglier and more daunting, so you turn away. If by focusing on the outcome, you justify postponing or halting your effort, then your focus is not working for you, and it's time to drop it.
Among the jagged peaks of the Silent Mountains is a fresh water Secret Spring said to possess the secrets of creative happiness, but you will never reach the pool if you never set foot on the trailhead, or if you pause after a dozen switchbacks. The step immediately in front of you is the most important step, the only important step right now. Always.
If you want to find the joy in creative work, or in anything, you are going to have to be present. If you've ever played a video game when your mind was preoccupied by a chore you needed to get done, you probably recognize how it diminished the experience. To find joy in the game, to find joy in the chore, you need to surrender to it.
In fact, while the springs we seek lie near the apex of the mountain, if your mind is focused entirely on the destination while your feet remain at home, the scope of the journey will overwhelm your desire. Instead, bring yourself to the foot of the mountain, and take a long look around. You are surrounded by trees, flowers, fresh air, and the din of the wilderness. Enjoy the beauty as you step forward.
Yes, the climb will be grueling at times, it will take work and honest effort, but there is beauty in even the most arduous tasks. Ask anyone who played a From Software game, and they'll tell you the pain and challenge add to the joy. Of course, you may get partway up the mountainside and decide you are done with this particular mountain. That's okay. There are many mountains, many paths, and many Secret Springs.
In fact, I'm going to let you in on the actual secret of the Springs. What makes the water special is not the life-giving it provides to the weary traveler, but the life-giving it provides to the entire ecosystem of the mountain. Every tree and flower, every squirrel and deer, every insect and bird, all rely on the Secret Springs. So, you do not actually need to arrive at the water's edge to discover the secret and the wonder of the Springs. It's already surrounding you because you came to the mountain.
If you've been mentally and emotionally present for your climb, if you've soaked in the wonder all around, then I promise you will get something out of it, regardless of how far up you climb on any given day. The experience will give you joy, as well as insight. Perhaps you'll find at this time in your life, you don't get much out of hiking the mountainside, but rather enjoyed strolling through the forest. Perhaps you'll discover you don't like climbing mountains at all, but enjoy the feeling of having climbed a mountain. Every insight is valuable to recognize and take that all-important next step.
There are novelists who write because they must. There are novelists who write because they enjoy it. There are novelists who love being published authors more than they hate the process of writing. If you fall into the latter camp, then you still have to find a way to do the work and find some joy in the process. You need to be ruthlessly honest with yourself or none of it will bring you joy.
Joy is not something that happens in the moment. It isn't the same thing as having fun or experiencing pleasure, though there's some intersection, certainly, but joy is a culmination of experience, perspective, and mindset working in harmony. Joy requires being honest with yourself, open to possibilities, and being willing to be present. Even arriving at the spring is no guarantee of joy if you were not present enough to enjoy the journey. Besides, it's also possible that soaking in the sights while you drink from the cool mountain spring won't be refreshing for you. It is okay to look for another source. And another still, if need be.
With that, I’d love to hear about difficult processes that have yielded you joy in your life. What are your creative wellsprings?
If you have a question or quandary that you’d like to hear the Joyconjurer’s perspective on, email me at [email protected]. Please note: published letters may be edited for length and/or clarity.