Talking about Passion and Creativity

Okay I need to elaborate a bit on this panel about passion, because it really pushed my buttons.

First, passion and creativity are not the same thing. Can we all agree on that? “Creative drive” and “passion” have some things in common, but they are not interchangeable terms.

Great. Glad we’ve settled that. Pressing along then.

Are artists passionate? Sure. You know who else is passionate? People. Professional artists may be more passionate about what they do than other people, or they may not. Something is driving them to pursue what they love with little assurance of monetary compensation; that doesn’t make them crazy, or necessarily any more passionate than people who pursue non-artistic careers.

Then there’s this idea that people who pursue art full-time are somehow more passionate about their art than others. I hope I don’t need to break down all the reasons that doesn’t make any kind of sense.

Let me just mention one, though: the number of people who seem to ignore the help of financial stability (be it due to spousal/parental support, not having to pay off loans, what have you) is remarkable. None of that changes that an artist has to sit down and do the work, but easing that burden is a huge help.

So we come to the actual producing. Plenty of people want to write a novel. The difference between those who write them and those who don’t, or who get started and can’t finish, is not degree of passion. Often it’s discipline. There are also MANY OTHER reasons, and the rationale “But if they only WANTED it badly enough they’d be successful” is bullshit. Art requires more than wanting. Passion may get you started, but it isn’t what carries you through. If you love your project enough, if you love being able to be a writer enough, if you love every single scene or print or whatever, there are still going to be times when it is hard to make art. Getting yourself to do it anyway, again, is not a matter of passion.

And on that note, the idea that if you’re truly passionate, everything inspires you, and so you can’t help but make art, you always want to be art-ing! That you should just wait for The Muse to descend and inspire you and the art will just flow out of you in a magical fucking stream!


Do I love writing? Of course. Do I sometimes have to force my fingers onto the keyboard? YES. Can I be inspired by anything? Absolutely. The world is a fascinating place.

But ideas are fickle things. And in all likelihood the random idea that inspires me is going to be tempting me away from the hard part of a project I love towards something easier with all its NEW SHININESS — until the luster wears off and there’s another NEW SHINY IDEA and very few projects (at least, not big ones) ever get finished that way. Not drafted, and certainly not edited.

I think what really gets me, though, is the idea that there are degrees of passion, that there is such a thing as being passionate enough. That if you’re somehow sufficiently passionate, that you won’t “allow life to get in the way.” That if things aren’t working out career-wise for other artists, well, it must be because they just don’t care as much. Their passion is comparatively, quantitatively less.

And as a corollary, that people in other industries are less creative because they’re not pursuing art, even if they’re passionate about what they do. That people in the arts are more creative, that this somehow makes them a different sub-species of human (where did the term “creatives” come from, anyway?) That we’re just channels and art happens all on its own.


So let’s try some different ones, shall we?

Creativity wells can run dry. Steven Gould explained in a lecture at Viable Paradise that you have to take in art in order to be able to put art back out, and I’ve found this to be completely true.

How excited I am about a project can ebb and flow. Sometimes I need to force myself to make words; sometimes I need to take a break. Knowing which to try is something learned from experience.

What works for other writers and artists may work for you. It may not. There’s no Right Way to art.

I can be passionate about writing and have a full creative well and still not want to sit down and make words. It doesn’t mean my passion has vanished, nor my creativity, nor my drive. Reaching a wall with a given project, or with a kind of art, doesn’t mean I’m “blocked” (“writer’s block” is a different can of worms, but a related one: I think much of the idea of it stems from how we talk about creative work). It probably means something else in my life is wrong and needs tending to. Sometimes it means there’s something wrong with the story and I need to let my subconscious sort out how far back I need to delete.

Plenty of people who pursue art, even as a career, maintain day jobs. Often for financial reasons, and often they’re also passionate about those jobs. That they are not art-ing full-time doesn’t make them less passionate about art.

Other jobs require creativity. Living as a human requires creativity. People are constantly creative. This is not the same as producing art. I’ve never met someone who wasn’t passionate about something, even if they don’t realize it. Passion drives all of us in different ways. Calling a person passionate in and of itself doesn’t mean anything. Passion, I think, is largely about connection, to ideas, pursuits, and people; it isn’t something that exists in a void.

Inadvertently creating a myth that people who pursue art are somehow inherently different is others artists and makes it even harder to choose to be an artist. How many people with fantastic stories inside of them are scared away by the idea that there is a set of characteristics they have to have to be a “real” artist? No doubt if they’re “sufficiently passionate” they’ll get over it and art anyway — or maybe they’ll apply that creativity and passion to another field exclusively and that story will be lost.

There are plenty of other things that make artistic careers hard. Talking about them like some sort of mythical transcendent experience that only the chosen few can have makes it harder for people to learn to navigate them, if they think that they’re Doing It Wrong or Aren’t Good Enough because they’re an actual goddamn human being and not a mystical conduit.

And we don’t want less art in the world. We don’t want fewer artists.

An old quotation from Albert Camus popped up in my Twitter feed today: “The purpose of a writer is to keep civilization from destroying itself.”

I know perfectly well that the process of creating can feel magical. I know my connections with other writers tend to be different than those with friends and family who do not pursue art. But can we stop talking about passion, creativity, art, and artists like they’re made of magic, the both victimized and valorized Other? Please?


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