Do you love the work? Is it life and breath to you?
The creative craft is about perseverance. Staying with it. There is no American Idol of creative process, there is no short cut.
Very few people get to be Taylor Swift. The rest of us must make due with the mundane life AND the creative life in parallel. While we are working at our craft we are also working at making a living. If you can find the way to do both with the same work, you are lucky. And perhaps unlucky, too. Beware the paid working gig that saps your creative juice. Many a copywriter has never surfaced from the pithy and promotional.
So what does it take to fall in love with your work?
Time at craft is probably my most important motivator. If I am writing, or playing music, then I am in the groove. When I am away from the craft for any extended period of time (writing or music, in my case) there is some internal resistance to getting back in there and getting back to work. It's as if the studio becomes a hostile environment. Or that anything other than doing the work has become preferable. An afternoon wandering a book store might feel inspirational, but it can also be avoidance. The best remedy for avoidance is to jump back in. Face the chair, the empty page, the "record on" button.
Being in the process of creation is the antidote to ennui. Resistance can be boredom. Or fear.
How do you fight the blahs?
Habit: Habit is great if you can get there. Finding my quiet space took 40+ years. Perhaps you can find yours earlier in your path. For me, the morning hours are sacred. No one else is awake. I brew my cup of coffee and crack open the laptop for a session. Some mornings I know exactly what I will work on, some mornings the inspiration actually pulls me out of bed an hour earlier. It's as if my spirit anticipates this pre-dawn release. Finding this quiet time, and making a habit of rising when I wake up and simply writing was a process.
The morning pages of the Artist's Way is a great technique to cultivate this inner drive and dialogue towards your creative dreams. And in the habit of writing and aspiring towards something bigger than yourself, you'll find your mind wakes up ready to go, ready to create.
Today writing is easier for me to jump into in the morning. I would like to be back at a place in my life and living space where music is as accessible. (Maybe this is an excuse.) The process is about creation, the medium you choose is less important. It can start with writing your morning pages, and progress to writing or painting or composing. The habit is the thing. Your spirit will begin to crave the expression time. And the momentum grows the more you practice this creative grooving. This habit has formed the heart of my creative craft. I am never at a lack for time to create. No one is waiting for me at 5:30 or 6:00. Only me and my imagination.
Structure of ideas: Another part of my momentum building process is creating structures. If you can design containers for your music, or paintings, or writing, you can pour your ideas into the containers. These "structures" have an energy of their own.
When I came up with the idea of doing these letters, for example, I had a quick win with the first six letters. I didn't have to work at coming up with the next letter each morning. I was on a roll. The structure, and idea, of creating a series of inspirational, how-do-you-do-it, letters was enough to pull the first six ideas out of me, almost without effort. And then I got distracted, or decided to take a break. I was not trying to complete a book of letters overnight. I almost felt the process was too easy. Perhaps I was creating something of vanity rather than something of value. But I had to let that idea drop in the trashcan. There is no place for doubt when you are building your structure or your habit. Doubt is the killer.
No, I did not doubt the process when it came easy. And I don't think I lost inspiration when I turned my writing back towards other things. There is a confidence I have in the process, in the writing, that was not worried that I would lose the energy for completing the letters. And I had a sense that giving the next six letters a bit of time to percolate, was a good idea. I am not concerned with losing the thread.
Capture & Retrieve: Finally, developing a good capture system for your various ideas, is a key ingredient for perseverance.
At the moment, I am committed to keeping my focus on the livelihood branch of my creative life. I need a more stable income stream to support my family and the things I want to accomplish in the next period of my life. And with this commitment I am using my drive towards music, as a reward. (I'm wondering if this is some type of avoidance? I'd hate to think I'm losing the ideas, rather than storing them away.) My internal commitment is this: until I find the next client engagement (which requires focus, energy, and dedicated time and action, to find it) I will not jump off into any large musical projects.
But it's the capture system that has me confident that I am not losing any of the ideas that are still coming along. If you can capture the essence of an idea into a system that you will not lose, you may be able to return to the inspiration and build up the full idea. In music, this can be a vocal idea, a guitar progression, or just a piece of music that is particularly inspiring. In my toolkit I have several processes for capturing my ideas.
My iphone video makes a great capture tool for musical ideas. I can turn the camera on myself and my guitar and essentially show myself the idea on video. I can call out the tuning, if it's non-standard, and then proceed to show myself the progression. In this way I can get an idea down in a matter of minutes, rather than spend half a day recording the rough tracks. The idea is, that this seed will be enough to pick the song idea back up when I have the half-day to devote to it.
The problem is retrieval. I have about 6 of these ideas in various formats in various locations of my digital life. I need to get the three ideas off my phone, and put them in a folder on my laptop so I can get back to them, even if my phone is stolen. I will do that directly after finishing this piece this morning. Once I have the "idea" captured, I can move back to the activities that require priority processing. I'll be back in the musical fold, but I know it takes a much larger commitment of time, so I will delay the gratification on these ideas. And, so far, the momentum has been easy for me to pick back up from these video snippets.
Find your simple capture system for when the ideas come in inconvenient times. Then make sure you can rekindle the spirit from your capture, and that you can catalogue them and find them later, when you're in need of inspiration.
The keys to perseverance:
Capture & Retrieval.
- Letters to a Young Poet – Rilke
- Write Time: Guide to the Creative Process, from Vision through Revision-and Beyond – Atchity
- Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within, 2nd Edition – Goldberg
- A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man – Joyce
- The Artist's Way – Cameron
- Orbiting the Giant Hairball: A Corporate Fool's Guide to Surviving with Grace – MacKenzie
- Sonic Highways (show) – Dave Grohl and HBO explore music
- The War of Art – Steven Pressfield
- Tunesmith: Inside the Art of Songwriting – Jimmy Webb
image: creative mornings, fillipo podestá creative commons usage