This week I’m in West Virginia teaching creativity for the Federal Government.
I’ve been hired to teach as part of a Leadership Development program for people from all departments and levels of government. This program is a week-long retreat that happens here six times a year, and it’s a pretty remarkable thing to be doing.
(I’ll pause to allow you a moment to ask the same question everyone else has asked. “THIS administration? Hired YOU?”)
As a matter of fact, it did.
When I teach creativity, I have to shift gears. It’s like I have to step out of this camp that I’m usually in, so that I can walk to the outside borders, and look in and view it from there. That’s the best way to describe what it feels like to move out of creating mode and into teaching about creating mode.
It’s daunting to try and name something that can’t be named. Creativity, in so many ways, can’t be named. And yet, it must be given names and pointers so that people don’t think that the little creativity camp is exclusive, and give up on ever find their way in. Providing pointers and road signs helps people navigate better so they can get there on their own if they choose.
So, that’s what I do. I walk on a tiny little thin line when I teach. I think it’s the thin line in between the right and left brain.
In the spirit of this week, here are 17 Very Scattered and Random Celebratory Things I Know for Sure about Creativity.
1 – Creativity cures.
I can’t explain how or why. I have this sense that our left-brain world, while productive and efficient, has made us jumpy, panicky, and sad. Our addictions and miseries stem partly from allowing no time for play, no time for witnessing beauty, or for creating it. I have known countless people (including me) who, when they started scheduling regular creative time in their lives, began to heal all kinds of messes and addictions.
2 – Creativity is about paying attention.
So is meditation. So is enlightenment.
When I teach songwriting, I assign daily scheduled writing time. Students always ask, “What do you DO when you write?” I pay attention. I play the guitar. I moodle. I spend time with the song I’m writing. Sometimes I have four songs going at once. I spend time with each one of them as if they were children. When I pay attention long enough, the song always begins to take shape. But if I’m pushing or demanding, it doesn’t budge. All areas of art have their own version of paying attention. But no matter what you’re creating, paying attention is a requirement. (Aren’t the best meals you create the ones where you’re simply happy to be preparing the food?)
3 – Creativity is not sane.
I got a comment recently on my last post on creativity. The angry commenter wrote, “I think your ideas are insane.” Good! Creativity is the one place where you get to let go of rationality and sanity.
4 – The only way to learn about creativity is to create things.
That’s the bad news. I can go on and on here. You can buy twelve more books on how to be more creative. But all you’re doing is putting it off, asking for more time. “Just Do It” is actually quite the wise advertising slogan. When I wrote my first real song (Pocketful of Pennies, on my first CD) I got my first ah-ha glimpses about songwriting and songs. I got that creating things is not linear, which brings me to the next thing I know.
5 – Creativity is squiggle-y.
Songs are linear. Stories are linear. Blogs are linear. You’d think that you’d create them linearly.
But when you’re creating things, nothing is linear. Everything squiggles. You don’t start at Point A and go to Point C, via Point B. Creating a song might go like this: You get an idea. You sit with the idea. Another idea comes about how to begin. You start there because you have to start somewhere. Then you end up writing a chorus that turns out to be the third verse. A whole new chorus comes. Then you get stumped. Then you get one line that turns the whole idea around and shoots you off in the direction you were meant to go all along. And it’s easy for a while. Then you get stumped again and re-write that third verse. Eventually, a song that makes sense to the listener is born.
6 – Creativity is not an event.
It’s not the prom. It’s the times you held hands under the bleachers during gym.
It’s not a wedding. It’s the years after when you’re laughing together as you’re lying in bed at night.
It’s not the Olympics. It’s the Saturday mornings you spend with your kid skating at the rink and smiling at how cute he looks charging along with such determination.
It’s not Christmas Day. It’s all the twinkle lights and the smell of wood smoke and that one carol that reminds you of your grandma.
Creativity is the process and the unfolding. It’s not an event.
7 – Creative prolificity requires that your left-brain shut up.
(Mostly so that you can make up words like “prolificity.”)
Successful creativity has to do with tricking your nit-picky left-brain into going away for a while. This is why having daily scheduled writing time or drawing time works so well. After a few days of it, the left-brain gets really sick of this dumb inefficient use of time and eventually sits it out. That’s when things get good, and that’s when you can really have fun. One of my favorite pieces of advice from Julia Cameron is to say: “Okay God, I’ll take care of the quantity, YOU take care of the quality.”
