My husband and I heat our home with a wood stove. It’s big and black, with soapstone sides and a cast iron frame. We call it “the beast” because when it’s going strong, it roars. The fire fills the box and the metal pings away as it expands with the heat. When it’s at its hottest, the floor shakes and flames shoot down from the top baffle like Dante’s inferno, burning off the gasses in a fiery secondary burn. Even after the wood simmers down to smoldering embers, the warmth remains. The heat radiates off the soapstone sides long after the fire itself is gone.
But for as long as the heat lingers after the end of a fire, there is nothing quite as chilling as a cold start. The fire must be coaxed into existence, gently fed regular bites of newspaper and kindling – not too slow or it will faint of hunger, and not too fast or it will choke on the smoke. It demands a steady pace of ever larger mouthfuls, and one of us must vigilantly feed it.
When a fire begins from a cold start, there’s no draw to train the smoke to glide through the passageways, no embers to inspire a youthful spark. It must all start from scratch; it must all begin at the beginning. The momentum is gone. Every lesson must be learned anew until the flames take hold.
And even once it’s established, because the fire heats the stone before the space around it, it can be an hour before the thermometer notices, and another before the chill has left the room. The trick in the cold months of winter is to not let the fire die in the first place. To add more fuel before it runs low. To keep the flames alive, even the tiniest bit.
To feed the fire before you get cold.
Creative energy is like a wood stove fire. It’s easier to maintain than to start from scratch. Keep your creative spirit fed and nourished, and it will warm your heart for a long, long time. Let it get cold, and it will be a long slog before you’re in the flow again.
There will invariably be parts of the creative process that fuel your spirit. Maybe you love the excitement of new beginnings, or the problem-solving satisfaction of the process-rich middle. Or, maybe you feed off the sense of accomplishment of finishing something big.
Or, maybe your creative emotions run in the opposite direction. Maybe you hate beginnings because you don’t know where to start. Or maybe you get frustrated with the challenging slog of the middle. Or maybe you feel empty when you finish something because suddenly there’s nothing to look forward to.
Whatever you feel at whatever stage you feel it, feed your creative fire before it grows cold. Keep a sketchbook of new ideas, a work in progress, or something ready to finish when you need an extra boost of creative adrenaline. It will fuel you for a long time.