Posted by: Liz Massey | July 22, 2008

Surf’s Up: Creativity Links for July 22, 2008

A profile of a new sort of Poet Laureate, an interesting perspective on forming positive habits, and advice on how to be creatively prolific form our weekly “catch” from the ocean of blog-o-rific creativity.

1. A new Poet Laureate has been named by the Library of Congress, and Kay Ryan is a mold-breaker. Ryan isn’t a member of the MFA-workshop-conference-directorship syndicate; in fact, she has spent most of her career teaching remedial reading classes at a California community college.

Ryan’s reputation has taken a while to build. Her first book, “Dragon Acts to Dragon Ends” (1983), was privately printed and went unreviewed. Not until her fourth book, “Elephant Rocks” (1996), was she published by a major trade house, Grove Press.

I like the message that this choice of America’s Poet Laureate sends:

  • There are other ways to succeed than through following the “ordained” path for your craft.
  • Making great art and serving others with your gift are not incompatible.
  • Persistence pays off; do not give up if your greatness is not immediately recognized!

The article linked above also has a couple of short examples of her poetic style, which is complex and thought-provoking.

2. The next bit of wisdom, an article from the New York Times titled “Warning–Habits May Be Good for You“, contains a lot of interesting information about habit formation and its capacity for good or evil in a variety of contexts. My particular interest in the piece is the research that public health advocates, marketing mavens and academics have done on how habits get formed.

The story’s author, Charles Duhigg, writes,

“Researchers like Wendy Wood at Duke University and Brian Wansink at Cornell were examining how often smokers quit while vacationing and how much people eat when their plates are deceptively large or small. Those and other studies revealed that as much as 45 percent of what we do every day is habitual — that is, performed almost without thinking in the same location or at the same time each day, usually because of subtle cues.

“For example, the urge to check e-mail or to grab a cookie is likely a habit with a specific prompt. Researchers found that most cues fall into four broad categories: a specific location or time of day, a certain series of actions, particular moods, or the company of specific people.

“The e-mail urge, for instance, probably occurs after you’ve finished reading a document or completed a certain kind of task. The cookie grab probably occurs when you’re walking out of the cafeteria, or feeling sluggish or blue.”

One of the cornerstones of my theory of “creative momentum” (more on this in August!) is the importance of forming positive habits and rituals around the creative act. Notice the four major triggers for habit formation:

  • a specific location or time of day,
  • a certain series of actions,
  • particular moods,
  • or the company of specific people

Is there any way to work creative habits into your day, using these four triggers as anchors for the practice to take hold?

The article covers the dark side and the ways in which attempts at conscious habit formation can go wrong. As Duhigg says, “Our capacity to develop such habits is an invaluable evolutionary advantage. But when they run amok, things can become tricky.”

This article is a comprehensive look at a nuanced, yet very basic topic: how to get in “ruts” that do us good!

3. Finally, Zen Habits blog recently featured an excellent guest post by Clay Collins on living an artistically prolific life.

Clay’s review of the literature on creative dynamos and the points he draws from it are terrific. I especially like and agree with these two…

Realize the gestation period of creative ideas:
“You must be giving birth to a steady stream of new ideas in order for those ideas to bear fruit in a year or two down the road. Realize that prolific people don’t always have a shortened creative cycle; they often just have more creative cycles going on simultaneously.”

Unabashedly take on your artistic identity. “Don’t be afraid to call yourself an artist … Don’t be timid about telling yourself and others what you do. If you create art, then you’re an artist. The dedication and seriousness required to consistently produce inspired art requires a singularity of purpose that can’t be present unless you’ve come to own your own creativity.”

If you have needed some inspiration for creating with greater consistency and more copiously, it doesn’t get much better than this.

Artist, business consultant and all around cool woman Linda Naiman posted a tantalizing entry on her blog a while back comparing the mind’s processing of art with a list of competencies for “creative leadership.” There’s an incredible interweave between the two, and Naiman asserts,

“We, as artists, need to learn how to develop and use our natural skills to lead. Leaders build their visions, unite people and thrive. It’s time we as natural leaders, and as artists, do too.”

The questions to you…

Have you used your artistic or creative sensibilities in a leadership role? How? What were the results?

(Full disclosure: I recently interviewed Linda for an article on workplace creativity. She’s a great lady.)


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