Sunday, 4 November 2012

Prime the Pump

Prime the pump---I had to explain this saying recently, but I think it is a good analogy for getting yourself ready to create especially when you're not feeling that creative. When a water pump is dry, water from another source has to be poured into it to get it to function properly, to start pumping and allowing the water to flow. Also it is an analogy for when something is low, such as money--more money has to be put into a venture in order to get it to generate more money. Sometimes we need to use a little of something already there to get us going. So, what are some techniques that we can use to ‘prime our creative pumps’?
What exactly is priming? For creativity there are a lot of different ways. One way is to immerse yourself in others’ creative outcomes. Surround yourself in works that have already been done, by yourself or by others. Take a trip to an art gallery or museum. Go to the library or a book store and peruse all sorts of books. Go to a concert. Listen to music that you really enjoy or try out some new type of music. Dance around the house to music that you love. Read magazines or books that have lots of visually pleasing images. Get yourself in touch with any creative process.
Take a walk to view your surroundings looking at ways to incorporate what you see into new forms. Observe what is around you with a wonder and artistic eye. Take segments of common things and see if they can be made into motifs or patterns. Observe moments that can tell a story. One of my favourite techniques is to take a notebook and go to a coffee shop. With my cup of coffee and pen and paper, I observe, make sketches and write observations. I can then go home and conjure up new projects from those seeds of ideas.
I have found too that reading biographies of other creative people can be inspiring. You can also learn how they overcame certain difficulties or what their processes were. Reading Georgia O’Keeffe’s biography inspired me to create three new fabric pieces that utilized her concepts of art. The biography of architect Frank Lloyd Wright inspired me to create some pieces that focused on motifs of nature. When experiencing these activities, keep your mind open for new sparks of perceiving ordinary things in a little bit different way.
Another way of priming the pump is by being around other creative people. Sometimes the energy generated by like-thinking people can inspire you, stretch your imagination and take you into new areas of creativity that you might not generate on your own. This community of creativity has been borne out many times throughout history as we have seen many styles of art emerging from groups of artists coming together to pool their creative resources. The combination of other minds can be the ‘primer’ that is needed to get things flowing.
An important thing about priming your pump is what is going on in your head! This is a time to open up for possibilities. This is about not stressing; it is about relaxing and being in the bliss of creating. Remember, creativity is ALL practice. Examine what thoughts you are having when you are getting ready to prime the creative pump. Are they helpful or unhelpful?

Here are some examples of unhelpful thoughts: I can’t do that kind of painting; his writing is so much better than mine; everyone would laugh if I tried to do that; mine wouldn't as good as Frank’s piece; I’m wasting my time trying to be that good.
Who the heck would do anything thinking like that? And where is the space to be inspired?
Here are some helpful ways to approach your priming: what new ways can I look at this idea; how open can I be to new ideas; what if…?; practice is important after inspiration but today I’m just here for inspiration; no preconceived notions, just openness; perfection is a myth that obscures true beauty.
Don’t engage in ‘yeah, buts’. Those are the discounting phrases that combine ‘yeah’ with ‘but’: ‘yeah, that’s really nice but I can’t paint like that’ or ‘yeah, that’s a great piece of music but I could never write anything like that.’ Going into priming with a quantitative and qualitative mindset won’t leave you open to new ideas. Check yourself when you hear those phrases coming up. Go into priming with an open mind—you have no idea what you might discover when you’re open. It may be a seed that you’ll grow later, but the seed has to be gathered in the first place for it to be planted at any time.
Remember though, priming the pump is not just about ‘thinking’; it's also about ‘doing’. So, get out there and get the creativity flowing!

Sunday, 21 October 2012

But That’s Too Hard!

Quite often we know we need to do some creative work, we want to do some creative work, but we don’t turn off that game show on the TV and get off the sofa to do it. What could be keeping us from doing what we really would enjoy more? That old bugga-boo ‘fear’.  There are lots of components to what we are afraid of when it comes to a creative block but one of the fears is that what we want to do will be too hard for us.
If we deem ourselves not to be capable or competent enough for what we are envisioning, then the task we want to undertake appears insurmountable. We stand at the bottom of that creative mountain unable to move. The doubt that we’ll make a mess of any attempt we undertake or that once it is done it will fall short of our vision stymies our first move. And we don’t have to know how bad that piece will be if we never make it.
One of the things that will help us scale down the momentousness of what we want to do is talk to ourselves in a helpful manner. Someone I know often looks at work that I’m doing and says, ‘Why are doing that? It looks so hard.’ I try not to look at the difficulty but the beauty of what I’m making. My focus is not on how hard it is to make something or how long it will take or how much frustration I will experience along the way. Instead, I focus on the satisfaction that will come with the finished product, the joy of the process itself, the sense of mastery  that comes from completing a difficult task (even if it took me twenty times to get it there) and being willing to make mistakes along the way.
When you consider a creative venture do you first see difficulty and roadblocks to accomplishing your goal? What phrases are you using to discount these ideas? Are you saying things like ‘That’s too hard;’ ‘No way could I do a whole painting like that;’ or ‘There’s no way I could write an entire book’ ? If so, then some challenges to those automatic negative responses are in order.
If you say ‘That’s too hard,’ break down what it is you think is so difficult: is it the style, the size, the colours you want to use, the time you’d have to commit to completing something? Figuring out what part is really scaring you allows you to focus on a challenge or a solution to that. If it’s how to mix the colours, then you can spend some time just learning how to do that and then tackle the project. If it is the size,  then talk to yourself about how you can only paint one stroke at a time any way so that’s all you’d be doing. But first, when you say to yourself ‘that’s too hard’ remember to answer with ‘yes, it may be hard, but not that hard’. Or, ‘it may be hard, but I am ready for the challenge’.  Remind yourself that you are capable and competent and that each venture is another chance to improve.
I think it’s ok to acknowledge the difficulty of a task. But to follow with an encouragement is the key. Talking to your self as your own personal cheerleader (without the gymnastics and shouting) is how to get through a tough project. Using phrases like ‘this may seem hard but with practice it will be easier’ and  ‘this may be hard but I’m willing to make the effort’ will carry you a lot further than the defeatist lament (to be said with a whine) ‘this is too hard!’ If I find my self saying a lot of times while working ‘Man, this is really difficult!’  I then have to follow it with ‘but I’m going to keep making the effort.’ And with that encouragement, the piece gets done!
Another aspect of the ‘it’s too big, too difficult, too much’ syndrome is to remember to break things down into smaller chunks. Like the old joke: How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. That is how you do any art piece: one bit at a time. We don’t start with the whole painting; we don’t start with the whole novel instead we start with a sketch, a few ideas, a line here and a line there. We start building with one piece at a time. Remembering to break it down in your head as well as with your hands into one small piece at a time helps us from getting overwhelmed with the entire project.
It’s ok to step back from time to time and see where you’re going. When you do, you’ll be surprised to find how far you’ve come. And hopefully your thought will be, ‘that wasn’t so hard after all!’

