Photo by Pixelsaway
Last week’s blog looked at the benefits of a creative routine, and how it worked for some well known creatives. The idea being that having a set routine helped the muse arrive, gives the creative time and space for their ‘thing’ and hence they would create more.
And for some people it really works.
The hard bit is getting the habit established, but once they have done it for a few weeks or months, they find themselves getting things made, written and produced.
But for others, well, life just doesn’t work that way.
What if you work shifts, have extended family coming and going, sickness, overtime demands at work etc etc? For so many of us life these days is not 9-5, with a set timetable for each day.
For people in that situation, developing a routine for anything is going to be hard because they simply don’t have a routine week. So, what do they do? Keep trying to find their habit, keep restarting each week or month, everytime there is a set back?
Well, yes, for some that will work. I know it has for me. Just keep on resetting, rinse and repeat, and have patches of productivity then stop, but at least I know I CAN build a habit again. Sometimes an enforced break from the habit is no bad thing, we can return refreshed to the project, but at other times it feels like starting again, and that can seem like a hard scramble back up the habit forming mountain. We don’t always want to strap on the crampons and struggle uphill, we need to find another way.
So what is the alternative?
There is another approach, a non-routine routine. A ‘give up all attempts to have a ritual around your creativity, and simply do it when you can’ method. But, as with most things in life, it isn’t as simple as it sounds.
This approach requires almost as much discipline as having a set time and place for creativity. It means you have to be able to grasp any gap in your day, whether planned or spontaneous, and in that gap, no matter how short, do something for your creativity. Obviously this is easiest for writers or others who can do things on the fly but even then, I have found that it is hard to allow myself to ‘just write’ if I have a gap in my work day. My head is elsewhere, my thinking is different. There are so many pulls to do other things – some useful and others……well the pull of a favourite social media or game on the phone can be very hard to resist for those precious few minutes.
Plus the gremlin rears up and says there is no point for just 5 minutes, you need at least an hour.
But really, do we need a set amount of time to add a few lines or ideas to something?
This is where the discipline comes in. Just as we need to develop the habit of getting up early, or sitting at our desk in the evening etc, we need to develop the habit of being spontaneous. So instead of our thoughts jumping to mindless Facebook scrolling while we wait on the train, or in our breaks etc, we would immediately grab our notebook and write, or sketch, or take photos, or just plan ideas if we can’t do our actual creative thing.
Photo @ massonforstock from Deposit Photos
So this non-routine, spontaneous approach requires its own form of discipline, an ability to quiet the gremlin, grab a pen/pencil/camera and do something when an opportunity arises. Whether you feel like it or not. Now maybe, this is where some of those famous peoples’ rituals might be helpful. Because while it is nice to have a habit, often it is what we do to set ourselves up that allows us to form the habit.
So for example if you always play certain music while you write. Make sure you have that music with you, so wherever you are you can set the ritual in flow, then it won’t matter where you are or whether it is 5 minutes or 50. Have your notebook with you, a pen/pencil, your favourite sweets that you always have when you create.
Whatever YOUR creative requirements are, carry them with you so you don’t have the excuse not to, the gremlin can’t jump up and down and yell ‘told you so, you’re not a proper creative’. Which is always off putting.
We can help ourselves be more spontaneous and moment grabbing by carrying our rituals with us. And although we might not have a set time or place to do our creativity, we can trigger the part of the brain, and thereby summon the muse, by having these rituals wherever we are.
And just like the more obvious daily routine approach, we actually build a habit to create wherever and whenever.
Whichever approach works for you, do that.
And keep doing it.
Image Credit – Watercolour by Undrey@Depositphotos The Cramped Creative
What is your image of a ‘creative person’?
Is it someone who creates art, who lives outwith the ‘normal’ ? Who spends their days either in a paint spattered garret creating masterpieces, or feverishly writing on their typewriter? These people don’t have routines, they are ‘artists’ and dismiss convention.
Well, if you are someone who wishes they had more creative time in their lives. Whether that is for writing, art, pottery, baking, whatever your creative thing is, you might be surprised when you see just how organised these creative folk actually are. It may seem that creative people don’t need a routine because they are waiting on the muse coming to them, and surely that elusive muse wouldn’t turn up to order? Don’t they have to be all free flowing and artsy about it? Surely, I mean, this must be true, surely any kind of routine must hinder creativity?
