7  Steps to Inspire Your Creativity Again and Again

7 Steps to Inspire Your Creativity Again and Again

How do you foster inspired creativity? And how do you know when you’ve had a good creative day?

Is it when you have finished a wonderful painting, written 1000 words, or worked out the ending to your dance piece?

Or is it when you spent four hours in your studio, puttering around, seemingly accomplishing nothing?

“It’s always a mistake to equate productivity with creativity. They are not the same. In fact, they’re frequently at odds with each other: You’re often most creative when you’re the least productive.”

Austin Kleon, Keep Going

The Paradox of Creativity

There’s a paradox here. Which is good news, because it likely means we are close to a deep truth. One of my teachers says, “When paradox is here, Divine is near.”

The paradox is that both of the following are true:

1. Focusing on quantity over quality generally produces more and better art.

2. Productivity does not equal creativity. And vice versa.

Quantity Over Quality Produces More of Both

Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way advises artists to make a deal, as follows: “Great Creator, I will take care of the quantity. You take care of the quality.

It can be profoundly helpful to invite yourself to just make a bunch of art and stop judging it. Setting goals like making a small painting a day or writing 500 words a day for 30 days can be incredibly motivating and energizing.

Focusing on quantity rather than quality frees up your muse, your inner artist, to experiment, take risks, try new things, be bold, wild, silly, and most of all, not be self-conscious. It allows you to get out of your own way and discover your voice and subject matter, to loosen up enough to let your creativity flow.

But if you watch like a hawk to see if what you are making is any good while you are making it, you are likely to freeze up and be unable to create at all.

By focusing on creating more art rather than “good” art, you allow yourself to get unstuck and start making things. Pretty soon, some of that stuff will likely be good. And, it feels good to be making things!

Creativity is Mysterious

The other half of the paradox is: Productivity and creativity are not the same thing. Creating is not factory-line work. We cannot measure it by how much we make on any given day, or week or year.

Creativity is mysterious. (There’s the divine aspect again!) So much of it happens in the shadows, in the subconscious, while we are asleep or driving or working on something else. Much of it grows beneath the soil of our awareness.

And then it bursts into bloom. Thomas Edison was famous for napping in his office and coming up with his best ideas while doing so. It took James Joyce seven years to write his masterpiece Ulysses, and he began work on it eight years after he penned the initial idea for it.

Are There Any Bad Days in the Studio?

One of the great revelations of my own creative life happened one winter when a friend rented a small studio with an upright piano for me, so that I could write music. (I was incredibly poor at the time and could not afford such a thing myself.)

After work each day, I would go to the studio for two hours. There was a couch, a lamp and the upright piano in the room. Some days I was so tired from work, I would sit down on the couch and fall asleep. Some days I would sit at the piano and write music. Some days I would draw pictures of my inner gremlins (those nasty buggers who criticize and condemn me and are afraid to create) in my journal. Or I would play through what I had written so far, or just noodle around on the piano or stare out the window at the black night sky.

Initially, I thought the good days in the studio were the days when I wrote the most music, and I felt really guilty about wasting my friend’s money when I fell asleep on the couch or didn’t have much to show for myself.

person making pottery on a wheel
by Swapnil Dwivedi on Unsplash

But over time, I came to see that I could not be sure what constituted a good day or a bad day in the studio. Sometimes when I lay down and rested, I would wake up with an incredible idea. Other times, that idea was still germinating, and it would come out days later. Or I just needed rest, so that I could be creative on another day.

Pretty soon it became clear that a good day in the studio was any day in the studio, no matter what I did. Mind you, this was before the days of cell phones. I had no way to distract myself in this studio, since it also wasn’t connected to where I lived. All I had was my journal and the piano and my music implements and that couch.

Getting Into Your Studio Is Winning the Creative Battle

If you are in your studio or wherever you create (at a café, outdoors in nature, at your kitchen table, in your car while waiting to pick up your kid), if you are in your creative space and doing anything remotely related to your creativity—including napping, doodling, reading inspiring things, tidying up your space, looking at old art of yours, researching ideas, listening to inspiring music—you are having a good day in the studio. You are being creative.

The whole battle is getting in the studio, entering your creative space and time. Once you have done that, you have won.

Could you abuse this idea and endlessly avoid actually making art? Probably. Our inner resistance in wily and will use whatever means it can to avoid the scary, challenging endeavor that is art-making.

But it’s not likely that you will be able to avoid making art, if you do the following…

7 Steps to Inspired Creativity

  1. Make a space for creating and put your creative materials in it and whatever inspires you and/or invites you to creative play.
  2. Remove all unnecessary distractions from it, especially the phone and anything that alerts you with notifications/intrusions.
  3. Go into that space regularly with the intention of having creative time, what I call “studio time.”
  4. Have a creative project or goal. This can be anything. You just need some focus, something to funnel your creativity into.
  5. Stay there for an allotted period of time that works for you— half an hour, an hour, two hours, four hours, regardless of what happens during that time.
  6. Abstain from judging how you use the time and what you do or do not create. Trust the process. Trust yourself.
  7. Keep showing up.