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Remember Your Inner Silliness

Recently I read a quote from Eckhart Tolle that said ‘When you lose touch with your inner stillness, you lose touch with yourself.’ In my own just-skimming-the-text way, I read it as ‘When you lose touch with your inner silliness, you lose touch with yourself.’ I did a double take as it didn’t sound at all like Eckhart Tolle; but upon reflection, I like my version better. We do indeed need to stay in touch with our inner silliness. It can be an extremely important part of our creativity as well as our overall well-being!
Creative work can be fun. It can be satisfying. But it can also be quite difficult and feel like an uphill struggle. If we forget to have fun, to add a bit of silliness to our lives, then we are drudgery incarnate! And drudgery stifles creativity. Even if our creative work is something sombre and serious, we need to indulge in a bit of fun to keep ourselves balanced.  Actually, I ought to say that especially if your work is sombre and serious do you need to engage in jocularity.
When you do your creative warm-ups, try adding a touch of silliness from time to time. If you are a musician, play a silly tune; a writer, a limerick that is absurd; a painter, draw something whimsical, etc. Deliberating being silly can open up levels of creativity that you didn’t realize were there. The serious ‘I’ve got to create’ can sometimes block us from doing just that, making the wonderful.
There have been studies done to show that humour and fun can improve one’s creativity. With laughter or a sense of fun, the brain releases endorphins and these endorphins help us to relax and allow creativity to flow more easily. When brainstorming, it seems that the more ridiculous the ideas get the more ideas you have and that leads to coming up with some real gems
There is also something called ‘Laughter Yoga’ which is used to not only relieve stress, depression and for pain control, but it has been found to be a useful tool for boosting creativity. I’ve actually taken part in a laughter yoga exercise and it was really helpful for my creativity. At first it felt absurd to just be laughing while taking on different positions but after a while I just relaxed and the laughter became quite real.
I often feel very anxious before starting a new project. Using the centring techniques, breathing, etc. sometimes don’t seem to have the total desired effect. For those times, watching a few funny clips on YouTube or talking with my sister (who always makes me laugh) are other ways that I help to set myself in creative motion on those particularly tough days.
If you start your work with something fun, it’s less likely that you’ll avoid getting into your workroom or space and doing the work. And the fewer reasons you have to avoid doing your creative work, the more likely it is that you’ll get in there and create and thereby meet your goals. So every now and then, get in touch with your inner silliness because, to quote Oscar Wilde, ‘life is too important to be taken seriously.’

Friday, 28 September 2012

Clearing the Clutter

One of the aspects of being creative is that often we are interested in many things. Another aspect is that we are easily distracted by something that looks more interesting than meeting a deadline of any kind. But these same qualities can keep us from achieving our creativity goals. Sometimes we need to go through our lives and clean out the clutter, not just in things but in activities.
We are all familiar with the idea of spring cleaning but I think it’s also important to do a bit of autumn cleaning as well. Recently I realized that I was getting busier and doing lots of things but none of them were what I really wanted and needed to be doing creatively nor were they even things I needed to do for living maintenance. I was erasing creative time on my calendar for extraneous non-creative activities.
What had happened? I’d allowed my life to get cluttered with a lot of extraneous ‘to dos’. Granted they were all interesting and very worthwhile, but they were keeping me from meeting my real objectives. With courses starting as well as some work commitments, I felt something had to be done.
So, a friend and I sat down together (she was having similar problems) and looked at what we were doing in our lives. First of all we made lists under the various headings:
·         Daily activities (family, job, housework, school, leisure activities)
·         Commitments to outside special interest groups and activities
·         Creative goals and activities
We looked at what things really were priorities and what things were taking priority. It is important to sit down and make those distinctions. Next we underlined the things there were real priorities; everything else was a perceived priority. Then I drew a little bubble chart of how much time was being spent on priority items and how much time was spent on perceived priorities. Once you have these things in front of you visually (whether a list or a chart), it is easier to see how much time is being spent where.
Sometimes things take over our lives because we don’t know how to say ‘no’ and we put our own desires to the back burner. I’m not saying to tell your children to fix their own dinner or do their own laundry (unless, of course, they are teenagers and then it’s good training for when their move out!). What I’m saying is: are you putting yourself first creatively at times when you really can? If you find that most of your time is spent doing things for others that really could do themselves and you are feeling resentful, stressed and spread thin, it’s time to de-clutter your life. Just as you would clear out a closet, you can look at what activities can be let go of to allow you more freedom for what is truly important.
My friend and I both felt that we were doing things for a couple of voluntary groups at a level that was interfering with our own personal goals. While these organizations were worthwhile, it seemed that they were taking up a lot more time than the couple of hours a week we originally thought they would. There was one organization that I was serving as chair for and, even though I wasn’t doing much with regard to it, I felt that I should be doing more. The mental clutter of another ‘to do’ lurking in the back of my mind was interfering with actually doing anything creative! In this case, perceived priority was adding clutter to my activities.
My friend found that she had spent nearly 40 hours one week on a voluntary position with a group. It was keeping her from doing what she really needed to do which was tend to her own creative business (as a self-employed person that really should have been her priority). We both had taken on responsibilities reflecting worthwhile interests and which were meant to enhance our creativity; instead these things were taking over our lives in a negative way.
After taking stock of what I wanted to do, what I had to do and what I was doing (that’s another possibility of list headings for clarification), I found they were grossly unbalanced. The next question was ‘what can I do to make things more balanced in favour of creativity?’ The answer was to take at least a temporary leave from a couple of groups, resign as chair from another (three years is long enough to be chair), make arrangements for others to take over some responsibilities that they really could do but weren’t, politely excuse myself from involvement in activities that were not necessary for me and formulate a clearer schedule. Instead of blindly running along trying to ‘get things done,’ I had to stop and examine where I was spending my time; I found that I was frittering away a lot of creative time.
As I said above, the mental sense of things ‘to do’ can take a great toll. If a lot of your thinking is that you should be doing something other than what you are doing, it is time to take stock. Examining where things could be shifted around, what corners could be cut, what things do you really not need to be doing and what things are you doing because someone else won’t? It’s especially difficult when you spend most of your hours at a day job and then try to squeeze in creative time. Asking others to take over some duties that will free you up is not shirking your responsibility; it is sharing the work load more equitably. And if you are a happy creator, then everyone around you benefits from that!
So far the de-cluttering has freed up my thinking and has allowed me to tackle some creative pursuits that had gotten lost in the mess. And so far, the world is still spinning after I said ‘no’ and the groups understood my need to step back for my own well-being.