A quick look through some famous people’s diaries would soon show you otherwise e.g time of getting up and going to bed, specific food, drink, number of cigarettes smoked before entering their study, a run or a swim before starting. They can be a fascinating insight into the world of creatives, and their routines. Check out this book about them – Daily Rituals by Mason Currey
I am not an ‘artist’, in that I don’t create art. I like to doodle and draw, play around with it, and I enjoyed it at school but it was never my thing, so I have never set foot in an art school. I always assumed they were filled with highly creative people floating about creating their art and all sorts of amazing things. Now that I know some people that went to art school I have learned that the reality is a bit different. Of course it is all about creating, but it is also about learning to work at your subject. There is a discipline to it, they have deadline just like every other student in the world, they have to show their work and they were also taught about treating it as a business. I had a chat with one of them once and she said the main thing she got out of her course was not the degree in art, but it was the mindset that if this was to be her job, her source of income, then she needed to be productive, i.e. finish pieces, and also show people her work, no room to be shy, and also get used to charging for it, and know her own worth.
I think these are great things to know, whether we are wanting to be professional or not, whether we bake cakes or write books. Ultimately we need to Share Our Work ( Austin Kleon wrote a fun and useful little book on this very thing), and to do that we need to finish, and to do THAT, we need to have discipline and some sort of structure ESPECIALLY if we are fitting this in around our other commitments.
So here’s a thought for you – having a routine actually HELPS creativity.
If we have a set time and place for it, say 8-9 every morning, we can clear ourselves of distractions, and focus in that period.
We can put it in the diary, we can make it REAL, just like we would if we were going to a meeting or a gym class.
Why is our creativity any different, any less important?
If we say ‘Oh, I’ll do that when I get a chance’ it’ll never happen, because there will always be something else to claim our time and interest – a program we missed on tv last night; Facebook; a game on our phone that is designed to turn us into a drooling addict so we will play more and eventually pay to get past the baddie that gets us every time (*coughs*, ahem, not that I have any experience of that) and of course, the demands from work and family.
If instead we have an allotted time and habit then guess who knows when to show up – the muse! We can call her to us with the routine, we might play certain music, or do a few minutes of yoga or meditation beforehand, or go a run, jump around on a rebounder, whatever gets you in the mood. As long as you do the same thing every time it doesn’t matter, habit brings ease of flow.
For some people it might just take wearing the the same clothes and having the same breakfast every morning. If you are there most days at the same time, doing the same things, your mind can flick into creative mode, the muse can show up on time and you find yourself doing it with almost no thought.
To start you need to decide on a time when it would be easier for you to do this. You may have a preferred time already. Put it in your diary or calendar. Mark it in. Just a few minutes to start with, no need to commit hours. Think about what you need to have in place for it to happen easily. If you are a writer, can you have your computer come on at a certain time? I have a Mac and I can have it come on and be waiting for me in the morning. If you write or draw on a pad, make sure you have it laid out, pencils and pens ready to go. If you need a coffee or a certain breakfast, can you lay things out so they are easy to make? Be prepared, the less you have to think about the easier it is to fall into the routine. Also, plan what you are going to do. There is no point sitting down, all set and have no idea what you are working on. If you are starting fresh, spend a bit of time before your first day coming up with topics, you can use prompts to get you started, but have some in mind so on that first day you can sit down and know that you are going to write/draw such and such, then you do it, and you stop.
And that’s it.
Now the hard bit – REPEAT!
Repeat, repeat, repeat. Daily until it becomes a ‘must do’.
And that really is the hardest bit because things will get in the way and when they do, you will be tempted to give up as you have in the past.
But not this time!
No, this time you say ‘Oh well I missed a day or two, I need to get back to it.’
And start the process again,PLAN, PREPARE and DO.
This is how creatives work, they keep going back to it even if they have missed days or weeks/months, they go back to the start and begin again.
And soon, it is just their life, their day, their new normal routine.
If you need some help finding the time to create I have a short email course on it you can sign up here (its free)
I’ve been reading Ruby Wax’s latest book ‘Frazzled’. It’s a follow-up to her previous book New Sane World. That one was about her own depression battles and her studies of psychology. It was a mixture of humorous tales and science, making a difficult subject very approachable.
This new one is much the same except it’s all about Mindfulness, a subject I have written about before. I have also shared my attempts to follow a regular practise. Like many people I know, the winter months see most of my hard developed habits disappear in the gloom of the dark days and long nights. Scottish winters do not lend themselves to joy, early mornings and silent contemplations.
Not for me anyway.
I need comfort food, bed, and cosy snuggling on the sofa watching good films and tv.
But, I wonder if I truly had the habit, would it sustain me through the difficult months?
Ruby’s book talks about a factor I had read elsewhere. That actually doing mindfulness strengthens the area of the brain that is used for willpower, and yes, habit forming. So the more you do the easier it becomes to stick to things. Including the mindfulness itself. Apparently the brain can be strengthened, just like a muscle.
