Lift You
Published in

Lift You

The Artist’s Guide to Purpose, Inspiration & Peace of Mind

Illustration credited to the magical Yaoyao Ma Van As

You are the Receiver of Your Art, Not Its Source

Illustration credited to the magical Yaoyao Ma Van As

Where do ideas come from? To one who has worked in the creative arts, this might be the question that haunts you most. Falling in love with artistic creation, is like following a butterfly down an alluring path. You try to catch it with your fingers and make it your own but when you are led into a garden full of blossoms, you realise that you can plant your own seed. You can have your own creation. Your own dream and imagination.

In this way, I found my calling in writing in this way. I was quite young and there was much time before any pressure or anxiety set in. I remember filling pages upon pages with blue-black scribbles, expressing a carefree abandon that deserted me as I grew older. My enthusiasm was still endless, but I realised that the quality of my work required progression. I had miles to go before I could compare it with any of my author idols. In fact, right now, it was an imitation of my idols.

What is it then, that changes for an artist with the passing of time?

You discover that you want an original idea. You want your own voice, your own creative way of showing the world how it appears through your eyes. You want a rainfall of inspiration to descend upon you, or that story you want to write will never exist in the world. Ideas must run throughout your career like a lifeblood of art flowing in a stream.

How do we keep it flowing? Where is our muse?

The pressure of producing bountiful work, and good work at that, can be immense for any artist. No one can freeze themselves into an anxiety-funk like we can. Thus, my dread grew when I faced the enormity of the novel project I had to undertake. A whole fictional world to construct, lives and characters to intertwine, messages to imbue and on top of that — make sure all its innumerable pages were worthy of being read. I was fifteen, and quivering under the weight of my expectations. Under the fear that I wouldn’t live up to my potential.

Then one night, home from school, I opened the first pages of a poetry book. And the very first poem, contained a verse that changed the way I thought about writing forever:

‘This little flute of reed you have carried over hills and dales, and have breathed through it melodies eternally new.

Your infinite gifts come only on these very small hands of mine.

Ages pass, and still you pour, and still, there is room to fill.’

— From ‘Gitanjali’ by Rabindranath Tagore.

These words made me feel like I had unlocked an epiphany. As if I was standing and looking up to the universe, with all its beams and endless starlight. Its multitudes worth of glittering galaxies. When those beams of starlight begin to hit me, what should I do next?

What can you do?

You catch them. If you think of yourself as a catcher of ideas, then you listen to your heart and you catch those beams. You’re not creating them, you’re just catching them. Like a medium, like an illuminated bulb, you drawing in and reflecting that light. The weight would lift off my shoulder, if I give up the responsibility of coming up with the ideas to someone else. I’m not the creator, I’m just the medium. If I tell myself that my inspiration was coming from something greater than myself — I was freed from the anxiety of creation.

Imagine an infinite source, like a fountain of inspiration. It could be God, the universe, divine serendipity, the genius of human creativity — or any force that you can genuinely believe in, that is outside of yourself. Once I did this, I felt liberated, because it worked. I was writing with less consciousness and insecurity than ever before. My ideas flowed through me, and they weren’t outlandish, insanely original, or impossible to imagine. But they were mine.

I realised I could only shine originally, when I expressed my truth. A truth that was above all, true to me. This was my real voice as a writer.

These stories were linked inextricably, to the truths I had discovered for myself. To the memories that moved me, to the people and stories I found wonder in.

Someone once said that there isn’t anything new under the sun; nothing you can say that hasn’t already been said before. But you can see with a lens no one else ever has.

Haven’t all our best human inventions ever been brought about this way? When someone noticed something that no one else ever has before? A fresh perspective that can transform what is seen by the power of its outlook. That is the source of creativity.

Purpose > Talent

Illustration credited to the magical Yaoyao Ma Van As

Let us imagine that two versions of me have gathered around a campfire to talk.

Young Me: I imagine that life is going quite well for you?

Old Me: In what way do you mean?

Young Me: Wait — is it going terribly?’ *stricken*

Old Me: Take a breath, already!

Young Me: Heh *sighs audibly* Then, is your writing loads better now?

Old Me: *smiles slightly* I hope so. Yes, I think.

Young Me: That’s a relief. All the grown ups around me tell me I ought to pursue writing, but I feel like I need to get much better. Apparently I have some kind of knack for it.

Old Me: But do you actually want to do it?