Friday, 14 September 2012

Happy Little Clouds Above Happy Little Trees

I want to share with everyone a video that I ran across recently. It follows on quite well with last week's goal check regarding beliefs. The words for this video were taken from many of the phrases painter and instructor Bob Ross used on his television show. The encouraging words are set to a catchy little tune that just gets me smiling. And so much of what he says is so true.

If you aren't familiar with Bob Ross, he was a staple of American public broadcasting for many years. He sold millions of books, videos, kits and instructional paraphernalia during his career that unfortunately was cut short in 1995. But his easy style, his gentle voice giving simple instruction has done much for many painters over the years whether they were serious artists or hobbyists, he brought a lot of joy to people. His kits can still be purchased (I saw some at LPC on Bishop Street just last week). I loved his encouragement, how he made 'happy little trees' and 'happy little clouds' and he didn't make mistakes, he just had happy accidents. But one of the things that he did emphasis over and over was about relaxing when creating, believing in our creating and knowing that you are the creator, not only of your artistic world, but your emotional and mental world.

So, not much today except to remember to enjoy creating and believe in your ability. Even if you're not a painter, this little video just leaves one feeling a little bit lighter, a little bit smiley-er! (I know it's not a real word but it is a real feeling!)

So, enjoy and sing along: I believe that any day's a good day when you create!

Friday, 7 September 2012

I Do Believe, I Do, I Do, I Do Believe in My Creativity

Making inferences or making evaluations determines what sorts of feelings we will have. When an event occurs a person has a reaction to the event. She may feel angry and that feeling is accompanied with angry thoughts. Then what the person does with those angry thoughts and feelings—her actions—impacts on results and that in turn affects what she thinks about herself.

Inferences that are evaluative become beliefs. Beliefs are not facts and it is up to us to determine if what we are telling ourselves is a fact or if it is a belief and then chose which we will invest in.

This is part of the cognitive process of establishing beliefs. Beliefs are an essential element to life; we all have beliefs, but it is whether these beliefs help us or hold us back that makes them important. These two types of beliefs can be called serviceable beliefs or unserviceable beliefs. Serviceable beliefs help us to have the perseverance to keep at our creative work. Unserviceable beliefs cause us to abandon a project just before it’s about to come to a successful point and stop us from trying.

Serviceable beliefs are flexible, have a realistic logic, and are based on things you’d like or prefer to have happen. Your sense of worth can be maintained if what you want or your aims aren’t achieved. Serviceable beliefs are supportive and encouraging; they help you move toward your goal. Another thing that serviceable beliefs help with is to assist in the understanding that an action is not automatically equated with the person; you are not a failure if you don’t measure up in one activity. Even if you don’t meet with success in many things, your value is not equated with an arbitrarily set standard of ‘success’ or ‘failure’. You can still be a loved, valued person if you don’t write a best-seller. You may carry some disappointment at not having achieved this but you are still valuable.

Unserviceable beliefs are rigid, unyielding, and dogmatic and are based on superlatives such as: must, have to, got to, need to, always, never. etc. Generally, unserviceable beliefs do not have a foundation in reality and tend to not allow other possibilities. They are overly critical and self-condemning. Unserviceable beliefs are usually stated in the form of a demand, not a request or suggestion. Holding these unserviceable beliefs undermines one’s feelings of worth which can impact our ability to create. A person thinking they are the worst singer in the world would keep them from developing their singing voice. They wouldn’t see any point because this unserviceable belief doesn’t allow for the possibility of improvement or attaining a satisfactory level.

It’s important to know what your own personal beliefs are concerning your creativity and abilities. A helpful tool would be to write down all your beliefs about your creativity, your abilities, and your drawbacks, the good and the bad. Take each belief and look at it carefully. Is it a belief that furthers your activities? Is it a belief that stops you from trying new things or finishing your work? Clarification of your beliefs helps you to identify some things that could be holding you back. Quiet often we are not aware of beliefs; often they exist as vague notions in the back of our mind, but we still affect how we think and what we do. So, clarifying these beliefs can allow you to bring the helpful beliefs to the forefront and look for ways to challenge the unhelpful ones.

Another way of manifesting these beliefs in a negative way are seen in ‘either/or” thinking or “all or nothing” thinking. If we believe that we have to be the best, and if we don’t believe our self to be the best so thereby we are the worst, we are engaging in an unserviceable belief system. If we think we have to complete a novel without any editing each time we sit down to write and don’t achieve that and just give up, then we’re engaging in unserviceable beliefs. These are unreasonable, limiting beliefs, but many people hold them.

However, if we believe that our creative efforts are worthwhile and have value in the mere fact that we’ve done them, we are engaging in a more serviceable belief system. We are engaging in a much more serviceable belief system if we embrace and accept the fact that a major part of creativity is engaging in the process, as well as making the mistakes, the edits and the changes. We a more helpful way is to nurture the belief and fact that we ourselves have value and our work has value, even if it isn’t “perfect”.

