Saturday, May 4, 2013

The Passion Key

On Monday, we posted a book review of this title and today we offer an excerpt from Making Your Creative Mark by Eric Maisel.

Many creative people and most would-be creative people are interested in their artistic projects but not passionately interested in them. There is a huge difference here, and a big problem.

Mere interest does not sustain motivational energy, and it isn’t a match for the obstacles that arise as you try to create. You need passionate interest in order to generate energy and to see you through the rigors of creating.

Passion and its synonyms — love, curiosity, enthusiasm, excitement, and energy — are vital to the creative process. Though it is possible to create without passion, your art will suffer, and the likelihood of your continuing over the long haul is greatly reduced. Opt for passionate work. Lukewarm work will not really sustain you.

If I had to tease out the key motivator that fuels the artist’s journey, it would be passion. Passion creates and restores mental energy. Many people feel mentally tired a lot of the time and don’t realize that nothing creates mental energy or restores it when it has drained away better than love, enthusiasm, and curiosity.

If you’re a painter, just consider what looking at and being with paintings you love does to you — those paintings wake you right up. If you’re sleepwalking through your art career, not quite getting things done, not quite feeling motivated, not quite feeling like tackling the projects that you claim interest you, it may well be that you’ve lost love for your own ideas — or maybe that you never fell in love with them in the first place.

Nor would that be very surprising. We have enough doubts about our right to create, the importance of creating, the general goodness of our work, and the goodness of the specific project (we say) we are working on, that we often dislike our projects more than we like them. Creating is hard, and what that means is that every day we may find our project hard — and it is difficult to love something that only presents us with problems.

So it’s not surprising that we may not be bringing much love or passion to our creative efforts or our career in the arts. Since that love may not come naturally or may evaporate all too easily in the face of difficulties, you must learn how to kindle passion — and how to rekindle it when it vanishes.

It might sound as if I’m talking about how to bring fire back into a marriage, and in a way I am. In a dull, stressful marriage, very little that’s lively or beautiful is going on. If you’re in a dull, stressful relationship with your art, you can bet that very little that’s lively or beautiful is going on there. So here are some ways to rekindle that passion.
  1. Get obsessed. I’ve written extensively about the idea of “productive obsessions” in my book Brainstorm and recommend that book to you. The word obsession got co-opted by the mental health industry and turned into a negative by definition. When you define obsessions as “intrusive, unwanted thoughts,” then naturally all obsessions seem negative. But not every repetitive thought is unwanted or intrusive — some are exactly the thoughts we want. One way to fall back in love with your work is to allow yourself to obsess about it — to really bite into it, to really think about it, and to pay real, obsessive attention to it.  

  2. Be a little more impetuous. You may be living in a careful, controlled, and contained way to ensure that you are taking care of all your responsibilities and getting the items checked off your perpetual to-do list. That way of living can be entirely appropriate, but it pretty much bars the door on impetuosity. Try being more impetuous both with your art and with your art career. Impetuously get up from whatever you are doing and go write. Impetuously drop a gallery owner in London an email that introduces you. Write a song out of the blue. In the family of words that includes loving and passionate, impetuous is a vital one. 

  3. Accept that you have appetites. We rein in our appetites for all sorts of reasons: so that we don’t gain too much weight, so that we don’t have affairs and betray our mate, so that we don’t drive too fast and get too many speeding tickets, and so on. We all have these appetites, and creative people tend to have even bigger appetites than most, which is why addiction is such a big problem in the arts. But when we try to rein in these appetites, as an unintended consequence we also rein in our appetite to create. Rather than reining in all your appetites, just rein in those that produce negative consequences. Let yourself be really hungry when it comes both to your creating and to your art career. 

  4.  Be ambitious. Sometimes we sell ourselves on the idea that it is unseemly to have ambitions and that ambitiousness is a manifestation of narcissism or pride. It is really nothing of the kind. To have ambitions is really just to have desires, to have passions. It is perfectly proper to have desires and passions and to want things like bestsellers, or gallery shows, or articles written about you, or anything of that sort. Try to free yourself from the idea that there is something wrong with feeling and being ambitious, since those ambitions are really just manifestations of desire — and desire is a good thing! 

