Photo: Stephanie McCabe on Unsplash

Caring for Our Creative Spark

“You’re only given a little spark of madness. You mustn’t lose it.”

-Robin Williams

Creativity and madness can be closely linked. Vincent Van Gogh’s life is a prime example of this interconnected nature. He was viewed as a drunkard, insane, and altogether a blight on many people’s lives.

People argued that his works were proof of his insanity, especially when combined with his behavior. Although people of the time weren’t able to appreciate his work, he preserved. Vincent kept creating because he had to, it was a part of who he was and how he understood his experience.

Thankfully for us, his works survived and improved with time. We now regard him as a revolutionary artist and a talent that may never come again, should Doctor Who have its say.

Had Vincent succumb to societal pressures and conformed there are no guarantees his life would have been any more prosperous. What would be certain is all people would have suffered in some small way.

Vincent would have lost the medium through which he processed experience while we would have lost the gift of his unique experience and perspective which he shared through art. Although Vincent is now world famous, he never knew much kindness while he was alive pursuing his art.

Vincent’s tale is a warning of the danger of our creative spark. Creativity is a double-edged sword. Since creativity requires a different perspective than the norm, it can be an alienating thing. Also, a mind bent too far can go insane.

Our creative spark can inspire us to create great things, whether it be beautiful artwork or new mathematical theorems. It’s also fragile, needs to be nurtured, and left unchecked, can cause us great harm.

What is Our Creative Spark?

If you have any creative tendencies I think you can intuit what I’m talking about, but I’m going to try to place it into words.

We’re driven to create, more importantly, it’s something that if we neglect for too long we become unhappy. For us, we have to write, create new inventions, derive a new proof, or any other creative act.

To ignore our impulse to create and optimize would result in deep-seated unhappiness. This is because it’s a part of us and our identity. Through our creations, we better understand the world around us and those who inhabit it.

Creative endeavors are more than a nice hobby for us, they are vital for us to navigate the world. Engaging in the act of creation not only lets us test and solidify our understanding of the world but escape into the work.

Most of us can remember a time where we became so enraptured in a project that hours felt like minutes. When this occurs we have just entered a flow state. Following our creative spark allows us to obtain this state more often.

For me, when I’m working on an article I’m excited to write, time fades away. I have gladly begun to wake up an hour earlier to indulge my spark of madness. Many of us love to sleep, and I’m no exception, but through waking up earlier, I get the chance to nurture my creative impulses.

As a consequence, I can move throughout the rest of the day with more joy and calm. The monotonous work required from my day job becomes much more bearable. It also becomes fuel for later creative pursuits.

Time to create is limited, so I’ve come to value it and look forward to it much more.

Although we look forward to our time to create, we all know how demanding our crafts can be. Whether it’s writing, mathematics, or gardening, our crafts demand all of us. Consequently, they can be draining and even damaging to us if we’re not careful.

Like most sparks, our creative spark is fragile, unpredictable, and easily extinguished if not properly nurtured and taken care of. Tending to our spark is a difficult but worthwhile task. Should we properly care for our spark, it can slowly become a flame, illuminating our world in ways we cannot imagine.

Nurturing our Spark

If we’re not feeding the spark then there’s a chance that it’ll eventually go out entirely.

This is a dark place to find ourselves. When our spark is extinguished we lose a part of ourselves and how we understand the world. Thankfully, like most sparks, it can be reignited but takes a considerable amount of time and effort to do so.

When talking about caring for our spark, prevention is certainly the best medicine.

Take Care of Ourselves

We often underestimate how valuable our health is. Especially if we are young, it is less likely that we’ve experienced severe illness or what it feels like to have our health taken away. What is common is taken for granted, and in youth, our health is comparatively abundant.

If we don’t have our health we cannot do anything else. Most importantly, there’s no chance in hell that we can appease our creative spark and create if we’re not healthy.