Friday, 31 August 2012

Get Back on that Horse

We all understand the importance of being able to get back up and try again in all aspects of our lives, but being creative sets up a whole new set of challenges with regard to resilience. How we maintain our resilience has to do with how we think about setbacks, challenges or rejections.
The things we tell ourselves when we don’t achieve a desired outcome affects whether we’ll get back on that horse and try riding again. Talking to ourselves in encouraging ways such as ‘you did a great job at the concert last week, so you know you can perform well;’  ‘many people compliment your work and you have won awards for it’ or ‘you are capable of writing well and have done so many times before’ are more helpful self-statements than denigrating your efforts.
Built into the overall creative process is the aspect of acceptance or rejection of our creative products. Due to the arts being a subjective field, there is a greater risk of our efforts not being appreciated or accepted, especially in a monetary fashion. Most jobs have set, well-defined, objective criteria related to a task being successfully completed.  The arts are not like doing someone’s accounting, fixing a leaky pipe or filing all the latest invoices. In the creative fields success is dependent on your audience’s personal tastes and there’s no way to set a definitive guideline for what people will like. There are indeed varying standards of which one must meet at least a minimum level, but by and large, it’s what people like and there isn’t a way to determine that.
Recently I watched a video interview of one of my favourite artists, Benjamin Harjo, Jr.  He has been a very successful working artist for nearly forty years. His work is unique in that it has aspects of traditional Native American art combined with an abstract style. One of the paintings he discussed in the interview was depicted a couple of artists portrayed as gamblers surrounded by various good luck symbols. Harjo wanted to express that he felt that doing art shows was a gamble; he and other artists go in with all their work and know that it is a crapshoot as to how much, if anything, will sell. He stated that he had come to look at making a living at selling art as being more about the luck of which buyers came into the show that day than about the quality of his work. I felt this was a very important distinction in maintaining a level of resilience.  Of course, we can increase or decrease our chances of luck. While you may not be able to control whether people accept your work or not, but you can control how you will deal with the disappointment.
If when one’s work doesn’t sell well, or is not received well, it is time to make a careful examination of the level of work you’ve done. If after that, you still feel quite satisfied with the quality, then it’s maybe the throw of the dice that day. The people who were willing to part with their money that day just didn’t show up. If you never do well at a particular show, then maybe it doesn’t draw the sort of people who would ever buy your work. If the type of work that sells at a show regularly is modernistic or abstract, showing a sentimental still-life might not be the work that will ever sell well there. Looking at many aspects of what you are doing is essential in making a realistic assessment and not taking an automatic stance of ‘I’m just not good enough.’ The same line of thinking applies to all the arts; make sure you’re in the right place for what your strengths.
Also, finding out what people like about what you do or what they don’t like gives you areas to work with. It could be that you’ve got the start of something really great; it just may need some changes and tweaks to bring it to its fullest state. Remember there is always another way to do a painting, sing a song, or write that sentence. Sometimes starting from scratch is exactly what is needed to make your work the most satisfying to you as well as to others. Don’t be afraid of alterations or to take a new perspective on old work.
Here are some more suggestions:
·         One of the things that will help with resilience is to keep within easy access accolades or symbols of success. Certificates, photos, awards, trophies, announcements, etc., any of those things however small that remind you of what you are capable of and have achieved will help you to refocus your thinking about your abilities in a positive way. If you’ve not won awards yet, keep around things that give you inspiration and encouragement.

·         Be sure to maintain a good system of support. These are friends and colleagues who offer encouragement and will give you that gentle kick in the behind from time to time to get you moving when you feel like lying down. They support you and won’t let you talk bad about yourself and your work.

·         Recheck motivation. If you’re doing things solely for money, then maybe that is showing and the heart of what you wanted to say isn’t shining through. Being sure that what is motivating you is authentic and what is your true feeling.

·         Go back to your goals. This is why it’s important to have a clear idea of what your goals are. Sometimes in simply looking back over what hopes and aspirations you’ve had you can chose to interpret them with the same enthusiasm with which you originally conceived them. This can be an opportunity to recharge your batteries and remind you what you hoped to achieve in the first place. At this point you can look at what one small thing can be done to move you toward your goal.

·         Nurture a strong sense of belief in what you do, who you are and what it is you want to say. This clarity will boost your resilience and give you that extra push to get back out there and try again. Have confidence in your vision. Sometimes it’s simply a matter of how you perceive yourself. If you frequently call yourself a no-talent loser, well, you’ll more than likely behave as such. But by reminding yourself that you can be competent, capable and creative, you’re more likely to act in such a fashion. Build on this perspective of yourself; I’m not telling you to be delusional and arrogant, but instead to tender a quiet confidence in self-belief. We often have to practice reminding ourselves of our own capabilities. And remember that your work is not your self (although it may feel that way, it is just that, a feeling, not a fact), and they both have value.

·         Don’t always assume that your work is not any good. This is why it is so important to work at your art, to learn as many skills to improve it as you can; if you know you are doing your best and making a good effort at learning all you can, then you have the courage to persevere. It is scary to put your work on the line, have it judged or criticized, but it is the only way to grow and learn more about whether you’re hitting the mark with what you’re trying to say creatively. Take action. Don’t just sit and think about what could be done--get up and do it, whatever that may be.

·         Keep things in perspective; not selling any paintings or not having your book proposal accepted doesn’t mean that you won’t ever do these things. You are not the worst painter in the world; you are not the worst writer or dancer or whatever in the world. Success is built on practice and each piece of creative work, each submission, each tryout is a practice; it’s all practice!

·         Work toward a hopeful attitude. Look for new places to show, find where the next writer’s convention takes place, and look at online ways to get your work seen. Each day brings new possibilities if you are looking for them with an open mind. Tomorrow really is another opportunity. Focusing on ‘I’ll never have success,’ ‘no one wants my work,’ ‘there aren’t any opportunities out there’ narrows your focus and turns your thoughts to a defeated attitude. It’s hard to stand up with that attitude. Be careful about using these negative superlatives in thinking about what is happening.

