Gretchen L. Kelly, Author

Can’t We All Be Keith Richards?

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“I can’t get no satisfaction

Cause I try, and I try, and I try…”

-The Rolling Stones, I Can’t Get No Satisfaction

Raise your hands if you’ve ever felt like quitting.

Ever felt like you were a fraud.

Like maybe you were good… once. But whatever it was is gone.

A fluke.

If you’ve ever felt like abandoning the need that burns within you to create…

I get it.

I think we all get it.

Anyone who sets out to make art, anyone who’s existence feeds on creativity and the need to put themselves “out there” in the form of pictures, words, music, gets it.

Because sometimes being an artist/musician/writer/creator just sucks. It is walking around naked, baring your soul and serving it up for public consumption. It is wanting to have people respond and connect to it, yet wanting to crawl under a blanket of anonymity when they do.

And sometimes it is nothing. A parched and desolate landscape of empty thoughts and hollow ideas.

This is when it hurts the most. You twist and turn in frustration. You snarl at those who have the misfortune of being in your presence. You question your worth or your talent. You feel the stinging burn of tears as you allow those bastards known as Fear and Doubt, creep in to your mind. You worry that it’s all dried up, the well of creativity is empty.

Yet we keep doing it. We keep trying to do the thing we love.

But maybe… maybe we don’t have to continue this torturous cycle of elation, doubt, fear, despair. Maybe…  maybe we can all be like Keith Richards.

Yes. Keith Richards. He is one of the hardest working musicians and songwriters in rock history. He was known to practice for hours upon hours each day. He poured himself into writing melodies when the record company was demanding new hit singles every 12 weeks. Hard work. Putting in the hours. We’ve all heard that the key to any creative endeavor is exercising the muscle, showing up, doing the unglamorous work.

But there’s more to it than that. You see, Keith knew that inspiration could come at any moment, so he never travelled without his guitar and he slept with a tape recorder next to his bed. Maybe you’ve heard the story of Keith getting up in the middle of the night, picking up his guitar and playing a riff and mumbling something about “satisfaction.” He had no recollection of doing this, but the next morning he listened to hours of static until he got to the part with the seed for what would become the Rolling Stone’s biggest hit.

He wrote one of the world’s most famous guitar riffs in his sleep.

Effortless. Guided by the guitar gods. The mark of a true musical genius.

But what if it wasn’t genius or divine intervention?

What if it was simply that his mind was at rest and it was that stillness that allowed the creativity within him to come to the surface?

What if we could all do that?

What if we could all be Keith Richards?

What if we could all have the thing within us flow effortlessly and without the tug and pull that we engage in every day? What if we could tap into the reservoir of ideas that’s hidden beneath all of the noise? Beneath the hustle and the chaos and the alerts and pings and beckonings of life.

Because it’s there. We all have something that’s lying in wait. Waiting for a moment of quiet to peek it’s shy tender head through and be recognized. While you’re pounding away in frustration it is sitting patiently, waiting for you to take a breath and listen.

And this is the hardest thing to do. The desire to create something takes over logic and we drown it with our relentlessness.

Eventually we’re caught up in this frustrating place of toiling and sweating and trying and what we’re trying to get is just out of reach. Eventually we burn out.

But we don’t have to. Art doesn’t have to be suffering. Not if we respect it. Not if we nurture ourselves and nurture our art. But this, too, takes effort. We have to take time. We have to give ourselves a chance to listen to what’s beneath. Pause. Breathe. Watch a sunset. Watch a sunrise. Sit in silence. Take a walk. Go for a run. Sleep. Dream. Do whatever allows your mind to roam.

It’s no coincidence that inspiration often comes during the quiet moments. That while you’re standing naked in the shower, while you’re driving in your car with the windows rolled down, while you’re sweating in the yard under a warm sun, that these are the moments when you feel the ideas coming forward.

Find whatever gives your mind space to breath, and do it more. Whatever task or activity brings forth ideas that send you scurrying for a pen and paper? Do more of that. And if that’s not practical or possible on a regular basis? Then meditate. Just breathe and sit in stillness. The bottom line is the things that you’re trying to do, that you do not do for fame or fortune but simply for the fact that they sustain you and make you feel whole, you need to give them the courtesy of time and you need to open the door to allow them to come out.

You need to nurture them.

