I’ve been pondering a little of late about the creative process; more specifically, how to exercise that reflex and how to keep the creative tap turned on. Once we’ve found our muse, what is it that sustains and nurtures creative flow?
Are there any specific practices or processes that successful creatives put in place to ensure that their stream is as constant as it possibly can, and give it the best chance to flourish?
Many of us, especially when we begin a new year, promise ourselves that we will commit to our practice more. We’ll finish that short story. We’ll aim to write in our blog every single day. We’ll fantasise about drawing and painting every day, finishing that studio piece, practicing our instrument without fail.
Like those proverbial plateaus we often hit when working out, we sometimes lose the steam that once powered new and exciting ideas. So we take a day off to ‘rest’, which can turn into two; until eventually we sometimes find ourselves opening up a notebook or picking up our guitar only to realise it hasn't been touched in two weeks – or more.
So how to break the drought? How do we implement some changes that will allow us to produce not only a bigger volume of work, but better work? How do we get into a “growth mindset”, so essential for success?
I find in instances when I am running dry or feeling flat on my creative intuition, I turn to the pros for help. Success breeds success, and if we seek lessons from those who are achieving and succeeding now, we can find a range of ideas and tips on how to bring that creative spark back with a vengeance.
Professional creatives can offer a wide range of ideas; however, a common thread to their success is more often than not the two D's- discipline and determination.
What does that mean in practice? That means making the time for your craft. It means not believing in writer's block. It means turning off the television, silencing your phone, and finding that secret zen bubble. Easier said than done?
I was reading recently about Nick Cave, one of my favourite multi-faceted creatives - songwriter, novelist, film-score composer, screenwriter - a brilliant, prolific and true modern-day Renaissance man. His genre-bending legacy is that of a highly creative and somewhat obsessive lyricist whose songs and stories never suffer for a lack of vividness.
With a seemingly unlimited pool from which to draw inspiration, Cave’s creative output in it’s quantity and quality is truly inspiring, not to mention his weight as a performer. Although obviously inspired by many influences, his creations are uniquely his. Claiming that “writing is a necessary thing for me, just to keep myself level”, Cave sees writing as a means of self-definition and self-preservation. Without creativity, Cave feels he would be “less of a human being”. But whilst he celebrates the creative process and claims “I can write certain stuff in my sleep”, there appears to be an element of toil in his art.
He has stated that lyric writing is often the most difficult for him, an agonising activity from which he derives minimal enjoyment. “Writing a song, I've always felt, right from the start, like I'm scraping the bottom of the barrel. I don't ever feel there's a font of ideas to fall back on.” That said, Cave has proven that he is not the type of songwriter to sit around waiting for lightning to strike.
Apparently he sits down to write daily, even it’s a mere few lines or a scrap of an idea or a ponderance. ‘‘I go into my office every day that I'm in Brighton and work. Whether I feel like it or not is irrelevant.''Cave has committed to his writing for many, many years; through times of wild touring, excess and near-self destruction in the Birthday Party years, through the passage of marriage and fatherhood. The muse beckons as strongly as ever, and projects of all kinds keep bubbling out.
The two beacons that shine through and have been a constant for Cave are his discipline and determination to practice his craft and flex that creative muscle, ‘whether you feel like it or not’.
I’ve heard it echoed from varied sources of authors over time and I’m sure it applies across many other disciplines. It reminds me of something I read from comedian Jerry Seinfeld; poles apart from Cave, you’ll agree- he has also talked at length about the creative method that worked for him, and enables him to create new material, often at short notice.
Seinfeld's productivity tip is called "Don't Break the Chain"; perhaps you’ve heard of it? His method for success is simple enough to execute: at the start of each year, he hangs a large calendar on his wall and, for every day he writes new material, he takes the exquisite pleasure of drawing a big red "X" over that day. Over time Seinfeld found that drawing those Xs got to be pretty rewarding, so he kept doing it. Eventually, he began to create a chain of red Xs. The idea was to never break that chain.
This approach programs the body and mind to sit down and do something daily. It also motivates you to continue that beautiful string of big, red Xs. If you don't practise your art on any particular day, you don't get to draw the X.
It doesn't particularly matter what you do, whether you write blogs, articles, scripts, your memoir. You could be an illustrator, struggling to find the time to finish a piece. You could be a painter, desperate to find the time to get into the studio and lock the door on the world. Or working on concepts, planning projects, reflecting and writing about the process.
The common thread here seems to be as long as you're actively and routinely pushing to try and observe and practice what you love as often as you can, you are going in the right direction.
First and foremost, it means making your creative outlet a major part of your life.
To do that, you have to make it a habit, just like going to the gym, eating healthy food, or flossing- but of course, it’s not that simple. There are countless excuses, most of them completely acceptable, which hold us back from practicing our passion. Often, it's our never-ending To Do lists, whingeing at us at every minute for attention, that take precedence.
However if we commit to exercises like ‘Don't Break the Chain’, our art, too, becomes a daily task to cross off that To-do list. Methods like 'Don't Break The Chain' are a constant reminder that, if we want to succeed, we must acknowledge our craft and respect the process.
Of course, there are other ways to maximise creative energy, clear obstacles, transcend the ordinary and harness your true creative power. Making the time and making the space seem to be common game changers. Being willing to try and fail as part of the creative process is another biggie. Finding the balance between being carefree and careless, and visualization and affirmations, are other powerful tools you can add to your arsenal to help you empower yourself with the strength to become successful in your chosen creative field.
Because the reality is, if you do work at your craft obsessively, you will find success.
In the words of Cave, “inspiration is a word used by people who aren't really doing anything. Keep going, avoid "starting", never wait for inspiration, accept failure, carry on”.