·         Take care of yourself. If you’re not getting enough sleep, not being active, eating junk food and drinking too much caffeine or alcohol, you’re not at an optimum functioning capacity. Taking care of yourself is a way to best enhance your creative reserve to see you through difficult times. Doubt knocking on your door when you’ve had too much sugar, caffeine and not enough sleep will have a fertile place to come in and take over.
After a disappointment, it may be tempting to just give up your creative pursuits. Don’t do it. Stopping may not make you any happier; in fact, it will more than likely make you more unhappy or frustrated. If you have that creative desire, it is in you and will ask to be acted upon. To ignore this could interfere with having any sense of fulfilment.
But when those low times hit and your manuscript has been rejected again, or you’ve had yet another art show without any sales, or whatever has knocked the wind out of your creative sails, don’t pretend it doesn’t hurt. Allow yourself to admit that it does matter whether others like your work or not. To use an old phrase from the prairies, be like a dog that lost the fight and crawl under the porch to lick your wounds. Give yourself permission to feel that disappointment but only for a short while. Then get back in there and start again. The resiliency to get back up and try again is inherent in our survival instincts. Staying under the porch too long is wallowing in self pity. Coming back out after a respite is bravery and creativity is an act of bravery. We’ve all heard the adage it’s not how many times you’ve been knocked down, but how many times you get back up. Life and creativity is about getting back up. So, saddle up and ride on!

Saturday, 18 August 2012

Making Fertilizer

Sometimes we come smack up against a creative block; a wall that won't let us past and we hit it hard. And if not an actual block then we can experience a spell where whatever we create just doesn't seem to hit the mark. If you are experiencing such a time (or when it comes, as it will) know that it indeed can be a hard process to come to terms with. The fact is, just as there are the highs of creativity, there will always be lows as well.

I've come to look at creativity the same as the cycle of the seasons. We know we can do nothing about the joys of summer turning into the quieting and drab of autumn and then autumn turning into the bleak stillness of winter while we wait impatiently for spring and all its activity of growth. This is how things work and it will just make us frustrated and crazy to think that we can perform at top level all the time. It's not possible for anything -- even machines get worn out.

But each of these seasons has a purpose and a reason. Learning to be patient with our 'winters' of creativity is hard but that time can be used the same as nature does: to rest and revitalize. The lows can be used to collect new information, look to skill improvement, and rest the mind (which is an important element). Sometimes a break from your work is necessary to allow for the possibility of a new perspective, to discover a new technique, explore other directions or just play which in itself furthers creativity!

Your winter of creativity is also a time to put down fertilizer (that's what I call the shit we create in low times). Fertilizer is important to the growth of plants, so why not writers, painters, musicians, etc? Even though what we create during the low times isn't what we aspire to, it is an important part of feeding the process and the eventual outcome. Sometimes we need to make these 'mistakes' so we can gauge where we are at. Or as the painter Bob Ross liked to say, 'there are no mistakes only happy accidents.' We can build on those little accidental slips.

Often, the things we create during this time can be the seeds of something great later on. They just may need time to germinate. And when you come back from your winter's creative hibernation, you'll have gained something new that can be added to that fertilizer. This can be a very rich source to mine--dig out the gems in your pile of rubble ideas and ventures. Sometimes it just takes a fresh eye or ear to make the alterations that change something to a new level. Everything we do contributes to the next project.

So be ok with making fertilizer--you have no idea what it might grow out of it!

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Abundant Creative Miracles

Recently I was thinking about the needs and wants of my children, grandchildren and myself and ways in which I could generate more money to take care of some of those needs and wants. So as many times before I was thinking I needed a miracle to happen, like having a book successfully published (very successfully published). But then it struck me—getting a book published and it being a hit was not a miracle. It was simply success preceded by hard work. The miracle happened long before with the idea or inspiration that lead to the book. I’ve already been given the miracle; now it’s time for me to do my part: the hard work. The gift has been given to me with ideas for books, poems, paintings, textile creations, etc. My responsibility is to then take action to bring these little miracles into the light and reality.

Looking at creativity as small and abundant miracles is part of living, thinking, and doing things creatively. When we don’t recognize their value, we miss the point of being creative. One of the ways that we bring these miracles into being is by having a good space to enhance their abundance. Then we recognize them as such and tend them once they arrive.

We speak of having space to create. That involves not just a physical space but space inside your head as well. Quite often we need to silence the cacophony of condemnation inside our own minds that keep us from creating. Thinking things like ‘I’ll never have a new idea’ or ‘my ideas are so dumb’ don’t give one very fertile source to work from. Meditation is one way to silence these unhelpful thoughts. Any focusing exercises such as guided imagery, getting a colour in your mind or deep breathing accompanied with directives on creating will set the stage for being open to ideas.

Once you’ve cleared that space brainstorm! Let any and all ideas, notions, concepts, whatever pour out without any filtering. Even the craziest or lamest idea may at some time have the potential to turn into something wonderful. Once you’ve got ideas written down, glean the one or two that you feel the most resonance with at that time and start the next step. Save the others—they may bear fruit at a later date. But take what you’ve come up with and appreciate it.

Also, it seems helpful to have a level of acceptance of your little miracles: love them as you would a child, hold them, nurture them, kiss them, and keep them in your heart. We hear a lot about not treating our work as too ‘precious’ but I think there needs to be an element of that care in what we are doing or why are we doing it? When we approach our work with a loving, caring attitude, the atmosphere that we create with our work is more productive. We set the scene for creativity with our attitude. If we are grumbling, being condemning of what we are working on, how easy is it to keep at it, to have confidence in putting down that next paint stroke or adding that next paragraph? It’s ok to like your own work or at least have a sense of care about it.

But for all this loving adoration of your miracles, you must also add in an element of objectivity. Like children, if you don’t admit and redirect (lovingly) their errors and faults, other people aren’t going to love them either. Taking criticism is not an easy thing, especially when you love what you’ve done. But if the point is to make this miracle be the best that it can be, tinkering, smithing, tampering and altering is often the very thing that works. And sometimes, we can’t see it because we are too close to what we are creating.

