So I’m still trundling around Scotland (with limited internet–sorry), and that means I actually finished reading “How to Fly a Horse,” among other books. One of the topics dealt with in that little tome was how to inspire people to their best creative efforts. The author’s conclusions reminded me of a conversation I had years ago with my sister Maire.
Maire-Maire is a very talented quilter, and has an eye for what fabrics will make an interesting combination, and what patterns while join them in the most pleasing combination. She quilts by hand, and enjoys every aspect of the process, from choosing the fabrics to top stitching the final seams. She made me a quilt to celebrate the birth of my daughter 27 years ago, and when I sleep under that quilt, I feel safe and warm and loved.
Maire works terribly, horribly, awfully hard in a management capacity at a medical practice. Long hours, big stress, many sad stories, and there’s Maire, with one of the kindest hearts you’ll ever meet. I asked why she didn’t sell her quilts, and look for a job that was less stress.
She said that the quilting was for her soul, and attaching a dollar figure to it would take some of the joy from it. The quilting was “hers,” and turning it into a business would take some of that away. At first, this struck me as not very sensible. Here’s a lucrative skill she enjoys plying, and there’s a job that’s really hard. The money was by no means the same, but money isn’t everything, is it? A quilt business might lead to a quilt shop, some extra savings, quilting classes, articles in quilting magazines… why not follow that dream?
Turns out, Maire was onto something. When experiments are run that offer some people monetary prizes for coming up with creative work, and other people are offered nothing for tackling the same problems, the people who stick to the challenge because they’re enjoying it come up with much more interesting and viable solutions than the wage earners. These results were easy to duplicate, too.
Think about that. On the one hand, if we want to kill creativity, the best way to do that is pay somebody a wage in coin. On the other hand, we define success most often in terms of material wealth and financial security, not happiness, life-satisfaction, and creative self-expression.
No doubt, this is an area where common sense and balance play a role. Children need to eat, the bills must be paid, but sooner or later, the soul must be nourished too–though nobody tells us this, (and nobody especially tells our menfolk this). I’ve learned to reject big advances for my books, because I don’t want to “owe” anybody a book. I’ve so far always met my contractual obligation, but having that dollar sign hanging over my head was only creating anxiety and distraction,
Is there an activity you keep safe from the dollar sign? One you’ve thought about making commercial but shied away from? Is there a job that killed your creativity, or–it’s been true for me–one that brought it out?
Again, I might not be able to respond to comments, but I do want to hear what you have to say!