Respect the creativity within you. Instead of battling and fighting and trying to summon by sheer force of will… Instead of battling for the thoughts to come, instead of trying to tease out the next sentence, breathe.

I want to sink into it and get lost in the flow. I’ve felt it. I’ve felt the elation as it happens effortlessly. That is what we keep chasing, isn’t it? The sweet spot of creativity and productivity.

Like being in a dream, yet awake. Like playing a song in your sleep. Magic.

It’s there. We can all tap into it if we pause. If we stop beating it up and treating it like an obedient dog that will come when beckoned.

If we take the time to take care of it. Take care of ourselves. We can see what is in there waiting to emerge.

So don’t give up. You’re not a fluke or a fraud. You have beauty and art within you. Kick fear and doubt’s ass to the curb.

Take care of yourself. Be gentle with your creative spirit. Allow it the oxygen it needs to grow and make itself known.

Let’s all be Keith Richards.


This is part of the 1000 Voices for Compassion project. This month’s them is “nurturing.” If you’d like to join, add you blog post to this link:

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33 Responses

  1. I LOVE this!!! Really needed to read this today!! Thank you dear friend, thank you!!!


    Sent from my iPhone


  2. I have to admit I didn’t know where you were going with this when I saw the title, but I love it! I never knew about Keith’s creative process, and yes, we all can learn something about nurturing the creativity within us from him. Thanks for writing a truly wonderful post about nurturing.

    1. Thank you Jen! I knew that title might throw some people off a little. I had a tag line but then I deleted it. Perhaps I should have left it in… Keith gets a bad rap as a partying druggie (which he was) but his creativity and work ethic were pretty amazing. I read his book, Life, and I don’t think the Rolling Stones would have gone too terribly far without him.

    1. Thank you Roshan. It’s a story that has stuck with me ever since I read it in his autobiography. I’ve often wondered what allowed that creativity to come through in his sleep. This is where my thoughts led me.

  3. This reminded me so much of a story: I’m going to give you the geeky take on this and I hope you’ll forgive me! So, Keppler was a brilliant scientist who was trying to figure out the structure of a particular chemical. Hours and days and he was completely stumped. Then one night, he dreamt of the chemical twisting and turning like a snake and then grabbing its own tale! Keppler woke up and realized that he knew the solution and had discovered the benzene ring!
    That led to the birth of a whole new Chemistry field called Organic Chemistry!
    Sorry if that bored you (music vs science!!!) but it does confirm your conclusion that as much as we shouldn’t give up our passions, it’s equally important that we give ourselves a break now and again!

    1. Oh, Roshni, I love that story! I had never heard it before. And while I’m somewhat ignorant in Science it is a subject I’m drawn to and one that fascinates me. If I could go back in time I would possibly have been a science major! And that answer was in him all along, don’t you think? Sometimes I think all the trying gets in the way of what we’re looking for!

  4. Some of the best stuff I’ve written comes when I tell myself that I can’t write anything. Your talent doesn’t go away just because your inspiration has. My problem is that I can write something that I think is brilliant, and only maybe a dozen people read it. Imagine if Keith and the boys took the stage to play Satisfaction and only 20 people ever heard it. Sigh.

    1. You know, the times when I’m *this close* to giving up are the times when something good happens. I almost called it quits when working on a post last year and was so frustrated, but I finished it and it got Freshly Pressed.

      You know, I thought about you as I was writing this. I thought about how the creativity and the brilliant stories seem to flow out of you faster than you can record them. It always amazes me. And I think to create and put it out there and have it not be recognized, especially when it’s really really good stuff, has got to be the most frustrating thing. But, I would imagine that most of the greats went unrecognized for years, decades, before people took notice. I’m not saying that I’m friends with you so I can say I knew you before you were famous, but…

      1. Right now I am focusing on writing my WIP, and I’m not really doing it in public, hoping for LIKES and COMMENTS… I’ll keep blogging, write Helena & Penny stories as they come, but the truth is, I think I needed to remind myself that I’m writing because I love it. I’ve just gotten into a good rhythm with the novel I’m working on, and that feels great. That’s what’s important.

        1. Yes! That is what matters. Make people miss your writing and make them clamor for it… you write so much and give us so much of what you write. You spoil us is what I’m saying. Not that I mind. 🙂

  5. I don’t write because I’m not disciplined and I’m anxious that I’m not going to be able to plan or make a story arc or whatever it is I need to do to make it work.