The key is therefore to start.
Which is the hard bit isn’t it?
Starting, and then managing to keep going beyond a couple of days. Some people say it takes 21 days to form a habit, others say 90 days. I think it’s more than 21 but hopefully less than 90. Because I don’t think I have ever stuck at anything for 90 days on the trot. Although I have felt that I was in the habit of things for less than that time. Perhaps they weren’t true habits, this is the ultimate goal for me, real habits that I stick to regardless.
So, now that the weather is brightening, the mornings are lighter, and it’s not quite so cold, this is my intention, to start forming the habits I know keep me happy and healthy – creativity, mindfulness, yoga, running, juice. I’ve done all of these before, I can do them again, but…the start is hard.
I know from past experience that mindfulness is indeed a key element in me getting started. Doing that, or running, seem to be triggers for the other good habits to come more easily. Unfortunately, they are also the hardest ones to begin.
However, I have found that many of my creative interests are ‘mindful’. So I don’t necessarily sit and ‘do mindfulness’, but I am aware of it as I go about my day. Writing, for instance, with focused attention on my writing or editing, that’s mindfulness for me. Or when I am playing the guitar, I can’t think of anything else, I am focused, and forget about troubles, worries and stresses. So that is mindful too.
Basically, anything that you are focused on, and paying attention to can be a mindful exercise.
So, that’s how to begin, find the things you love to do anyway, and try to do them most days, for at least 5-10 minutes.
If you need help finding the time, and developing the habit, join in Time Tamer week, it’s free, or sign up to the ‘Find Your Creative Freedom’ course. It’s all about developing the habit, finding the time, and yes, training yourself to allow mindful activity into your day.
And, if you get a chance do go and see Ruby in person, as she tours this new book. I saw her last time and it was a very entertaining, brave and enlightening show.
Last week I wrote about the impact of David Bowie on my creativity, and also how his death affected me. I spent the rest of the week listening to his music and being cheered by both it and how many other people seemed to feel exactly as I did. Grief for someone you have never met is a weird one, on the one hand, I can see why people would say it’s ridiculous to feel that way, but as someone who has experienced ‘real life’ grief I can only go by how I feel. I relate to DB’s death the way I would to an old friend, perhaps one I haven’t seen in a while but was still aware of their life/occasionally in touch with. Memories come flooding back, the impact they had on your life, and yes, your own mortality, are all part of the emotion, mixed in with sadness at their suffering, and in David’s case, awe at his ability to create right up to the end, and of course inspiration from his catalogue of work.
In times of sadness I find that I cannot read, my eyes won’t take in the information, my mind won’t let me focus. So I turn to other forms of distraction, film and music. I was listening to BBC radio 6 a great deal, it’s my go to radio station anyway, but their programming just fitted with my feelings last week. I also turn to playing my guitar at these times. I follow several guitar teachers on YouTube, for lessons and inspiration. Needless to say, many of them posted Bowie songs as tributes. I found one that I have never tried to play before, by the NYC Guitar school. The guy doing the lesson marched in front of the calendar and played the song, with the chords added over the top. He didn’t speak, and looking at him, he seemed pretty upset. The raw emotion was very clear. It was very moving, and also made me want to be able to play that song. Really play it.
Then, it dawned on me that I have never learnt any Bowie songs, not properly anyway. Then a major realisation – I have never learned ANY songs properly.
Second flash of clarity – I don’t want to because then I might have to play them to someone. I have said before how I can’t play in front of anyone. Possibly because I can’t play anything al the way through.
Third self awareness moment – I do this with ALL my creativity. That’s why my novel is taking on a mythical status. Why I start so many new ones but never continue.
AHH! It all begins to fall into place.
This is the next stage in uncramping – realising where we still hold ourselves back. I am not the ‘cramped creative’ of past years. I write most days, I play my guitar (and tell people that I do), I go to drawing classes. But, there is still a step up needed.
The step to sharing our work.
As Austin Kleon says in his little book – we need to show our work.
Where would we be if all the writers, musicians and artists had stayed ‘cramped’, never showing their work, never feeling it was good enough, that they weren’t good enough?
What if your ‘ART’ is enough, whatever form it takes?
What if YOU are enough?
What would YOU do if you BELIEVED you were GOOD enough?
2016 – Best Yet?
January is the time of year when it can seem that everyone is talking about resolutions and ‘best year’ ever plans. Getting fitter, giving up, starting new…..Does anyone ever stick to these January ‘better me’ lists?
Hmmm, I thought so!
I heard a chat on the radio the other day, which was about avoiding the usual resolutions but instead looking at ways for getting more creativity into your life. Obviously, I paid close attention as they talked about the benefits of creativity and having a daily practice. They talked about finding classes and online groups. If I hadn’t been driving, I would have called in to tell them about my book!