Sometimes we need to walk away from our projects—we can be too focused and lose that objectivity or balance. Stepping away for a wee bit and working on something else allows fresh eyes on things. It’s happened many times that I will come across something that I wrote or will uncover a painting from months before and wonder what I didn’t like it before. Or the reverse will happen and I need to look at what is not right with it. Allowing another perspective, trying on someone else’s vision can increase what you’ve started. It’s often worth a try. Again, it’s that balance between maintaining your vision and being able to convey that vision to others.

But I think that if we acknowledge the abundance of the miracle of creation whatever it is, we set the stage for doing the hard work part. The ‘doing’ part requires a certain attitude as well. Loving our work and realizing the good fortune to have had this inspiration can urge us on in the slogging through revisions, layers of paint or re-writes of that section in a song. It is a miracle and we are fortunate recipients when they are given to us. Tend those miracles well. We would not throw away a treasured gift from a loved one. Why would we treat our creations as if they were to be thrown away and not nurtured and brought to fruition?

A beautiful garden is beautiful because it has been carefully seeded, planted, then weeded, watered, tended and loved. Our creativity requires that same dedication of care—it’s often hard sweaty work but it’s worth it. So try looking at your work as creative miracles you’ve been entreasured with. See if that attitude helps make it easier to get in there and do the hard work that leads to the successful completion of your creative project.  

Friday, 3 August 2012

When, Oh, When?

Quite often I am asked ‘when is the best time for a person to be creative?’ My first thought is to answer ‘whenever the mood strikes you;’ but that isn’t always possible and it goes against the idea of having a regular time that you dedicate yourself to your creative project.
Many creativity experts recommend first thing in the morning and there is a lot of good reason for that. For one, if you get up early enough, it is a relatively quiet time; fewer things are going on not only in your household but the world in general. Working at such a quiet time can cut down on distractions.
Also, first thing in the morning you are rested and therefore more mentally alert (although for many of us that may be questionable until after a couple of cups of coffee). After six to eight hours sleep you would be more rested  than you would be at 11 p.m. after a day of work, family responsibilities, the hustle and bustle of day-to -day living – all the demands that drain your physical and mental energies. When your physical and mental energies are drained, so are your creative energies. So often I hear (and feel) ‘I’m too tired to write/paint/sew/etc.’ Therefore, finding a time when you are well rested just sets the scene for more productivity.
Another good reason to work first thing in the morning is that we are the closest to the dream state at that time, which is an incredibly creative time for our minds. Ever wake up in the morning with a really great idea? Or awake in the middle of the night with the answer to a problem you’ve been wrestling with for days? The brain is at its freest point in the dream state and it doesn’t stop working just because you have. There are countless instances of people from scientists to dancers coming up with great ideas in their dreams or shortly after waking while experiencing that in-between land of sleep and consciousness.  
In fact, the creativity coach Eric Maisel suggests that you pose a question to yourself before going to sleep that has to do with your creative projects. By giving your brain an ‘assignment’ during the night, it can play with the ideas without any filters or blocks that you would impose during your waking hours. This will take a bit of practice to be able to tap into the answers, but once you learn to be in tune with this process you will quite frequently wake with an idea or find that it is easier to come up with solutions in the morning having slept on them.
Another reason for doing your creative work first thing is that it then sets precedence for how you feel for the rest of the day. You may not get anything else worthwhile the rest of the day, but you did write for an hour that morning. Having that sense of having tended in some way to our end goal of creating will help you have an attitude of accomplishment which helps keep you coming back to the creative table and just makes you feel better all around. Also, it does make it easier to tend to the non-creative things in life if you know you’ve already indulged in that passion first thing.
For some people, early morning creating isn’t a possibility. For myself for many years there wasn’t a question of getting up any earlier. I was already rising at 5:30 because I had to get kids ready for school and then get myself to work by 7:30. And, usually because of my responsibilities I didn’t get to bed before 11 p.m. and really needed the rest. But I did do a great deal of creative work during those years albeit not the same sort of creative work I do know. I adjusted to what the demands were; we have to have that flexibility to allow ourselves to shift what we do with what our circumstances are.  I couldn’t work on things every day but found ways to carve out times for that creativity when and where I could.
Before I had a family, I preferred working on creative things late at night and not rising early. At that point in my life, it worked for me. Now, even though I could sleep till noon if I wanted, I’ve found that it does work better for me to rise early and tend to my creative things first even if I may chose to then spend the rest of the day doing creative work. That time is enhanced with having gotten a good start.  I don’t always manage to do that because sometimes the devils procrastination or distraction get me and then have to spend the rest of the day trying to fit the creativity in or find that when I do get to it, I don’t feel fully energised. So, it does work better for me to just get in there and do it right away.
Knowing how your energy level works is important. Some people are night owls and their lives are set up to accommodate that--their creativity and energy height is late at night. For others, the peak time may be mid-afternoon or earlier in the evening. If you’re not sure when your peak energy times are, try keeping a diary for about a month gauging your activities, when you feel most creative, when you are able to work on your creative ideas, and when you have the most energy. Knowing yourself you can fit your creativity schedule to fit your situation and your energy style.
But if you haven’t ever tried doing creative work first thing in the morning and there are no extenuating circumstances preventing it, give it a try and see how things go. You just might catch that creativity worm that the early bird seems to get.

Friday, 27 July 2012

Latest and Greatest?

