Surviving the Creative LifeMichael Schwengel
Creativity. Ah, that beautiful place. Some call it “flow” – a state in which the creator and the universe become one. All the distractions melt away and you’re fully present with whatever is in front of you – a project, your client, maybe even your Excel spreadsheet!
Like many of us, I play a few different roles in my work: voice actor, entrepreneur, designer, software developer. The ability to channel creativity into whatever work I do has always been the leading force in deciding how and where I want to show up in the world.
But it’s a mysterious process, creativity, and it takes a good deal of practice to harness it correctly. Because of this, being a creative person in today’s world is hard, and building a functional life around our creativity is even harder. In order to survive the ‘creative life’, we must first understand the nature of creativity in and of itself.
For the more science-minded of you, think of it this way: if I had to choose between categorizing creativity as a solid, liquid, or gas, I’d choose gas.
Well, partly due to its ephemeral nature, and partly because of its notorious unreliability.
Creativity doesn’t do boxes, it doesn’t do labels, and it certainly doesn’t always cooperate within the modern 9 – 5 workday culture. That’s why it’s such a challenge, and sometimes takes months or even years, for creative professionals to find the proper routines and rituals for working on their creative projects.
So what is this nebulous thing we call creativity?
A quick Google search will yield Merriam-Webster’s brief definition: “the ability to create. The quality of being creative.”
Why not look to folks famous for having conquered the creativity problem for themselves?
“Don’t think. Thinking is the enemy of creativity. It’s self-conscious, and anything self-conscious is lousy. You can’t try to do things. You simply must do things” – Ray Bradbury
“Creativity comes from a conflict of ideas” – Donatella Versace
“Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.” – Pablo Picasso
Thanks to a particularly nasty case of writer’s block last night, I had a great deal of trouble deciding on where and how to begin writing this article. I let my fingers rest lightly on my laptop’s keyboard, and wrestled with the meaning of the words themselves. I read and reread the above quotes for a good ten minutes, until my laptop’s battery began to die and I was forced to hunt down its charger.
It was only then that I realized what these three quotes have in common with one another: the necessity of working, and continuing to work, in a state of uncertainty.
Bradbury, Versace, and Picasso—despite all of them belonging to separate artistic disciplines—are telling us that in order for creativity to pay us a visit, we must first be willing and committed to working without it. It’s only then, in its absence, after we’ve worked through the conflict, uncertainty, and lack of inspiration, that creativity will come.
So how do we survive this creative life? And what does it mean to live creatively?
- A creative individual is a catalyst for expressing the highest parts of ourselves through whatever it is that we do.
- It’s about using our talents, our interests, and individual experiences in ways for life to express itself through us.
Because of this, it’s imperative we give ourselves some structure.
For our creative impulses to flourish, it’s essential that we embrace stability and security in our lives. Whether that’s waking up an hour early on weekdays to work on your novel, establishing a day, once a week, for devoting to your graphic design side hustle, or turning off your phone from 1 – 4 pm on Saturday afternoons to record an album, it’s not a one-size-fits-all solution.
For me – it’s all Google Calendar! Segmenting off blocks of time for certain projects or disciplines forces me to stay present in that activity, no matter the discomfort or uneasiness that may arise at first. In many ways, this practice has become similar to meditation for me.
Finding the right rhythm and structure takes effort, discipline, and is oftentimes a lonely existence.
- It’s a skill, an art form, a way of processing the external data of the day-to-day, that is in direct conversation with the internal weather of its practitioner.
- It involves the mind, yes, but also relies heavily on emotional psychology.
- To create something, there is the initial necessity of looking inwards, taking that metaphorical flashlight into, more often than not, the deepest, cobwebbed corners of yourself.
So how, then, can something so precious and unique and situational as creativity be restricted to only one path, one way of going about it? How can the concepts of “wrong” or “right” even exist in a space such as this?
Hard to believe, maybe, but creativity isn’t dissimilar to sports in this way. It also requires the use of muscles, and when practiced, even forms its own reflexive muscle memory.
Only, it’s the brain in place of the bicep.
- There is no cookie-cutter pattern for finding your creative process.
- There are models, certainly. Examine them in the light and learn from them and then put them back down again.
- Give yourself permission to design YOUR unique process and framework. Your creative expression is unique, so why shouldn’t your process be?
- Consider the external. Do you work best alone or with company? At dawn, or way past midnight? Are you more of a marathoner or sprinter? These are important and helpful things to know about yourself.
Process: there is no one-size-fits-all. AND, it’s your responsibility as a creative being to design a framework that works for you. Creativity happens when you’re lost in thought in dentists’ waiting rooms, during long car rides with hot, flat pavement and wide open skies, in the dead of Monday night’s sleep, in the early morning shower. It’s always happening, because life is always happening, and isn’t every moment potential material?
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