Young Me: Of course I do. Sometimes, it’s the only way I have to express these strong, uncontainable emotions I feel inside of me.

Old Me: Uncontainable emotions? At your baby bird age?

Young Me: You know, old lady, there are times. Times when I feel like I didn’t choose writing as much as it chose me. Before I could comprehend how to even properly do it, I was already telling stories. It’s like writing chose me before I chose it.

Old Me: Talent is a good sign, little one. But remember, it is not strong enough to turn the whole tide of life’s direction. We can’t just pursue something because we’re good at it — we should love it. Or soon, we’d grow tired of it.

Young Me: Really — is that true?

Old Me: It really is. Even if we succeed enormously, even if everyone applauds us— won’t the whole thing feel empty if there is no real heart in our work? No purpose or love that we have for it?

Young Me: This is feeling morbid.

Old Me: Everyone is born with a talent in this world. People can choose to develop it; some can even shine brilliantly. But there are few, who actually discover something to say through it — something true to express with their art.

Young Me: Find a purpose. Is that what you’re saying?

Old Me: Indeed. It goes beyond just having talent. It’s something you give to the world that leaves it better than how you found it. Maybe it heals or inspires, maybe it amazes people. Maybe it could be something, that shows someone a mirror to their own heart, and makes them feel less alone. Maybe it can even get them to laugh, on a day when their world feels completely blue.

Young Me: I feel like if I could believe that, I would always keep writing.

Old Me: Exactly. Writing is like your real home; it won’t desert you in the shifting sandcastles of fame and fortune.

Young Me: That means….purpose is above talent.

Old Me: Aha, well done. That’s the secret. Purpose over talent.

‘Making It’

Illustration credited to the magical Yaoyao Ma Van As

Fame and money are usually what people imagine success to be like. But then again, many of these motivation gurus are usually telling us all to ‘find your own definition of success.’

So what did I discover about my own version? Allow me to tell you a story.

Once in the spring of 2018, I was given the biggest break of my writing career yet.

The Associated Press asked me to write an article documenting my elder brother’s journey to reaching the Masters Golf Tournament. He was only the fourth Indian in history to do so.

I met with my editor, the awesome Mr. Doug, and then stayed up half the night scribbling feverishly, just managing to meet my deadline. But I was really proud of it.

They sent it away into the world, mass publishing it into esteemed papers like the Associated Press, Hindustan Times, New York Times, Times of India, Washington Post, Boston Herald and about 50+ publications worldwide. I was stunned by this, being someone who had eked out writing credits one by one, in smaller publications over long years. Gracious praise from experienced journalists and brilliant people suddenly enveloped me, and spectators on the golf course were walking up to me to tell me they had read my work. It was all a blur of surprised happiness.

A while has passed since then, and if you ask me what I remember most from the outcome of that experience — I would mention all the people I met. About the older writers who took me under their wing. The people whose face lit up as they spoke to me. Don’t mistake me, I’m most certainly grateful for the enormous publishings and all the snazzy new credits I could suddenly type into my resume — but in that blur of ‘success’ and those all important ‘views’ that the armchair blogger geniuses of the internet always endorse— I discovered to my surprise that they weren’t even the thing that felt most important.

That’s because it was a computer metric, just a number on a screen. But those human interactions, they were real and invaluable.

‘Making it’ is a narrative that you tell your mind.

In your life or career, there are many comparisons you could create. Your greatest achievement can appear dwarfish before some others, but to someone much further down below, the height you have already soared to would seem incredible and utterly magical. In a playground full of children climbing the highest swing-sets to see who can stand tallest — wouldn’t it be much more fun to just jump into the sandpit and play around with seashells?

If I ask you to imagine life in our universe to be an endless, beautiful tapestry with billions of threads — we realise that your life is a single silver thread in that colourful tapestry. You decide its value. You decide the pattern you want to create with it, because it is you who will be affected, turned and twisted into every direction to create that pattern.

Before anyone else in your life, your work should bring you meaning and happiness. Everyone deserves that; in fact everyone has the freedom to make that choice. Regardless of the influences or unfair circumstances life may give us, we still have the power to choose what to feel and do about it — thus changing the outcome with our karma.

Thus, I believe that my life is a silver thread; a gift first and foremost to myself. And so should yours be to you, given by yourself.

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Vandini Sharma

Vandini Sharma

20 year old awarded & published 🇮🇳 writer. I write soulful, creative & lighthearted stories intended to inspire!✒AP, Forbes, HT & 50+ global credits.💖