One of the things that a lot of artists wrestle with is originality (and remember, when I say ‘artist’ I mean any creative person, whether it be writer, painter, dancer, musician, etc).  Another issue that often arises is staying up with trends in your particular field. These two things seem to be counterintuitive: you have to be original but yet be within the parameters of the latest trend. That seems a bit impossible and frustrating. Yet there is a great deal of pressure in the world of arts to do just that.
This is one of those struggles in which unhelpful thinking will really do us a bad turn. As we are trying to come up with ideas, or even while we are working on projects, if we are frequently questioning the validity and originality and thereby dismissing anything we come up with, then we won’t get very far indeed. 
The ever-challenging search for originality can put us off creating anything at all. But the truth is, seldom does an ‘original’ idea pop up uninvited. Usually we are in the process of doing something and the notion will strike of ‘hey, what if I do this?’ and something new and different comes out. I think too that the struggle for originality--deliberately setting out to create something ‘original’--is self-defeating. Trying to force something too hard often has the opposite effect—we create nothing.
I think that anything we make is original (unless you are painstakingly making an exact replica of someone else’s work). Each of us has our own unique voice, attitude, talents and capabilities. Yes, they may resemble others, but the combination of skills and abilities that each of us brings to the artistic table is original and one of a kind. And that is a great thing. In knowing what we like, what resonates within ourselves translates into a type of authenticity that others will recognize and relate to.
The other thing is about following the latest trends. I was told at university that my drawing style was too ‘Hans Holbeinish’ to be acceptable. I was thrilled to have my work compared to the 16th century painter but the instructor saw it as a negative and stated that I had to develop a completely different style that was more with the modern market trend. So I gave it a go at trying to develop a style that was more ‘marketable’. That was an exercise in frustration and futility—it didn’t feel true for me and it showed. A couple of years later I left art and didn’t work at it seriously for nearly 35 years. Although hindsight has perfect vision, I do think I would have been better off to have stuck to my own vision and developed my own style with adaptations rather than throwing it out all together and trying to be who I wasn’t. You have to be yourself in your art—that is your originality.
At the same time, it doesn’t serve us to not try new things. In unhealthy thinking a person tends to have extreme ‘either/or’ mindsets—things are seen in only black and white, good or bad, right or wrong with no leeway for variances. If we see our art in terms of only one way to do it, then we limit our capabilities and our chances to grow and perhaps develop a really unique take on our artistic endeavours. And being extreme in going the opposite direction can cause complications as well. It seems that I went too far away from the style I naturally developed. Now with adaptations and blending of styles, I think that what I am creating now in portraiture is better than what I did when trying to be trendy. I’m happier with it and frankly it seems others are too. I still have a style that may be more in line with bygone times, but it is my style even though it is influenced by previous artists. We are all influenced by what has gone before—it’s how we interpret what we’ve seen into our own vision that gives it originality. And originality can be subtle—it doesn’t have to hit you over the head screaming, ‘I’M ORIGINAL!’ It can quietly say, ‘this is me.
One of the difficulties with following trends in the arts is that those trends are ever-changing.  Riding the crest of the latest trend is great while it’s happening but at some point, that trend will morph into something else; or veer in a totally new direction. Your choice is to modify, adjust or stay the same. It’s up to the individual which way they go and follow what feels right for them. If your creations are right in line with the latest trends and have a unique quality to them that sets you above the others, then you’re right on target! And you can feel that when it happens. Sometimes though, what you’re creating may not be the latest trend, but who knows whether or not it will be the next trend?
When we think about the many creative people whose work was not accepted at first because it was not in-line with the trend, it is quite staggering. When they first exhibited, the Impressionists were considered a travesty; the Pre-Raphaelites were threatened with expulsioin from the art academy for their vision of painting; Hemingway received hundreds of rejection notices; van Gogh only sold one painting in his lifetime; to name just a few instances. The development of abstract art, surrealism and so many styles of writing, music and dance came about because someone said 'I'm going to not follow the latest trend but explore what is inside me.' It's sometimes a difficult and lonely path to take, but in the long run, one that is truer to the self.
So turning off the inner voice that pressures for the conflicting concepts of total originality coupled with trendiness may help in freeing you to just create. And you may be surprised at the uniquely original work that is produced!

Friday, 20 July 2012

So Many Ideas, So Little Time

 Recently a friend asked how to choose just one thing to work on when you've so many ideas jostling in your head for attention. That's a good question (plus how wonderful is it to have so many great ideas flooding your mind!). This is one of the things we all hope for -- lots of inspiration -- but getting deep into one of those ideas means letting the others sit. How to do this?

First of all, each person's way of deciding which project to go deeper into is as individual as the person. What will work for one person may not work for another; and what works one time may not work on another day. So
recognising that this is trial and error or rotation of techniques helps. Here are a few suggestions of what I use.

Clearing and focusing the mind is a very helpful technique. I recommend starting each creative session with this. When I don't, it seems like it takes me a long time to settle in and get to work. Utilizing meditation type techniques to clear and focus the mind is helpful to be able to choose what to work on as well. In my workshops I instruct the participants in techniques such as 'getting your
colour' in your mind's eye and a deep breathing ritual along with set objectives to focus on.  Along with those techniques, I often use listening to a particular piece of music (my two favorites are either Pachelbel's Canon in D or Bach's Prelude to Cello Suite) while breathing deeply and centering my mind, sitting quietly with either my eyes closed or looking out my workroom window at the beautiful surrounding fields (if you don't have great scenery, a photo of a favourite place might suffice). These techniques to quiet the buzzing inside can assist in deciding what to work on first.

Now you've cleared your mind, but how to decide? Decision making can be difficult sometimes. Often as creative people, we want to do it all. When the ideas are coming at you fast and furious and you need to settle on one item and get started, it seems a bit overwhelming and frustrating. How to choose just one?

First of all, you don't have to choose just one forever; you just have to choose one at that moment to work on. That is why list making and keeping a journal is so important. I know that in 'The Artist's Way' Julia Cameron recommends not going back and reading your journal but I found that wasn't very helpful. When doing the morning pages, ideas would bubble up and I would write them into my journaling. If I had time, I'd copy them immediately into my separate 'ideas book' but most often I had to move on to doing things and would have to come back later to the journal. To make it easy to find the ideas, I started drawing little light bulbs beside what I'd written as an idea so I could easily flip through the journal and find those spots without getting distracted into reading what I'd been journaling about. That way, the flow of writing and ideas bubbling up kept moving and they weren't lost in the idea ether. We all know that feeling--'I had a great idea but what was it as I didn’t write it down and now it's lost!' This way, you've had the idea and you've saved it.