Keep an Open Mind and Heart

Let yourself spend your studio time leafing through art books or comic books or birding books or whatever inspires you, or playing with materials that are not part of your “main” art form—for instance, making little figurines out of Playdoh (remember, art is play!)—or writing in your journal, or whatever happens.

Let yourself also wade into making art in whatever your desired art form is. Make inroads on your goal or project with an experimental, non-judgmental mindset. Let’s just see what happens.

Do these things and you will find yourself not only making art, but enjoying it and feeling inspired!

Be curious and open. Explore and enjoy!

Facing the Blank Page: Tending Your Creative Fire, Part 2

Facing the Blank Page: Tending Your Creative Fire, Part 2

[This is part of a 2-part series on Tending Your Creative Fire and how to get yourself started creating each day. If you missed part 1, you can find it here.]

As artists, we all know the horror of the blank page (or blank canvas or the equivalent in whatever medium you work in), that gaping void waiting to be filled with brilliance, if only you knew how to begin.

So how do you begin?

Have a Familiar Entry Point

Having a regular way that you start your creative time can be a tremendous support to overcoming the blank page/blank canvas syndrome, and it will decrease your resistance to getting started.

For instance, if you are working on a novel, you might begin your creative time each day by rereading what you wrote the day before. And then, have decided in advance what scene you will be working on that day.

As a dancer, you might have a particular warm-up you always do. When I dance, I begin by lying on the floor for quite a while, stretching and rolling around. I need to make strong contact with the earth, the base for all my dancing, before I move into the upper levels and become more active. Knowing this is where I begin, I enter the studio and lie down and begin. I don’t have to wonder where to start.

photo by Derek Truninger

photo by Derek Truninger

As a poet, I usually begin by reading several poems by other poets. This helps me shift into a musical and alive use of language and sparks my imagination for what’s possible in a poem.

Then, I usually follow that with a writing prompt (a word, phrase or topic to write about) and do a 10-20 minute freewrite, using that prompt, to get the words flowing. (If you do not know what freewriting is, I highly recommend you read Natalie Goldberg’s now-classic Writing Down the Bones, and familiarize yourself with this extraordinary tool for writers.)

These two short activities—reading a few poems and doing a freewrite—help me to prime the creative pump. I don’t always begin in this way, depending on what I’m working on, but I always have this simple practice to fall back on, and it’s how I most often begin.

Use Creative Games and Playful Activities

I have various creative games and exercises to bring me into a more inspired state in an inviting, open way that often yields profound work.

Playful and inviting are touchstone qualities for entering into creative work.

Creativity is play, at its heart. Unfortunately, as artists, we often forget this, to our detriment. We turn our creative play into hard work.

We approach it as work, partly because that helps validate the activity in our minds and the minds of others. American culture, grounded in the Puritan work ethic, and many of our contemporary first world cultures, tend to revere work and think of play as frivolous. But approaching our creative activity as hard work is a sure-fire way to make it less appealing in the long run, and hence generate more resistance to doing it. And I believe, it is ultimately not true to the creative spirit.

ladypainting_123rfI recommend that you create some of your own playful invitations in whatever medium you wish to work in. Search out interesting creative exercises and try them on.

Small challenges and assignments are also incredibly helpful. As are larger projects you can work on over time. Limitations or boundaries actually set our creative imaginations free.

As a painter you might decide to begin each painting session for a month by making a quick 4” x 4” painting in 20 minutes. Or you might allow yourself only certain colors. Or you might always begin with a still life sketch. If you get bored with your assignments after a while, change them up.

The dancer and choreographer Twyla Tharp in her wonderful book The Creative Habit has an exercise she calls “Do a Verb.” She expresses with her body for several minutes a single verb, such as “twist.” This gets her moving and thinking creatively.

Collect a Treasure Box of Generative Ideas

Here’s an idea:  Create an index card box full of creative prompts and draw one out at random when you begin your creative time. Then, do whatever is on the card. Come up with a batch of your own ideas to get you started. Ask friends for other ideas. Write them down. Collect them.

Or, choose a regular way to enter your creative state, a routine, a habit, a practice, and stick with it. Perhaps your regular way is drawing a card from your treasure trove box and doing it.

What matters is what works to get you started. Few things are more daunting than the blank page or blank canvas or stage with no idea where to begin. Have a way to begin and know what it is before you enter the studio that day. You might leave yourself an assignment at the end of the previous day’s work.

Collect some fallback methods or exercises that you can rely on. Ask other artists what works for them to get started. For me, when all else fails, I revise earlier work. No matter how uninspired I feel, this always gets me into creative engagement, and it moves my work forward.

How will you begin the next time you enter your studio? What helps you get inspired and flowing?

My Recommendations

Use some or all of these as they work for you.

