It’s a bit of an inside joke with my wife. I like to collect journals. I don’t actually write in them. Well, until last week I didn’t. But I love the idea of journals and artfully composing inspired reflections in them. It turns out I’ve had lots and lots of ideas about how a journal is supposed to look, how it’s supposed to work. So many ideas, in fact, that I’ve not actually written anything in any of these journals for years. 

At the beginning of last year, I thought it would be different. I got online and I ordered this custom leather cover for journal inserts. When it arrived I marveled at its beauty. I loved the soft leather, and felt a rush of something like self-importance to see my name embossed on the front. This is it. I’ll finally write in this one. 

But first, I need to research the latest ideas on journaling. 

I found a great system that would keep my ideas really well organized. I went ahead and numbered all the pages in the corner in my tidy little handwriting. Aaaaahhhh, progress. 

I dutifully carried my lovely new journal with the numbered pages with me to my office and back. But writing in it? Don’t be ridiculous. I wasn’t quite ready to go that far. 

Until last week. 

With the help of a wonderful mentor, I’ve begun to see what creativity really is, and how I’ve had a comically misguided notion of it that has fed a nasty habit of buying more journals that never get used. 

Here’s a partial list of the things I’ve told myself in the past about me and creativity:

  • I’m no good at it, just like my 2nd grade art teacher told me.
  • Other people are so much better at creativity than I am.
  • I just don’t have a musical ear.
  • I don’t have anything to say.
  • Well, sometimes I have something to say, but if I say it, I know people are gonna judge me for it. These folks are gonna think I’m weird; these folks are gonna think I don’t really get it; these folks are gonna just write me off. 
  • I don’t like the way I look in videos, so I’d rather not make them.
  • My wife is good at EVERYTHING! She makes it look so easy. But when I try, it doesn’t come out like it does for her. 
  • Creating feels like hard work, and when I want to relax I don’t feel like hard work. 
  • I don’t want to record thoughts that I’ll be embarrassed by later. 
  • I don’t really know how to do it, and I don’t like doing things the wrong way. Better not even start. 

But something cracked open last week. With the help of this mentor, I got a glimpse of what it might feel like to see these discouraging thoughts for the illusion that they are. I felt an expansive feeling in my chest that I can only describe as freedom, seeing that creativity is not something to achieve, not something to work at. Instead, it’s something that flows through me. It has my personal flavor to it, but the flow itself is not something that came from me. 

I suddenly saw all my rules for creativity. All my certainty about creativity. And I saw that none of it was true.

I felt a rush of delight. I couldn’t recall the last time that creativity was about delight. When creativity isn’t so dang personal, and it’s more about something coming through me, then the delight keeps showing up. 

Without all those rules in my head, I feel free to play at creativity.

Without thinking the outcome really really matters, I feel free to just create. I can work with the raw material later and shape it into something more, if I want. Or not. But without the raw material, there’s nothing to work with, and sadly nothing new on the pages. 

So after years of keeping the blank pages blank, my journal is already half-full. I’m delighting in breaking my old rules – the doodle drawings are right next to a poem, which is followed by notes from a doctor’s appointment that are sandwiched between quotes that set my imagination free, and then some flash fiction. It’s a mess. It has no rhyme or reason. Very little of it is what I would call inspired. Some of it is garbage. But there’s actual ink on those pages. And it feels really good.