A good friend told me recently that he hasn’t regretted not taking the safe academic route to a dubious security. He’s a brilliant classical and rock’n’roll guitarist. “I started playing guitar when I was five because I loved it. It’s medicine for me. It’s a way to say ‘Thank you’. I know that if I started trying to do it for a living, the heart would go out of it.” He now teaches English in Japan to earn his living and makes music and composes in his free time.

While the possibilities of providing “media content”, — a.k.a. writing, photography, videos and music — for the vast maw of the internet increase every ten seconds, those possibilities don’t guarantee rent, food and gas for the car you just might be able to afford. It is too easy for any of us who create to become trapped in the hustle for money. Given the near-infinite displays of Write For, Sell Your Pictures, Break into the Big Time, any of us who create can find ourselves looking up from eight hours of hustle-surfing to find that our real work time has been sucked away. And all we can think about is how to shape our work to fit some steadily devolving trend.

There’s no formula for staying true to your gift, but here are four suggestions that you can use when you know you are too far from your the heart of your work.

1. Log off and re-enter the three-dimensional, multi-sensory world. Computer time/internet time uses only two of our perceptual senses: vision and hearing. We need all our senses to be fully alive – writing/photographing/making videos with heart require us to be fully alive. Take a shower, cook a meal, call a friend, go outside. Go outside without your phone or your music. Sit. Walk. Go somewhere you’ve never gone before. Scare yourself. Wake up.

2. Do nothing. Set a timer for ten minutes. Don’t meditate. Don’t practice yoga. Don’t count your breaths. Sit through whatever emerges. When the timer goes off, record what you feel – write, take a photograph, shoot a little video. Avoid analyzing what you’ve created, avoid editing. You’re not done.

A few days later, set the timer for twenty minutes and repeat.

A few days later, go for thirty minutes. Let us know in the Comments section what you find.

3. If the loss of your heart has you feeling blocked, use writing to find a way back to that beautiful knowledge you once were given: I have to create. Set your timer for twenty minutes. Begin writing as soon as it starts. Keep the pen moving (this works best when you hand-write), no matter what. You are emptying the clutter in your thinking, the tangle of thoughts that blocks the path to the heart. Begin with this sentence: Heart, I don’t know where you are…

4. Stop thinking of your life-work as “producing media content.” You are not an MBA program, your work is not curriculum.

I don’t earn my living from my writing – despite eight (soon to be nine) nationally published books and a ten year stint as a commentator for NPR. I teach and mentor. That leaves me free to keep the heart-line open to my work – and, as a consequence, to my teaching. There’s a fifth suggestion – no matter how you earn your living, keep your creative heart open for the images, words and sounds that can find their way into your “real work.” That way, you might feel that you are always doing the work of your heart.

[Photo: David Blackwell]