Remember the Everly Brothers hit “Devoted to You?*
Darlin’, you can count on me
Till the sun dries up the sea
Until then I’ll always be devoted to you.
Although they must have been singing to a girl, we can be devoted to whatever creative endeavor we most care about, whether it be our craft, a project, our job, or something we’re making.
I’ve been enjoying reading Stephen King’s book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. I confess that it’s the only Stephen King book I’ve read, given that I’m too freaked by violence and creepy things to enjoy horror stories.
King’s dedication to his work inspires me, not just in the here’s-another-writer-who-disciplines-himself-to-write-every-day sense of the word, but because his craft seems to be part of who he is. He is devoted.
Discipline, devotion, and dedication can turn craft into art.
You may already know the benefits of discipline, (for a writer it’s called butt-in-the-chair time), but have you given equal attention to its twin sisters, devotion and dedication?
For me, they’re the secret ingredients that bring zest to a drink, spice to a stew, and an invitation to magic whenever we’re creating.
Devotion and dedication are different from obsession. When you care about your craft, your project, your art, or your life, you have to care for yourself as well. Your work, if it could talk, would tell you this.
When I was working 16 hour days studying as a grad student in business school, (my big foray into extreme work-ism), I wasn’t devoted–I was seeing how hard I could push. No lilting reverence powered my actions. No magic. I liked what I was learning, but I was not transformed by it.
When I’m devoted, I am shaped by what I’m shaping.
Devotion comes from the old French word devovere that meant “love, loyalty, or enthusiasm for a person, activity, or cause.” Dedication comes from the 15th-century French word dedicacioun that meant the “action of consecrating to a deity or sacred use.” Its 17th-century meaning became “the giving of oneself to some purpose.”
As we give ourselves to work we believe in, that work gives something back to us. When we dedicate ourselves, we find the sacred in everyday life.
When I was writing my doctoral dissertation, I dedicated myself to its completion, investing money and months, and disciplined myself to finish even though I was also working a full-time job. The long hours spent writing could have felt like drudgery. They didn’t. I was devoted to the project, and the dissertation finally rewarded me, by “talking back” when I needed to figure out where it was going.
When I do the work to which I am devoted, whether it’s facilitating a story circle, coaching a client to deliver her story, or writing until my words finally begin to flow, I am shifted. Sometimes my heart is moved. Other times new ideas come to me.
My work begins to tell me what it needs.
Stephen King wrote about this. None, or almost none, of his novels, were plotted in advance. Instead, they revealed to him what they needed as he wrote them.
Devotion and dedication put us into a loving relationship with the world we are creating. We move out of a commodity-based, I-it relationship to our work and more of what Martin Buber called I-thou. We listen.
Elizabeth Gilbert, to whom I turn when I need a creative boost, writes in BIg Magic:
Mind you, hard work guarantees nothing in realms of creativity…But I cannot help but think that devotional discipline is the best approach. Do what you love to do, and do it with both seriousness and lightness. At last, then you will know that you have tried and that–whatever the outcome–you have traveled a noble path.”
Her thoughts apply if, like Martha Graham and many artists, you”ve found the calling of your lifetime (Graham stayed connected to dance into her nineties). Gilbert’s words also apply when you give yourself to a smaller and subtler calling that lasts but a brief while.
With devotion, you invite delight to join you in your work.
Invest your time in what you love because it enchants you, even if a project stretches you to your limits. Your dedication will keep you from falling into the trenches where the mind will insist you should try to “be someone” and “do something successful” or ” be really good.”
Because my mind is so quick to judge (me), I have to remind myself of my dedication and devotion–the why behind what I do.
Instead, I wake up in the morning and go to sleep grateful that i have something to which I can dedicate myself. My devotion stays with me like a friend.
As the Shirelles sang back in the 1960s:
Each night before you go to bed, my baby
Whisper a little prayer for me, my baby
And tell all the stars above
This is dedicated to the one I love.
Where do you devote yourself? To what are you dedicated?
May it enchant your days.