If living a wholehearted life is about engaging with the world from a place of worthiness, then we should not forget the most vulnerable part of ourselves, our creative side.
If you are anything like me, you might be stuck in a creative closet of your own making, repressing the desire to birth your ideas into this world.
There is probably no one better to write about coming out of the creative closet. Because, for most of my life I have done an admirable job of building closets within closets to hide my creativity.
Today, I am blowing that closet door wide open and shining the spotlight on creativity.
Who is a Creative?
First, let us demystify creativity. The word creative originates from the Latin creare, which means to bring something into existence.
Creative: having or showing an ability to make new things or think of new ideas
If you have ever created anything, a drawing, a meal, an article, or even a data-driven model, then congratulations, you are creative. You had an idea, a dream or a glimmer of something you could only imagine. And you brought that idea forth into the world. You gave it form, you clothed it in words, you gave it color, and you gave it texture. Your idea now lives (or lived until it was consumed).
Through this process of creation, you have changed, you have learned and you have grown. A habitual creative is someone who invokes this process daily, gains the requisite skills and builds rituals to sustain the habit.
If you continue to return to the empty canvas, the clean skillet or the blank page, then you have commenced a life long journey of creativity.
In Serious Creativity, Edward De Bono, the authority on lateral thinking offers the idea of employing creative thinking techniques – ways to handle information in a more creative way. Think of it as deliberate creativity for the logically and scientifically minded.
Logical creativity may sound like an oxymoron, but I will allow that is precisely what most of us do. I will be revisiting De Bono’s lateral thinking and related concepts in subsequent articles on “Getting Creative”.
But for now, let us explore “real” creativity – what it entails and the barriers to letting your inner creative shine.
Your Elusive Creative Genius
In her TED Talk, Your Elusive Creative Genius, author Elizabeth Gilbert talks about her struggles following the publication of her bestseller, “Eat, Pray, Love” and her search for answers on managing the emotional risks associated with creativity, especially following a massive success.
Her search led her to ancient Greece and ancient Rome. The ancient Romans and Greeks, she found, had believed creativity was a divine attendant spirit, “a daemon”, that spoke wisdom to the artists and scientists from afar. Every creative had a genius.
I think that allowing somebody, one mere person to believe that he or she is like, the vessel, you know, like the font and the essence and the source of all divine, creative, unknowable, eternal mystery is just a smidge too much responsibility to put on one fragile, human psyche. It’s like asking somebody to swallow the sun. It just completely warps and distorts egos, and it creates all these unmanageable expectations about performance. And I think the pressure of that has been killing off our artists for the last 500 years.
Perhaps we were not meant to bear the sole burden of creativity!
What might you accomplish by enlisting the help of your creative genius? How might you invite the presence of your creative genius?
A good place to start would be to familiarize yourself with the creative process.
The Creative Process
In the The Creativity Question, social psychologist Graham Wallas outlines the four stages of the creative process – preparation, incubation, illumination and verification. These stages are organic and cyclic, each stage dissolves into the other, with conscious and unconscious effort coexisting harmoniously.
In the preparation stage, you accumulate the materials for the construction of your idea. Tharp recommends that you scratch for ideas in unusual places, try new techniques. But be sure to start with a box – a container to collect your notes, research, photos, audio clips – whatever physical and intellectual resources will help develop the idea. At the preparation stage, the only thing that matters is that you capture anything that captivates you in your “box”.
There is a constant interplay amongst the remaining stages, where the idea seems to emerge into sharper relief. The process of incubation, is where your creative genius might work its magic. As you unconsciously process the materials gathered and connect the dots, the idea begins to click and crystallize.
Then comes the conscious work of completing the work with discipline, will and attention.
How do you collect your ideas? Do you allow for incubation and mental mastication of ideas? How might you allow for chance opportunism? How can you create space for insights that emerge from serendipitous trains of association?
Fear of Creativity
I am convinced that the fears surrounding creativity originate not from a dearth of ideas, but from a lack of understanding of the creative process.
