As I mentioned in my post introducing this series last week, clearing away a space in which to create is an essential prerequisite to developing momentum in our creative lives. In order to get started in an artistic discipline or move forward in one you’re already active in, it’s necessary to de-clutter your life on three levels:
Physical de-cluttering simply involves fashioning a space in your house, or wherever you work on creative projects, that allows you to do your art. For writers, this may be as simple as finding a quiet place to sit down and write in your notebook, or type on your laptop. Other artists, such as painters, sculptors, dancers or musicians may have more rigorous requirements, which could involve muffling noise, ensuring an open space for movement, or devising a zone where they can safely “play” with at-times messy materials.
Two forks in the physical de-cluttering road are 1) finding ways to clear a space in your dwelling to make art and 2) finding ways to create workspace anywhere you may find yourself. An example of #1 are the plans I have for this weekend to clean my home office so that I may write, blog, and edit video there more productively; an example of #2 would be packing my laptop in my commuter creativity kit so that I can work on the road and make the most of that time.
Temporal de-cluttering goes beyond time “management.” Aligning your time to create and see a creative impulse from start to finish involves both prioritizing your creativity in a general way in your schedule and making a commitment to play with your ideas in “unplanned” slivers of time that present themselves to you (waiting for the doctor, for example), as well as during those chunks of time you carve out for more in-depth sessions.
A good example of time-clutter interfering with creative output would be my earlier history as a videographer. After landing a contract video writer-producer job 10 years ago, I went back to magazine editing after that 18 month stint ended, but bemoaned ever getting back to video work. Despite having a job that was at most 45 hours a week, and no significant freelance projects, I felt as if I needed huge swaths of time to learn new editing software programs, script new projects, or find a commercial, or at least public, outlet for my work. My video work went nowhere, and I railed at the world for not “letting” me have the time to do video projects.
However, every time my family called on me to do a video project for them, I found the time. Since it wasn’t paying-job art-making, I think I gave myself permission to find the time to plan, shoot and produce family history videos, photo montage DVDs and the like. What I have learned is that I can spend an evening watching documentaries and gain valuable insights into the projects I produce; I can sit on the bus and storyboard or write a treatment for a project; or I can spend a couple of hours uploading footage and experimenting with an editing program or an editing technique. I don’t have to spend years in film school. I just need to work with what time presents itself to me.
(Curiously, after I adopted this attitude, I had a number of opportunities to produce multimedia in my day job and a part-time consulting job I have. That intersection of chance and the prepared mind seems common, and it’s definitely grist for another blog post.)
Mental de-cluttering is in many ways the most subtle of the three levels. You can have your studio prepped for creative action, and have blocked out hours to create in your favorite medium, but if you are constantly besieged with thoughts of how inadequate your art-making is, or how little your artwork matters in a culture that judges people on how much money they earn and how big their house/car/boat/plane is, you’re probably going feel stuck.
Carol Dweck has written about the difference in attitude between people with “fixed” mindsets (who believe intelligence, talents, and personality are fixed traits, carved in stone) and a “growth” mindset (who see their qualities as things that can be developed through their dedication and effort). She asserts that her research demonstrates that adopting a growth-oriented mindset allows people to thrive during some of the most challenging times in their lives. Dweck’s book Mindset explains her research in detail and offers helpful suggestions for changing one’s mindset. Her website also has helpful tools for this sort of mental housecleaning.
Another form of mental clutter is having so many ideas, or concepts or projects that one cannot get a single ONE accomplished. A helpful tool for “cutting to the chase” and concisely expressing one’s ideas is one-sentence journaling. The discipline of keeping a daily journal with a very short entry helps you make way for the most pressing ideas and get them acted on. It’s as if you had to answer the door everyday for a beloved friend who came to visit you. You would make a path so that you could get there!
As you can see, de-cluttering is an ongoing, multi-faceted task. It’s easy to let life get in the way of creating. But keeping a space in your mind, heart, house and schedule for creative action is repaid in the form of finished projects, the “flow” of the moment of creation, and the joy of sharing one’s artwork later.
And what do we do once we have the space free to create? That’s the topic of the next post in this series—creating positive habits and rituals.
Helpful links related to de-cluttering
Clutter-busting with…one-sentence journaling: A Creative Liberty blog post from February, in which I interview Quinn McDonald, a life/creativity coach who offers classes in this journaling technique.
Journal 10+: a book designed to encourage one-sentence journaling over a period of 11 years! It also allows you to visit the same date each year and see what you were writing about.
43 Things: A social networking site organized around life goals. Good for giving your goals a time-line and receiving support for getting work done.
Eric Maisel’s “Drop Everything Exercise”: From Eric’s book “Coaching the Artist Within,” which contains other good create-in-the-moment anecdotes and exercises.