At the start of this year, I was struggling with my creativity. What was troubling was the fact that I didn’t want to create anything. And for someone who hopes to make a career out of creativity, lacking the desire to create is like asking a surgeon to operate without a scalpel.
Over the years I’ve noticed a pattern emerge in my creative process: I get into a creative ‘streak’ and I ride the wave of excitement for a few days. I get drunk on the ‘fresh new-car scent’ of my creativity, but that gets old, fast. I get bored, frustrated, I feel out of my depth or I simply lose the desire to continue.
A thought came to me shortly after NY. It was more like a realisation: what I enjoy about being creative is getting to the end result, having a finished product I can show other people and be proud of. But to get there, I have to go through the process of making it. More often than not, I spend more time in that process than I do enjoying the end result before I move on to the next project.
And I asked myself: Wouldn’t it be so much better if I learned to enjoy the process itself as well as the final product?
But that, of course, created a snowball effect, because unless you sit down and think about it, it’s likely no one truly knows what their process is made of.
I sat myself down, turned the lamp on and pointed it in my eyes and began to interrogate what was happening inside my head.
“Do I have a process?” “Where does it start and where does it end?” “Is it a good process?” “What is a good process?”
That led to harder stuff, like asking myself why sometimes stuff didn’t work the way I wanted it to.
And because I am a massive nerd and my attention span shrieks at the sights of large, unmanageable tasks, I made a list, a chart, a rain-dance, and I was finally able to determine what my creative process looks like, at least, the way I see it. It turns out my creative process is less of a romanticised poetic ritual and more of an inquisition regarding my intentions.
I must make a disclaimer before I dive into it: I am no expert. This is my experience. This works for me, and it might work for someone else, but it might not. A grain of salt… yada yada.
These four questions are the cornerstones of my creative process:
Who is creating?
We all know the obvious answer since we are on my blog, talking about me. (I’m not a narcissist, I promise.) Just like you act a little different when you are in a room full of people vs when you are alone, there are different facets of your creative self, and they don’t always like to show up when you expect them to.
The reason why this is the first question I ask myself when I want to create is simple: you wouldn’t ask a carpenter to fly a rocket, and you wouldn’t ask a child to solve a political problem. While the results of doing those things might be interesting and at best amusing, in either case, you might end up with a catastrophe on your hands.
It’s been a while since I believed in the whole ‘muse’ concept because I don’t think any sort of being or notion is going to come to my rescue sent by the angels. I think the muse is often confused with who’s in charge of the operations…
“the muse isn’t speaking to me” = “the right person isn’t in the driver’s seat”
What am I creating?
It’s important to pick the best way to convey what you want to communicate. What form will best serve you and your goals for this particular creation? Is it a poem or a blog post? Is it a painting, a photograph, or a new system to organise your sock drawer? (The latter has been the answer to more problems than I care to share.)
Just like picking the best person for the job, it’s important to pick the best place for them to do it. Going back to my earlier analogy, you would not ask a surgeon to operate underwater. The instruments would float away, the patient would bleed out in minutes. It’s a fool’s errand.
How am I creating?
We’ve been talking about the mental process, but what about the physical act of creating? Sitting down (or standing) to make something sometimes requires as much forethought as to the previous points.
What tools do you need? Don’t limit this to instruments. Of course, you need a pen and paper to write a poem, but you might also need time, silence, a glass of wine? Some people like the sound of a café in the background (you can listen from home by looking for a playlist on the internet), while others like to listen to the rain beating against the window.
Whatever it is, make sure you gather your tools before you start. It’ll prevent you from getting distracted once you reach the coveted ‘flow’ state. But don’t fall into the trap of making the whole toolbelt indispensable, because as we have learned recently, the outside world is unreliable. In this case, like many others, less is more.
Why am I creating?
This question has the same answer 99% of the time. Because I need to get it out. Creation is the need to express. Love, anger, sadness, but also shock, order and ruminations of the mind. Our brains cannot hold it all in. The 1% left holds enlisted needs such as assignments, jobs, commissions etc, but I don’t really count those under the same creativity umbrella.
This question doesn’t always impact the process as much as the others, but it’s still a good one to ask.
Then I sit down and do whatever I need to do. If I feel lost or fed up, I go back to these questions. Now I find enjoyment in the routine, the process of moving forward question by question, and I don’t need to have all the answers at once. Having these four seems to be enough. I really love this quote by Neil Gaiman:
“Sometimes it’s like driving through fog. You can’t really see where you’re going. You have just enough of the road in front of you to know that you’re probably still on the road, and if you drive slowly and keep your headlamps lowered you’ll still get where you were going.“
If you fancy it, please share what your creative process consists of and where do you apply it?
Until next time, I hope everyone is safe and healthy!