  5.  Feel devoted to your work. The late Luciano Pavarotti said something once that I like to repeat: “People think I’m disciplined. It’s not discipline, it’s devotion, and there’s a great difference.” There is. We are in a completely different relationship with our art when we feel devoted to it as opposed to when we feel it is something we should be doing. If you have never felt really devoted to anything, you may want to locate that feeling in your being and to start treating your art as an object of your devotion. 

  6. Opt for intensity and even exhaustion. One of the ways we honor our pledge to make personal meaning is to do the work required of us, even if that effort exhausts us. If it exhausts us, we rest, but we do not let the fear of exhaustion prevent us from making our meaning. You might start painting at sunrise and go until midnight, getting tired, confused, anxious, frayed, sad, and whatever else befalls you as you struggle to create. When, after many hours of doing battle, you can’t muster another thought or another brushstroke, you can scream, cry, feed the cat, do anything you like, but do not even think about throwing in the towel. Try to live that intensely. Exhaust yourself in the service of your work, and then reward yourself, at the very least with the compliment “I worked hard, I didn’t fall apart, and I’m proud of my efforts.” 

  7. Understand the power of our cultural and societal in-junctions against passion. Those injunctions can easily stop you from expressing the passion you feel. We are a very buttoned-down, unexpressive, don’t-let-your-emotions-show kind of culture, and everyone is in that cultural trance. It can feel very hard to go against the grain and act passionately in the service of your ideas and projects. If you know that you are somehow inhibited by cultural messages and by the demand not to look conspicuous, think through what you can do to shed that cultural straitjacket. 

  8.  Remember that passion isn’t unseemly. We have to get it out of our heads that being passionate about our work, being obsessed with our work, or being in love with our work is unseemly. If we are holding some mental injunction against passion or some internal lack of permission to be passionate, that judgment will severely restrict our ability to create. 

  9.  Remember that passion isn’t a given. You have to bring the passion — it won’t appear just because you showed up at the canvas or the computer screen. You know how often you show up and nothing exciting, invigorating, or passionate happens. The mere getting there isn’t enough. You need to bring some enthusiasm, love, and passion with you, which you do by actively falling back in love with your project, by investing meaning in your project, and by thinking thoughts that serve you, in this instance loving thoughts. 

  10.  Remember that passion isn’t optional. To repeat the main point here, we have very little mental energy for something that bores us, for something that barely interests us, for something whose difficulty outweighs its desirability. If we think of our work as difficult and believe we need a white-knuckled discipline to get to it, then we probably won’t get to it. If, instead, we think of our work as difficult and as something we love and to which we are devoted, then we probably will get to it. Love makes all the difference in the world.
Eric Maisel is the author of Making Your Creative Mark and twenty other creativity titles including Mastering Creative Anxiety, Brainstorm, Creativity for Life, and Coaching the Artist Within. America’s foremost creativity coach, he is widely known as a creativity expert who coaches individuals and trains creativity coaches through workshops and keynotes nationally and internationally. He has blogs on the Huffington Post and Psychology Today and writes a column for Professional Artist Magazine. Visit him online at

Excerpted from the new book Making Your Creative Mark ©2013 by Eric Maisel.  Published with permission of New World Library.


  1. I really needed to read this today - thanks! I'm at the last hurdle of my novel and flagging. So now I'm going to dig in and get back to work.

  2. What a fabulous validation of art (painting, sculpting, writing, composing, dancing, choreographing, etc.) as a vocation, an honorable calling, a REAL job! This doesn't mean becoming a starving artist and begging for alms instead of punching a time clock, but it does mean that we must passionately respect our own work before we can expect anyone else to. This also means devoting quality time to it, nurturing it, giving it (and ourselves) permission to grow into something extraordinary.

    Excellent, excellent post! Like Elle, I really needed this one today.

  3. This book is terrific for established artists in any genre. I highly recommend it. And, wow, did I ever need to read it also!

  4. Perfect timing, Dani! Your post seems to be helping many of us today. Thanks.

  5. I like being "devoted." That's a lot better than thinking of it as disciplined. Great excerpt!

  6. Thanks so much for posting this, Dani. Like Heidi, I really like to think in terms of devotion rather than discipline. I think that works for some of us who abhor discipline. (smile)

  7. I agree with both of you - hopelessly devoted rather than strictly disciplined is so much cooler!


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.


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