The Untarnished Joy of Creativity

Last week, something happened that I really needed. Something that reminded me of why I started writing in the first place, and the joy that comes from creating stories that make people happy. Something that inspired me to try to be more positive about my creative endeavors. Something that reminded me that when we face roadblocks, passion and resilience will see you through.

That something? I went to a Hanson concert.

Wait. Stay with me. I'll explain.

Way back in 1997, thirteen year old me (I can hear you doing the math) developed a raging crush on the band Hanson. I loved absolutely everything about them--their music, their infectious happiness, their long hair, and the way my friends and I connected over our shared love of all things MMMBop and beyond. There was something about them--maybe it was the music, maybe it was the fact that they were all around my age, maybe it was the fact that they were so darn cute--that struck a chord in me, and for the first time in my life, I felt that exciting twinge of creative inspiration.

During the summer of 1997, I started writing. It started out as a little project for a friend. Her dog had died, and to cheer her up, I wrote her a cute little story featuring her, a trip to Disney World, and a magical date with Taylor Hanson that included ice cream, hand holding, and a kiss at the end. (I was thirteen, remember?) I would sit in my room, cross-legged on my bed with the story pouring out of me. I'd fill page after page in my Hilroy notebook until my hand cramped and I couldn't possibly write more. I'd go to bed with my head and heart full, excited to wake up the next morning and continue the story. It was exhilarating and FUN.

My friend loved the story, and so I kept going, writing story after story about Hanson and posting them on fan fiction websites. I loved connecting with people over something I'd written. I loved knowing that what I'd written made people happy. Creativity was pure joy for me, and if you've ever experienced anything like that, you know it's a powerful, heady feeling.

Fast forward twenty years to the present, and I'm now a multi-published author. I've written three full-length books, three novellas, and co-written a three book series. You would think, based on thirteen year old Tara's hopes and dreams, that I'd be happy and fulfilled, bursting at the seams with the satisfaction of having "made it." I'm published! People are reading my books! I'm a professional author!'d be wrong.

Because the truth is, somewhere along the way--between the crazy deadlines, editorial interference, poor sales, and having to fire an agent--I'd lost that creative joy. The passion. The excitement. I was feeling lost, unfulfilled, unmotivated, and uninspired. My creative joy had become tarnished by all the sludge that comes along with publishing. It was no longer shiny and beautiful. Writing just felt like work. It was no longer this all-consuming passion that set my heart and my pages on fire. Bit by bit, the joy had slipped away, so slowly I wasn't even fully conscious of it until I realized that my well was dry, my gas tank was empty, and I was staring at a blank computer screen with a deadline looming.

And then last Wednesday happened. My friend Sarah and I bought tickets to Hanson's 25th anniversary tour months ago, and while I'm not really a believer in things happening for a reason, I do think that I was meant to go to that concert.

Hanson has been playing together for twenty-five years now, and during the show, they talked a little about the ups and downs they've faced in their career. The highs--selling ten million copies of their Middle of Nowhere album and being nominated for a Grammy--and the lows--getting dropped by their label, receiving rejection after rejection, and having to strike out on their own, investing their own hard-earned money just to keep making music. So many others would've given up in the face of that kind of adversity, but they didn't. Why? Because music is their passion. Performing fuels them. Connecting with fans and entering their lives through song gives them meaning and purpose.

Hearing them talk about staying positive in the face of overwhelming adversity, about resilience, about letting your passion both guide and fuel you, about doing something because you love it and it's who you resonated. Big time. And in between all of these positive messages that I could feel right in the center of my chest, they played the songs that thirteen year old me had started writing to. Songs that reminded me of what it felt like to embrace that all-consuming creative urge. The concert was like polish to my tarnished creative joy, stripping it away, bit by bit, showing me that the joy wasn't gone, only hidden under a layer of gunk. The joy was still there. Still within me.

Walking out of the concert hall, I felt like a new person. Clearer. More focused. Happier, and more relaxed than I'd been in a long time. And on top of that, I felt the burning desire to create. To open myself up and let a story pour out. Not for an editor or a publisher, or even my agent, but for me. Because this is who I am.

And I have Hanson to thank for reminding me of that.