    So I fritter away time on other things.


    But I CAN type in my sleep, and sometimes the results are surprising.

    1. The typing in your sleep thing has me baffled. I can’t even imagine how you do that… and I think a lot of us put off and find distractions to writing. Especially when it’s something big and important like working on your book. It’s scary to think that this thing you’ve dreamt of doing could come to fruition and possibly not be any good. It scares the hell out of me! BUT I also know that the things that scare us the most are usually the things we should be pursuing. Says the person who hasn’t written a word of her book in two years… Also, procrastination. I’ve perfected it. It’s my talent.

      1. Oh, and the sleep thing is because I’ve been able to touch-type for about ten years and now I can do it so (is ‘eptly’ a word? capably, then) that I can do it without looking except to peep now and again to make sure I’m not writing absolute nonsense, and then I can just keep my eyes shut and rest them and type the words, which is fine as long as my brain is in control, but when my brain dozes, then there’s no knowing what I might type…

        1. I used to be pretty good at touch typing, especially when I was working. I still can’t imagine shutting my eyes and drifting off to sleep while a;dslhgv [rawohit’q3iwfknslac

          1. *giggling* It doesn’t always work – sometimes my fingers slip and I end up with total nonsense. I do have to keep peeking, but I can usually get most of a sentence at a time.

  6. Bit worried by the title, cos I’m really a bit beyond the recreational drugs and abuse but I can relate to the unexpected moments of inspiration (mostly triggered by excess coffee rather than cannabis, but still whatever floats your boat).. Lovely post

    1. Thank you! And yeah, I think the title might have thrown some people. I guess I was hoping to be a little mysterious. Sometimes that works and sometimes it backfires. I’m glad you stuck around and read anyways!

      I don’t make a habit of writing drunk ala Hemingway, but I have had a few evenings where I’ve found myself getting frustrated and I’ve stepped away, poured a bourbon, and will come back when I am a little more relaxed and not over-thinking it.

  7. Such a great and inspiring post. And you think this blog is “cute?”
    YOU’RE cute.
    This blog is intelligent, challenging,philosophical and super cool. Write on, woman!

  8. This was so interesting in so many ways. Like others have said, you’ve presented a side to Keith Richards I didn’t know.

    I completely agree that our creativity is there and we just need to nurture it to flow instead of pushing ourselves to force it out.

    I read recently about a writer who had burned masses of her early writing with no regret – because to her those early writings were what she needed to do get her later stuff. It was a process. I found that very inspiring. There’s something really confident about knowing you can burn thousands of your own words and not look back, just know that you can create again. I thought about that write when I wrote most of a post for this link-up and then discarded it with no regrets and wrote another with more ease.

    1. Wow. That would be incredibly hard to do. But I bet it’s very free-ing. There’s something to that, the finality of discarding something and not looking back and trusting that what you need will come to you. And it worked for you? That is so incredibly cool, especially given that I LOVE what you wrote for this link-up! I might try it next time I’m stuck… you’ve got me thinking now…

      1. It is freeing Gretchen. Actually, I did something similar years ago when my 2nd daughter arrived prematurely in the middle of my MA. I read Natalie Goldberg at the time and she recommended writing each chapter several times and then picking out the bits that worked, so I did that – longhand! It was a really good way to write when it was hard to write and took pressure off. I got out of the habit, but might go back to it now!

  9. Oh I love this. Creativity in quiet moments. Certainly another reason to take a break and let the quiet and calm in. I’ll add “be like Keith Richards” to my To Do list!

    Wait – I just did that wrong, didn’t I? 😉

    1. Ha! Yes, all wrong! 🙂 But it is so hard to make those quiet moments happen, isn’t it? Who would have thought that would take effort?

      Yes, be like Keith Richards without the damage to the liver and god knows what else.

  10. Wow. Sometimes I wonder why I have always been so compelled to write and now that I’ve been blogging for awhile I get moments of self doubt. Why do I do it – it can make me feel so raw and exposed sometimes. Yet each day I do it again and there is such satisfaction and freedom in hitting publish even when I wonder whether I will be the only one to read it. I am finally at a place where what matters most is to be true to myself. Your post speaks to that place in my heart!

  11. Checking in on you, G! You are always so positive and inspirational. I think….I think…I just managed to re-engage my head to where it is supposed to be this morning. We shall see – but I won’t give up. Don’t you, either. <3

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