Reading Series: Bittersweet

It’s been a little over a year since I published the first reading series installment about Austin Kleon’s Show Your Work. In that original post I committed to sharing the insights about being a writer and an artist that I gained from books. Over the past thirteen months, I’ve meandered a bit, writing about the false idol of publication, the sanctity of the every day, the power of words, the gender expectations I’m not going to live up to, and the way introversion influences worship style preference. Today we’re going to return to the spirit of the first reading series post and talk about the big idea of what being an artist looks like for me.


I read through Shauna Niequist’s Bittersweet this summer and had to restrain myself from copying pretty much the whole book into my journal. Her words have a way of helping me see myself more clearly and live bravely through the hard parts of life. One line I did end up copying from Bittersweet was,

The world will survive without your art—but you might not.

This piece of wisdom has helped me structure my days and weeks as I figure out how to be not a student anymore. There has been a lot of trial and error experimentation as I learn how to prioritize tasks when deadlines aren’t as pressing as they used to be and figure out what I want to do with the months and years ahead of me. It’s easy to despair in this place I’m in: unemployed, living with my parents in rural Nebraska, hours away from the creative community I found at college. It’s easy to start believing that my creative aspirations are a waste of time; that I should just settle for an ordinary job instead of holding out for grad school and the opportunities it could open up for me.

But Shauna’s words remind me that art is important to my survival, so I have been trying to make it a priority in this weird in-between place. Here are a few practices I have been employing to nurture my creativity over the past months:

  1. #weeknightcreatives #midweeksabbath: A few weeks ago, I was reorganizing my Pinterest boards (because, yes, that’s what I prioritize) and realized I had a lot of crafty ideas pinned that were never going to get done unless I started dedicating time to them. I decided I should set aside an afternoon or evening each week to work on creative projects. A few days later, I was visiting my sister, and she said something similar, about how she wished she crafted more often. We decided to sync our schedules and have a creative night/sister night each week. Scheduling this into my week has been so refreshing. Of course there are nights when I am exhausted or too busy and just don’t want to put forth the effort of being creative. But I try to push through those feelings and make something, because I am learning that the act of creation makes me feel energized and generative and accomplished. It helps me connect with my spirit. This practice is shaping the way I think about creating; shifting my perception of it from a frivolous hobby to a crucial method of self-care.
  2. Made Vibrant Better Lettering Course: One day, when I was feeling altogether isolated from my college friends, I decided to finally join this e-course/Instagram community created by Caroline Kelso that I had been following for months. The e-course is a collection of resources to help participants improve their hand lettering skills, but the part that really appealed to me is the interaction on Instagram. I needed some accountability, some connection, and some ideas to get my creativity started. I also love the course’s focus of giving words extra dimension by connecting them with visual art.
  3. On Being and Magic Lessons: These two podcasts are nourishment for my creativity. On Being episodes are extended interviews about “the big questions of meaning,” often with a spiritual aspect. My favorite episodes have been about poetry (surprise!): Marie Howe on the poetry of ordinary time, Mary Oliver on listening to the world, and Walter Brueggemann on the prophetic imagination. Magic Lessons are conversations between Elizabeth Gilbert (author of Eat, Pray, Love and Big Magic) and other creatives about the problems and solutions of artistic endeavors. Every episode (so far, I’ve only listened to four at this point) offers practical and philosophical advice on making.
  4. This blog: I treat this blog as I would a job or a school assignment: I make it a priority and give myself deadlines. It gets me writing and thinking consistently somewhere other than my journal. I use the reading series posts on this blog as an excuse to set aside at least a half hour every night to ignore text messages and dive into a story. It motivates me to keep turning the pages. Every post I write is an effort to work through ideas that are floating around my head, to decide what I think about a topic, to tell my truth.

What practices nurture your creativity? My routines are always changing, so I’d love some new ideas!


10 thoughts on “Reading Series: Bittersweet

  1. This is beautiful. I needed this. I’m so busy and stressed that it’s incredibly hard to make time for creativity. There’s always something else I think I should be doing. I’m getting ridiculously emotional over this blog post, but it feels like a reminder I need – permission to take the time I need to create.

    1. I got to the point last year when I just knew that I HAD to take time for myself every so often to just listen to poetry or sit alone in a room by myself and write a letter or whatever or else I would just lose it. It feels so selfish at first, but you might find that it makes you better equipped to handle your other obligations that are stressing you out. It did for me. Creativity is really tied to my mental health. So give yourself all the permission you need! Be selfish sometimes!

      1. I’ve been getting up early to write for about 45 minutes every morning, but since I’m working through a really rough novel, I don’t find that very relaxing. I have a huge stack of letters, books, etc. on my desk that I keep meaning to do when I have time, but maybe I should just give myself some time and do them. I think I’d feel better.

  2. I love this Emily! I feel the same way, in fact I have a daily goal to create something new everyday. Whether it’s sewing, blogging, painting with Elle or like you trying to complete some of my pins on my Pinterest boards I try to do something. It has made me so much happier and I feel very accomplished at the end of the day.

    1. Thanks! That sounds like a great goal to have. I didn’t know you have a blog! I’ll have to check it out. I’m glad you’re finding things to help you feel accomplished.

  3. I’m so glad that you’re finding a way to redeem this time that feels so “in-between” to you. The ability to be totally “present” and to continue creating no matter where you are will be useful for the rest of your life. Thanks for the reference to the book (going to check it out) and the podcasts. I’m trying to put together a class on inspirational writing next semester and I’m trying to gather resources. AND I’m glad this blog is an outlet for creativity!

  4. Hi Emily,
    I stumbled upon your blog today through the Instagram #OneDayHH feed. I am so happy I did! This post just resonates with my heart. I love Bittersweet, and can identify with copying much of it into my own journal; it came into my life at a very poignant time. The Mary Oliver On Being episode is such a soothing, beautiful listen. And I absolutely love your weekly creative idea!! I am in graduate school right now and am figuring out sneaky ways to keep creative elements in my life. Anyway, I’m rambling on a bit here, but thanks for sharing this. -Jessica (oldsouldreamer on IG)

    1. Hi, Jessica! Thanks for stopping by and reading. I’m glad you enjoyed the post. I’m hoping to start grad school in January (still waiting to hear back from some schools so I can make my decision!) and I know that transition will be difficult in terms of finding time to be creative. But I know it’s so so important to me, so I’ll just have to figure something out. Let me know if you find any tricks that work for you and your grad school schedule!

      Great to hear from you. #OneDayHH is such a fun way to connect with new people!


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