I have to be honest; it’s been a while since I attempted resolutions. I have done. In the past, I was quite the annual planner, but for me, it was a recipe for failure. I decided I don’t need another reason to get at myself and let the gremlin start to tell me off.
I do have goals but they are no longer about improving a behaviour or giving up a ‘vice’ (dark chocolate is good for you right? ;-)). I look at things I want to achieve and break them down into what I need to do to get that thing done. This may involve giving up stuff, like too many sweets, or it may require me to commit to doing something like getting up earlier. But, the ‘resolution’ is not the give up/do part, the resolve is in the outcome. The how I will feel (fitter), the what I will be able to do (run 5k, fit into jeans that I can’t fasten anymore).
You get the picture.
For me, 2015 was a ‘getting better’ year, after a difficult 2014 which set me back health and creativity wise. In fact, the last two years have blended into one as I spent so much of each in physical recovery. So I’d like 2016 to be the year I finally finish some of the things I started back before the health stuff got in the way.
Stuff like –
- The novel. I did the first rough draft in the Urban Writers 6Month Novel course back in 2014. I’m now starting proper editing. It WILL be finished this year!
- The creativity courses I have been developing for years now. (Almost ready!)
- Get my fitness back to where it was in 2013. Being fit and strong allows me to sleep better, get up earlier and create more.
To do those things I may well have to give up, start to do and form some good habits and rituals, but they will not be for their own sakes, they will be part of the bigger picture. For me, that helps me stick to them. Each thing on it’s on is too easy to let slide, but as a small segment of something bigger, something truly important to me, it’ll be easier to see any slips as a hesitation rather than a grinding failure.
The other thing people often miss is to look back at what they did achieve in the past year. We are so good at seeing our own fails and others’ successes. Before you start resolving to do everything right this year, look at what you did last year.
So, for me – Last year I wrote a non-fiction book and published it.
Which wasn’t even on my plan!
Sometimes plans just are meant to be, but what does happen is even better!
Hands Up who loves dark mornings and short days?
I didn’t think so…. November – February can be tough months for me. It is so easy to hide away, eat comfort food, and snuggle under a blanket in front of all the good tv that seems to emerge at this time of year. A new series of The Bridge, Fargo, Transparent, Catastrophe….why would I leave the couch!
So this is when your creative plans can go awry. Now, the writers amongst us can sign up to NaNoWriMo to challenge our writing. And I guess other creatives can join in with their own versions of a month long challenge. Is there a National Knitting Month, or Pottery, or Drawing? If not should there be?
I’ve written recently on how I coax (trick!) myself into getting up, how physical activity can help too. But some days it can really be hard to get going. The day is so dark, dull and cold, the night seems to begin about 3pm, and last until 11am the next day.
So what can we do?
This is when it really helps to have a creative toolbox of ideas. Prompts to get you thinking, ideas to do new things, mix things up a bit and so on. In my book I have a chapter of toolbox ideas, and in my course that I will be running in the New year, we will explore this further with daily prompts and a morale boosting Facebook group.
It can help to combine the two problems. So, it’s dark and miserable, and all you want to do is eat cake or comforting plates of mashed potato and stew. So, how about we do just that, but instead of heading off to buy ready meals or shop cake, why not make our own? Feed your creativity by seeking out new recipes, new ingredients even, and cooking and baking. It doesn’t have to be ‘bake off’ winning efforts, it just has to be yours, created by you. If you have kids, get them involved, make a mess, show them how much fun it is. Laughing in a warm kitchen while delicious smells waft from the oven, getting your taste buds anticipating the delights to come. That is a great way to banish the blues. I always put some music on too…can’t beat a wee dance around for cheering yourself up either.
Photo :Padurariu Alexandru
I recently got my first mixer, a Kenwood chef, just like my mum had when I was wee. My husband and I have been making bread and cake every weekend. With some success, I have to say. We have been pleasantly surprised at our efforts. And I know, we could’ve made these things before, in fact we have done. But the difference is that with the mixer it is easier, it feels more fun, less work. Even the clearing up seems less bothersome.
I’m all for making life easier, and freeing up my time and energy for writing and guitar playing. Especially at this time of year when there are so many demands on us as Christmas approaches. To banish the blues and wave a rebellious fist at the dark mornings, we need to have some fun. Wrap up, go out and get some holly branches to make your own wreath, cook and bake so you have nice things to come back to. Then snuggle up and make the best of the long dark days with a good book, extra writing (or whatever you do), while you enjoy the delights of a homemade cake.