Thankfully, as a society, we’re now waking up to the different forms that health takes. It’s equally important to be physically and mentally healthy. They are deeply connected and inform one another. You cannot have strong physical health without decent mental health and vise versa.

Simply put, we have to put our adult pants on a bit and tend to our basic needs. This includes proper hygiene, eating well and as nutritious meals as possible, and making sure we’re physically active.

Mental health is equally important here. We have to regularly take time to reflect and process our experiences. Becoming comfortable with inaction is another important step we need to take. Not only is taking occasional breaks healthy, but it helps us connect things in the unique combinations required for creative work.

Our creative work can also serve as a reflection of our mental processing. It’s highly likely that we’ll create more than we ever show publically. Sometimes, we simply create to process and that’s both good and healthy. This is an example of our work and health working harmoniously together for mutual benefit.

In order to step fully into our best selves, we need a strong foundation. Our foundation should be built through our choices and actions concerning our health. Good health isn’t just a product of physical fitness, but it equally depends on a sharp and reliable mind.

Guard our Minds

Tending to our minds is more than just ensuring we’re maintaining our mental health. Our brains are easily influenced and malleable. While this is good for our work, it can also be a burden.

Since our minds absorb whatever we put into them, we should pay attention to what thoughts we’re feeding our mind. Just like we wouldn’t shovel only sugar into our bodies, the thoughts and ideas we are engaging with shouldn’t be monolithic. Instead, they should range in ideological leaning, temporal ordering, the source of origin, etc.

The danger for all of us is the desire to collect these thoughts and let them simmer, but not act on them. Creative work is hard emotionally and we never lose the fear of starting a new project. We need to remember why we curate knowledge and like to create is to benefit others.

We cannot benefit others if we keep the results from our ideation locked inside our brains. Instead, we must regularly force ourselves to create, even in the somewhat likely event that we don’t think the inspiration is there.

Regularly Practice Our Craft

When we take steps towards making the ideas in our head a reality, we’re doing one of the best things for our creative spark. It should come as no surprise that one of the best ways to take care of our spark is to use it!

If we have any hope of turning our spark into a flame we must regularly feed it fuel. The regular use and repetition of skills in our craft is like the whetstone for a knife and adding kindling to a burgeoning flame. The fuel our spark demands is use and expression.

Our spark is much like any tool, should we go a long time without using it then it will invariably succumb to entropy. The blade will be rusty, the bowstring too rigid, and the dry erase marker all dried up.

Amazing things start to happen when we put our head down and regularly produce. Our skill slowly starts to improve, our confidence increases, and if we’re skilled and lucky enough, our work finds an audience.

If we’re lucky, our spark will produce things that not only benefit us but also the wider communities we’re a part of. This is the true purpose of our creative spark.

Wrapping Up

Creative sparks are both a wonderful gift and immense responsibility.

Since the dawn of recorded history, we have used the products of creative sparks to benefit more than ourselves. When we created drawings on cave walls, it was to share our experience with others. We invented cuneiform to standardize how we communicated findings with one another.

Our creative spark emerged as a way to tackle problems with novel ideas and approaches. People argue that creative acts like the arts aren’t as valuable as disciplines like engineering. Their perception emerges partly because we funnel creativity into this weird bucket of fine arts.

Nothing is wrong with fine arts, and they are important in their own right, but creativity extends far beyond the world of arts. It exists in almost every discipline and is the unacknowledged driver of ingenuity.

Stepping fully into our creative nature is allowing the spark to drive us to question everything around us. Through asking the right questions, we arrive at solutions which people haven’t thought of before. Creating and sharing the solutions of our unique view fulfills us and satisfies our spark at the same time.

It’s my belief that we should all strive to become a part of something bigger than us. Indulging our creative spark requires us to interact with, understand, and sometimes challenge the very communities we are a part of.

When we’re producing and generating discussion, we’re helping our wider communities while also satisfying our desire to create for its own sake.

I’m a nonprofit professional who’s deeply passionate about effective learning, self improvement, and chasing my curiosity wherever it leads.