In The Creative Habit: Learn it and use it for life, dancer and choreographer Twyla Tharp divulges her biggest fears during any project – fear of ridicule, fear of lack of originality, fear of lack of substance, fear of offending someone, and fear of incompleteness. It is hard to imagine a creative genius like Tharp combating these fears. But she assures us that fear is inherent to the creative process.
David Boyles and Ted Orland have written an entire survival guide for artists, aptly named Art & Fear. Key learnings from this revelatory book are: vision is always ahead of execution and uncertainty is a virtue.
The only saviors in creativity are an intimate knowledge of materials and working with the talent that you possess at this very moment.
Thus to disarm fear, you must acknowledge it. Naming your fears cuts them down to size. Don’t be afraid to confront them, examine them, and write them down.
We, logical and scientific professionals, are uncomfortable with talk of Faith when it comes to our work. But creativity requires just that, a massive dose of Faith. It requires that we believe in something bigger than ourselves, call it God, call it the Universe or your unconscious mind. It is the source of all creative dreams and yearnings.
Once you bring faith into the equation, all fears of creativity become ordinary and conquerable. No fear will never impede your creativity again.
Creativity requires faith. Faith requires that we relinquish control.
What is stopping you from seizing your idea and pursuing it? What are your fears surrounding creativity? What beliefs might be holding you back?
If fears are internal deterrents to the creative process, distractions present external obstacles.
Tharp is vocal about consciously removing any distractions that can hinder the creative process.
Modern life is cluttered with distractions, TV, the Internet and the ever present Email. We can’t all turn our back on life and go live in the woods like Thoreau to find our inspiration. But we can scale back on our dependencies, the things we take for granted.
We can live a more quiet and constricted life. We can gain clarity on our values and our identity and discard elements that weigh us down. We can channel all our energies into our work to tap into a rich vein of creativity. By doing so, not only do we gain fortitude, we also foster greater self-reliance.
In the words of Thoreau,
I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms.
What distractions might be hindering your creativity? If you could commit to a distraction-free diet, what might you be able to live without?
Build Creative Rituals
Routines offer a powerful framework for moving us towards our goals. When it comes to harnessing your creativity, it is no different. You need to build rituals that inspire and rejuvenate you.
Julia Cameron, a prolific writer, provides two basic tools for creative recovery in her book The Artist’s Way. These tools serve just as well as creative rituals.
Morning pages are three pages of long handed writing completed daily. You simply write what is on your mind. These are your thoughts, your words, your questions and even your complaints. Morning pages are a place for safe self-reflection, where you can catalog your dreams or confront your demons. They allow you to commune with the divine source of wisdom within.
Back in 2012 when I left my Corporate job, I turned to morning pages as a daily ritual to gain clarity and develop self-awareness. As Cameron predicted they allowed me to contact an unexpected power within. As I review those morning pages now, I find that they are peppered with questions – about identity, about perceptions and creativity. They reveal an emerging coach.
The Artist’s date is another creative ritual in which you go on a date to a museum, park, or a unique shop, any place that beckons your creative side. Initially it might seem to be a diversion from doing the creative work, but over time you will realize that it is a powerful tool for communicating with your inner creative.
I adore curious exhibits at science museums. Nothing awakens my inner creative more than spending hours in a used bookshop (with the glorious smell of books!) or roaming the aisles of an arts store.
Cameron’s ideas have worked well for me. You may choose to build your own creative ritual. Whether it is attending a local meetup of like-minded peers or a self-nurturing solitary expedition, build creative rituals that are playful, fun and energizing.
Serious art is born from serious play.
Work is more than a promise or a prayer, it is also passion and play. Artist’s dates nourish your spirit and rekindle your imagination, helping you to channel passion and play in your work.
Ultimately, unleashing your inner creative is choosing the heart work over the hard work.
Paraphrasing Walt Disney, to be creative, is to open up new doors, do new things, and follow your curiosity, because it will lead you down new paths.
What creative rituals do you practice? How might you benefit by making time more time for your creative health?
Are you in a creative closet? How did this article help you? What challenges or issues do you face in unleashing your inner creativity? How can I help you?