  • Decide in advance how you’ll begin the next day
  • Start with something small and easy
  • Think playful, inviting or inspiring
  • Experiment and see what works
  • Consider creating a regular warm-up practice, a habitual way to begin your creative time

To your creative fire,

Maxima

The Power of Ritual: Tending Your Creative Fire, Part 1

The Power of Ritual: Tending Your Creative Fire, Part 1

[This post in the first in a two-part series on Tending Your Creative Fire and getting started creating.]

Getting started with creative activity is the very hardest part.

We say we want to write, paint, sculpt, make films, sing, but when it comes to actually doing it, we procrastinate and distract ourselves endlessly, never seeming to get around to it.

And thus, another day goes by when we aren’t living our dreams. We beat ourselves up about it, but that doesn’t do any good.

So how do you get yourself to actually sit down at the piano or your desk, enter your studio, stand at your easel, pick up the pen, or doing anything else you love to do?

Two Extremely Helpful Practices To Get You Creating

Two things will help you most to get started creating each time:

1) A regular creative practice at the same day/same time each week, so that it becomes an unquestioned habit (nothing helps more than this). See my post on The Power of Creative Routines for more about this.

2) A way into the creative activity itself, a way to begin.

In this essay and the next one, I address the second step above. I talk about ways to help yourself get started once you are in the studio. However, these tools will also reduce resistance to getting yourself there in the first place. (To find out more about getting yourself into the studio, read my essay on Resistance to Creating.)

Create a Simple Ritual to Invoke Your Muse

Altarish2_MichaelDuliba

Photo by Michael Duliba

Create a regular way to enter into your creative practice. A simple ritual is helpful. Simple is, most often, best, so that your ritual doesn’t become yet another hindrance to doing creative work.

The ritual serves to alert you that you are entering a different state of being, one set apart from the workaday world, you are opening yourself to the creative flow, making yourself available to greater powers to flow through.

The ritual is like a gateway you pass through to enter the creative state. It announces your availability to your muse.

I like to light a candle, ring a small bell, and say a short prayer. Sometimes I also fill a bowl with water and a few drops of essential oils and wash my hands in a symbolic act. In this way, I evoke my physical senses and engage my whole being in the creative act to come.

Take a Moment to Connect

In whatever ritual you choose, take a moment to connect to the following three things:

  1. Your reason for creating—what it gives you, why you love it, why it matters. This is what I call your Deep Why.
  2. A promise and commitment to yourself to not judge what happens during your creative time that day—not the work itself, nor how much you did or did not do, nor your abilities or talent.
  3. A sense of offering up your work in service to something larger than yourself. This may be the world, others who will benefit from it, the Divine, or art and beauty itself. In other words, detach from your ego’s ambitions and attachments to the work and reconnect to a deeper purpose.

It only takes a minute or two to connect to these three things, and they will help you be motivated and free to create from a place of love and giving, and keep your ego mind more quiet, so that you can do the work/play.

At the end of my creative time, I have a little ritual of closure to mark my transition back to the so-called ordinary world. I ring the bell again, blow out the candle, and pour the water in the bowl onto the earth outside.

Ritual Helps Us Enter the Creative State

Full disclosure: I don’t always do my ritual. Sometimes I resist the ritual itself. Often I simplify it to just lighting a candle and ringing a bell.

But I find the ritual helps me in small, subtle ways to cross a threshold into creativity and to sanctify the time and activity, making me less apt to get distracted or off-course or to postpone starting.

The ritual also reminds me that I do the work not for my sake alone, but for a greater purpose, that my art is meant to serve others and the Divine. It gives me a moment to reconnect to this larger purpose and helps me put my ego aside and dive into connection with something larger than me and more meaningful, and that, at the same time, is motivating and inspiring to me.

Your Ritual Needs to be Right for You

Meditating person

Photo by Dingzeyu Li

Bottom line: Your ritual needs to work for you and suit your nature. It could be going for a walk or doing yoga before your creative time. Coming into the body and getting the energy flowing is very helpful because our creative energy is our life force energy, or chi, and it helps to have that flowing.

Your ritual might be as simple as clearing off your desk before sitting down to write, removing distractions. Some artists put on a special piece of clothing each time or their favorite music. Some simply begin by making a strong cup of tea or coffee. Many have superstitious and strange habits that work to signal their muse to show up.

Your ritual need not be elaborate, and it is essential that it works for you. By “works for you” I mean it suits your nature, and it does not become another obstacle to creativity. Your ritual should help you to enter the creative state, to invoke your creativity and inspiration and set aside your self-judgments, doubts and preoccupations with the rest of life for the time being. You may need to experiment a bit to find a ritual you like.

In our next issue of Creative Sparks, I give you some bright ideas to help you overcome the blank page/blank canvas syndrome and get creating. Click here to read Part 2 of this series on Tending Your Creative Fire.

To your creative fire,

Maxima

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