8 – Judgment transmogrifies into discernment when you’re creative.
You’d think that what I’m describing here would make you so float-y that you’d end up creating any old piece of crap that had no merit at all. But over time, the left-brain critical side can join in, become less critical, and turn into a guide. Rather than judging, it discerns.
If a song isn’t working, I know it. And if I am paying attention to it and sitting with it, my critical mind becomes softer. It says, “Hmm. I wonder if you’ve tried to use too many words in this line. Maybe simplifying would make it funnier.” You’ll eventually have to allow some place for that critical thinking part of you to come out. Especially when you’re editing. And in deep creative spaces, that voice sounds less like judgment and more like discernment. There’s a big difference. You learn how valuable that difference can be.
9 – Miserable people are rarely creative.
Complainers and cynics aren’t typically taking pottery classes and signing up to learn drawing. They’re too busy being pissed off to take action. Creativity un-blocks stuck lives. It’s the side effect no one talks about. I think it’s because when you get to spend any significant time in the right hemisphere of your brain, a whole new world opens up to you.
10 – Everyone has valid fears, excuses, resentments, and blocks.
There are always reasons why you might: fail, suck, look stupid, make bad art, get laughed at, be called a fraud.
There are always reasons why you: don’t have enough time, had a rotten childhood, got stopped in your tracks by a bad review, feel compelled to do everything for everyone else, feel guilty for taking the time.
There are always people: who will be mean, who will laugh, who won’t approve, who won’t show up, who will tell you that your ideas are insane.
Creativity teaches you to say, “So-what?”
11 – Blogging is creative.
I think blogs have become so popular because bloggers get to just write. They get to see the big deal of not making it such a big deal. In addition to all the marketing and business blah-blah-blah that surrounds blogging, it is teaching all types to just create things.
12 – You don’t have to get stoned to shut the critic up.
You just have to keep showing up. In fact, I’ll bet your art gets better when you’re not stoned.
13 – If I am grouchy, angry, tense, or anxiety ridden, it usually means it has been too long since I sat with my guitar.
So, if you’re feeling any of those things, or if you’re a blogger, and you’re feeling awful about how you haven’t written a post in three weeks, then just go sit down and write something. Say Julia Cameron’s prayer. I am always amazed at how a morning of writing will lead me to this next point…
14 – When you’re creating something, you really GET that all of the things that are supposed to matter so much don’t matter much at all.
They don’t. We just let all these meaningless things occupy our minds because that’s what our left-brains like to do. They like to solve problems. And when they don’t have problems to solve, well, then they like to create them.
15 – Creativity is all at once this gigantic mystery and this no-big-deal simple joy.
It’s like those Magic Eye books. For the longest time I watched people staring at those stupid pictures and then exclaiming, “WHOOOOOAAAA!’ And I couldn’t figure it out. I got angry and it seemed so unfair. Then one day, kind of simply and slowly, my eyes made that necessary shift and I was IN. When you’re in, you can move your eyes all over the place and look around and it’s no big deal, but at the same time it’s really mysterious and wild, too! That is exactly how creativity feels to me.
16 – Creativity is better than therapy.
17 – Creativity is about showing up, not perfection.
If you want to be more creative in your life, if you crave a more artful life, start small. Make cards for people. Make ugly cards. Call them “Ugly Cards, Inc.” Write bad poems. Call them “Bad Poems, Inc.”
I bought a thank you gift for a friend of mine recently. And it sat on my desk for weeks because I was waiting to find “the perfect card.” Knowing what I know about Energy Drains and Creativity, I finally got so frustrated with myself and my perfectionist that I just ripped a piece of paper off a Kinko’s notepad. I folded it. On the front of the “card,” I wrote: “Beautifully crafted card with the perfect sentiment expressing exactly how grateful I am for your presence in my life.” And I opened the “card,” and on the inside I wrote: “with the perfect little punch-line inside to make you laugh and feel good about yourself.” And I sent the card and package. And it brought my friend great joy. She loved the card.
Stop trying to be perfect. Just show up. It will unfold to reveal a hundred perfect little punch-lines.