August is back-to-school month for many here in the United States, something I’m reminded of constantly by virtue of a day job in higher education. It’s also a good time to get “back to basics” in our creative practice and focus on learning things that will propel us to the next level in our art, craft or innovative discipline.
With that in mind, I’m choosing this month to roll out a primer on an idea that powers my creative coaching philosophy, a concept I’ve chosen to call “creative momentum.”
A while back, when looking over my experiences as a creative person, I noticed a disconnect between my experiences trying to maintain a steady creative “flow” and the focus in creative self-help literature on avoiding artist’s block. Obviously, once we’re blocked, we need to get unblocked, but why not avoid getting blocked in the first place?
At the time, I had been studying the change methodology known as Appreciative Inquiry, which begins by looking at what’s right about a person, group or system, then seeks to develop a vision of what is desired, rather than focusing exclusively on removing a problem or negative situation. And that got me to thinking…being “unblocked” didn’t sound like a very inspiring state! Definitely not my highest aspiration.
I realized that consistently creative individuals are not merely “unblocked”–they have accessed a source of power that allows them to move past setbacks, hurdles and unexpected reversals of fortune. They have developed enough momentum to keep moving along in their art, even when they feel stuck or disappointed.
I’ve discovered four elements that encourage creative momentum, renewable energy sources that propel creative people who pay attention to them to zestful, satisfying art-making. I will devote an entire post to each element, but for now, here’s a brief overview of each one.
I. De-cluttering: It’s difficult to get started or keep going as an artist if you’re overbooked, if you have no place to dance, paint, write or draw, if you cannot find enough “downtime” to sneak off to the studio, or if you keep telling yourself you’re a has-been (or even a never-been) as an artist. De-cluttering activities hold a space for creativity to occur. Much as one must clear a lot in order to build a house, or construct a garden, creative people must proactively make space for their art.
II. Positive Habits & Rituals: Once you’ve got the time, space, and attitude to create in place, creating a “grid” of habits with which to ground your creativity is essential. Once we understand how we form creative habits, and what rituals help us get in the right frame of mind to create, it’s possible to create both in the little slivers of time that come to us as unplanned “downtime,” as well as in the broader swaths of time we learn to devote to our projects.
III. Practice & Technique: The impulse to play and learn creatively is inborn–knowing the particulars of our individual craft is not. Even if we get off to a good start in our art, some times it’s easy to get off track once we’re not regularly exposed to a teacher or a regular source of feedback on our progress. Understanding how to practice the fundamentals of our craft or discipline, how and when to reach out for instruction and feedback from others and how to develop a creative routine that allows us to continue expanding our skills, is necessary to avoid reaching a point where we’re unable to apply what we know because we’re not fluent enough in applying our knowledge to execute the task.
IV. Worthy Projects: For me, this element is the one that makes the others worthwhile. Having a worthy project or two (or seven) related to your creative passion going at all times can provide a powerful incentive to keep your life de-cluttered, embed those habits and rituals in your life, and continue practicing and honing your technique. Worthy projects are a concrete focus for expressing the joy we experience in creative activity–a goal that acts as an overriding incentive when we hit setbacks. A worthy project need not be grandiose or even shared with others to provide the incentive you need to complete it–it just has to be worthy, in your eyes, of your attention and care.
Photo courtesy SXC.