So, if you are having one brainstorm of ideas after another, jot them down! Allow that brainstorming time as part of the process of your creativity. Sometimes what we need is that filling the idea reservoir so go with it. Also, quite often while writing one thing, ideas for another project will pop up. Since I do most of my 'real' writing on the computer, I keep an idea file in my writings folder and type them into that as well. You can have two Word Documents open at a time (just be sure to pay attention as to which file you are writing into I say from experience! At least it's easy enough to copy and paste.). When stuck for ideas (as it does happen sometimes) I can go back to the little seeds stash and see if they can be planted to grow. When I'm sewing or painting, I keep a notepad and pen handy because ideas for poems and snippets of other writings come to me at those times and I can quickly jot them down. Keeping an idea notebook with me at all times is helpful too.

So, you've done your idea jotting, you've done your mind centring, how to decided which thing to start with? Prioritizing is a whole subject in itself! But I'll discuss a couple of things here. If you've got a schedule made up and there are deadlines for certain things, then follow the deadline. Doing what needs to be done first in accordance with the calendar eliminates that little dilemma. If you don't have a schedule or haven't prioritized your project ideas, that may be a place to start.

If there is no deadline and you've got your list, randomly pick three items/ideas (keeping the choices small helps, but if you must, put them all in the pot). Write each separately on a Post-It note or small piece of paper and place them in front of you or into a bowl, hat, whatever. Close your eyes and pick one. Yep, I just told you to randomly pick one. The important thing is to gauge the gut reaction to the one you picked. If you picked 'painting the picture of the house' and your reaction was, 'gee, I'd really rather work on the painting of the cat,' then there is your answer--you really want to paint the picture of the cat first. Sometimes by being pushed in one direction we feel a sense of really wanting to go another. Listen to that intuitive creative pull within. Yep, it can be that simple. If your gut reaction to what you pick is very positive, then you’ve chosen what you’re being pulled to do at that time. Don't think about the other things in the pot--get up and get to work on that idea! They'll be there for a later date.

An organizing expert suggested to people asking where to start in cleaning a really messy room to 'Walk in the door, turn to your right, start cleaning and work your way around the room.' Sometimes it's that simple. We have a tendency to over think about things, building them up into much more complicated processes than they really are. When thinking gets in the way of doing, it's time to snap ourselves out of the thought trap and get to work.

Hope this helps to set you in the direction of deciding and doing!

Saturday, 14 July 2012

I Was Going to Write About Procrastination But Just Didn't Get Around To It

All this week I've been trying to figure out what to write for this blog. I've been thinking and thinking and although I came up with several ideas, nothing was flowing; I was stuck. My plan was to post a blog each Friday morning. But yesterday morning came and went; still nothing materialized. I did go over old writings, looked at books, got out my knitting, that sort of thing. But write something new? Wasn't happening. Then I did a little creative coaching on myself. I couldn't write anything if I didn't have a pen in hand with paper in front of me or was sitting at the computer! I was thinking too much. It was time for doing. I was ... procrastinating!

Thinking about our projects is a necessary and important part of creating. We do need to have some well-thought-out ideas, a vision to some extent for writing, sculpting, painting (although not always for painting--sometimes the best things that we produce are spur-of-the-moment surprises). But when the thinking becomes more important than the doing, well, Houston, we've got a problem.

When pacing about trying to decide again this morning what to write about I was having an inner dialogue about this frustration. Then it came to me: what would I advise someone else to do in this situation? Well, 'sit down and just start writing' was the answer. The doing often is the release of the inspiration that is needed to create something. We can think all day about our projects, but until we sit down, stand up or pick up our tools, nothing happens. This was a great reminder of something so simple yet often overlooked.

But some people ask, what is it that will get that action started? What gets us up off the sofa and into our studio or in front of the computer? This is a question that is so hard to define. There doesn't seem to be a universal 'key' that unlocks our activity. Unfortunatley, we all have to come to a personal point of making that commitment to act and how each person gets there is as individual, in my opinion, as each person.

Part of it is recognizing that our inactivity is not moving our artistic projects forward; honestly seeing that we are engaging in avoidance behavior by watching 'Homes Under the Hammer' instead of doing preliminary sketches for a painting; that doing the laundry instead of working on chapter four when really the laundry doesn't need to be done till much later, or doing just about anything to not sit down and create!

Another part is making that commitment to ourselves, to our work and then deciding we will move and then just do it! I wish I had the key that would overcome inaction, that I had a set formula for overcoming inactivity. In a way I do: first I ask myself what is it that is stopping me? Are they excuses or real impediments? If they are excuses, I tell them they are dismissed as they have no power here! Real impediments? then I make a list of what steps can be taken to overcome these impediments. If there is nothing that can be done at that moment, let it go and look for other areas in which action can be taken, for often there is something else that can be done. When I follow these rules, I get up off my duff and do. And doing only counts when your doing or you're done!

A lot of times the not acting is just simply procrastination and procrastination often has it's roots in fear: fear of failure, of not measuring up, of not performing to an acceptable level, of disappointing one's self or others. It is quite often a surprise to people to realise the level of fear they may have about avoiding something, even something as simple as doing a sketch or writing a weekly column.

Sometimes it's just a lack of interest. That too needs to be dissected--if that idea is not exciting enough to move you off the couch, then how could it be altered to make it more exciting? Or are you being overly critical about this idea? It may be the very thing someone else is dying to see or hear but they are waiting for YOU to create it! Often, a simple pep talk with one's self is what is needed. Remember, talk to yourself as your own best friend who would encourage, nudge and support you in trying things. Denigrating yourself for inaction won't get you going any faster. Applause sounds much nicer than booing, so inwardly applaud yourself.

When we fall short of the goals we have set or the plans that we have made, forgiveness of our own foibles is so important. Instead of chiding ourselves for not following a plan or maintaining our goals, how about we just renew that commitment with a little loving kindness? Acceptance that you fell a bit short of your plans or goals, assessing if any changes need to be made to the plans, and then renewing the commitment to do what you can frees you to start anew with a bit of confidence and a sense of capability.

 The wisdom of others' words often inspires, so here's a quote for this week to carry us through.
"Don't think. Thinking is the enemy of creativity. It's self-conscious, and anything self-conscious is lousy. You can't try to do things. You must do things.! ~ Ray Bradbury
Happy creating!