Listen to Your Work

My friend (let’s call her Dorcas) bought an African Violet (Saintpaulia spp.) as a houseplant more than ten years ago. She read the instructions and listened to advice from plant-loving friends: Never let water touch the leaves. Always aim the water into the saucer underneath the pot. Keep the roots wet.

Image by Maria from Pixabay

Two out of three of these rules worked for Dorcas. But the idea of keeping the roots wet just seemed off to her.

She and the houseplant cohabited, year after year. It stayed alive, but not much more than that.

The Voice of the Violet

Then one day, Dorcas says, she heard her plant communicating with her: Keep my roots watered!

She rose to the challenge, and from that day forward, the plant thrived. Dorcas has enjoyed year-round blooms ever since.

Why am I telling you this? Because I got to thinking how often this dynamic applies beyond the world of houseplants.

Beyond Houseplants

Did I sort of suspect – well, actually, know with certainty – it was important to get enough sleep, but ignored that knowledge, and then wondered why life was feeling super-effortful?

Did my client discount their need for strenuous physical activity before a writing session, and then get angry that the words weren’t flowing?

Did my colleague approach literary agents with their latest book even though they knew it needed another revision?

Denial Is Not Our Friend

Thirty years ago, long before Dorcas’s houseplant had begun to languish, singer-songwriter Pam Tillis wrote a song, Cleopatra Queen of Denial,  about what this phenomenon can look like in a doomed romance. Ignoring reality doesn’t work for Tillis’s narrator, and it doesn’t work for us when we’re not aligned with a creative project, either.

Vintage T-shirt from around that time.

The Importance of Listening

Back in the present day, right now, the key is gaining access to that moment of recognition, even enlightenment: There’s something I can do differently.

Can we get quiet enough to hear the still small voice of the houseplant? Or of our undernourished muse? Of our not-yet-ready creative work?

What is bugging you about your creative process? What feels misaligned? What does it want to tell you? Listen to your work. Can you hear it? What does it need? What will you do in response?

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