Mary McNeil asked:
If you want to lead an existence which is not just rich in creative thought, but which also produces regular and recognized creative output, you need to design your life so that it supports your creativity. As the writer Oriah Mountain Dreamer observes: “The artist’s life is simply an ordinary human life that is consciously choreographed to support ongoing creativity in both you and those around you.”
So if you’re going to make creative output a practical reality, what are the elements you need to consider as important ingredients in the recipe for your creative success?
Famous achievers in an array of creative fields have written books revealing much about what it takes to live a creatively successful and productive life. Each one describes their individual creative practices, challenges, connections and stories. And while there is much that is unique about each account, there are also many common threads weaving their way through the genre. Here are four of the themes which appear with regularity…
** Don’t wait for circumstances to be perfect before you get started.
Producing creative output is a process of starting over and over and over again. Every single time you come to your work, you’re required to make another beginning. This is a constant challenge for most creative people. No matter how much you love your creative work once you’re in the flow, the struggle to get started rarely goes away.
The temptation to find reasons to procrastinate is strong. That voice in your head can be particularly persuasive. The one that says: ‘the time isn’t right… I don’t have the correct materials… there’s no space to work in… I’m not in the best frame of mind… I might get interrupted…’ All of these objections may have some truth behind them, but if you don’t overrule them, you’ll never get started.
Progressing your creative work means creating in the middle of things. Whilst being aware that there are chores to be done, calls to be made, the trivia of life to be attended to, you have to choose periods of time when your creative efforts take the top spot on your list of priorities. If you wait until everything’s perfect, you’ll simply never get started. And if you never get started, the obvious result is that you’ll never produce anything.
** Don’t rely on inspiration – build appropriate structure to support your creativity.
Being inspired is a wonderful experience. It can give you wings to produce fabulous creative output. But inspiration can’t, unfortunately, be relied upon.
Creative activity needs to have continuity, regularity and a structure to support it. That doesn’t mean a rigid structure that’s more likely to stifle than to stimulate your imagination. It means supportive routines and practices which, when thoughtfully constructed and utilized will encourage you to get working away on your creative projects and entice your inspiration out to play as you do so.
There will be plenty of days when you don’t feel even the tiniest trace of inspiration. These are the days when your support structure will see you through. Your job is simply to show up. If you don’t show up and get started, your inspiration won’t either. The prolific British composer, John Rutter, was once asked when and where he gets his best ideas. He replied without missing a beat: “When I’m working”.
** Be prepared to produce low-grade output more often than top quality work.
The only way to learn and to improve is to experiment. If you want to master your craft you have to practise it. And when you set about practising with enthusiasm, you’ll produce any amount of what you might class as inferior quality output. It’s important not to allow your judgment of it to stop you in your tracks. Instead, appreciate the progress that you’re making and see the improvements as you keep experimenting and learning.
Yes, it’s wonderful to produce top quality output, but the kind of output that teaches you the most and develops your skills is, in fact, the substandard. Treat your less magnificent results as encouragement to try again and to improve upon them. Celebrate your turkeys!
** Allow your creativity to change you.
Creative endeavour can and will move you along the path of spiritual and personal growth. A willingness to embrace the changes that it brings about in you as a person and in your life will allow your creative output to develop simultaneously. The two are interwoven. If you attempt to contain or to control the changes that your creative work is nurturing in you, beware! For you run the risk of settling for a smaller, lesser version of the full, glorious, connected self you could be.
Creative work that stems from deep personal connection has tremendous power to reach and to touch others too. As you are changed by your art, so your art can change the world.
Naomi Wolf describes the power of the creative act particularly expressively: “the making of a beautiful thing cracks open the painful or ugly ordinary world, and then something amazing shines through, which you have forever; which can make you blind with tears.”