When the Muse Needs a Vacation

By Angie Dixon | Posted 7/7/06 | Updated 8/3/23

I was reminded over the last few days how hard creativity is. One book, The Leonardo Trait, was accepted for publication by, while I finished two more and created a cover for a third to be self-published.

The result? Four great-looking books, a stiff shoulder and a hand I can barely move. My right hand, of course, and I'm not left-handed, also of course.

I want to take an informal poll here. How many of you neglect your bodies or outright abuse them, in the name of Doing the Work? How many of you have children who don't recognize you if they don't see you in front of the computer, or with a paintbrush in your hand, or whatever your creative gift is?

I wonder how many of us forget that our work is work, and that we have lives outside of that work. I wonder how many of us actually *have* lives outside of that work.

Now, I'm just about the last person in the world with room to talk about this, and I acknowledge that. But I think it's something we might want to start thinking about, and talking about.

Here are five questions we might want to ask ourselves about our creativity, our work, and our habits.

1. Is my work making my life easier, or harder?

This is a tough one to ask, because there's that long-held belief that an artist must suffer for her art (or his, of course). But is that really true? Is it really necessary for us to be in physical pain with repetitive stress injury? Is it really necessary that we should have relationships where people feel they have to find a time when we're not working? Are we really living a creative life, or are we just executives who wield words and blow torches instead of spreadsheets and PowerPoints, and produce manuscripts and sculptures instead of financial statements and macaroni and cheese?

2. Am I doing my art because I want to be creative, or because I want to be productive?

There's nothing wrong with productivity. But let's be honest here. When I turned one presentation, one set of articles and one old manuscript into books, in less than two weeks, and made myself sick in the process — that wasn't truly necessary, or even driven by a desire to produce art. It was driven by a desire to prove something to myself. Sometimes that's okay, even good, even useful. But sometimes, it's just making yourself sick for no real reason.

3. Am I doing my art because I love it?

This is a tough question. There are times when I sit down to write, because I know that's what writers do, and I'd rather be doing anything else other than writing. But I do it because I'm a writer. That's not exactly what I'm talking about. What I'm talking about is, do I have a passion for writing this project, or am I doing it because someone thought it would be a good idea? Am I doing something I will really feel connected with and proud of, or am I just writing another book to increase the number of books I've written?

4. What would I be doing if I weren't doing art right now?

If the answer is anything that you would truly rather be doing and that you would benefit from doing, and if you're honest with yourself about the circumstances, you might be better off watching that movie with your family or reading that book in the bathtub. Of course, every time you're not wanting to do art, you can't just blow it off; the muse comes when your butt is in the chair. But sometimes the muse needs a vacation, too.

5. If I worked for someone else and felt like this, would I be at work?

Would I be better off if I took some time off? An hour, a day, a week? Do I need to rest? Am I stressed? Am I exhausted? Am I sick? Have I lost the use of three fingers? Then what am I still doing working? Okay, that's a series of questions. But ask yourself these things occasionally.

I love my work, my writing. When it's good, it really is the best thing in the world, and even when it's terrible, I'd rather do it than anything in the world. But creativity is hard work, and we need to take care of ourselves, because no one else can create what we can.

Copyright ©2006 Angie Dixon. All rights reserved.