A high stakes game
Our fear of being creative is a related phenomenon. Being creative often means risking rejection. Back in the day, rejection meant freezing to death alone on the tundra.
It doesn’t mean that anymore, but the prehistoric parts of our brain still keep trying to run the show. That’s why, if we want to complete creative work, it can help to lower the stakes for ourselves. Here are four ways to do it.
1. Make art for yourself.
There’s a reason 90% of my blog posts have begun as journal entries: when I’m writing in my journal, I tell myself no one will ever see it. The point is just to take out my mental trash so there’s room in my head for better stuff.
Inevitably, the day’s writing does begin as garbage, but, surprisingly often, I meander into insights I decide are worth sharing. I’ll be halfway into the draft of a blog post before I realise that’s what I’m writing. By then, I’ve bypassed the fear of starting, and it’s easy to keep going.
- If you’re a dancer, you could find an empty room, put on some music, and just move.
- If you’re a visual artist, you might try finger painting or collage.
- If you’re a musician, give yourself permission to noodle for awhile on your instrument.
Whatever your thing is, schedule a regular time, however short, to play with it, not for the purpose of creating something good, but for the purpose of falling back in love with it.
According to musician, author and computer artist Stephen Nachmanovitch, such “free play” is the key to creativity.
2. Go for volume.
Another way I’ve lowered the stakes for myself is by participating in Nanowrimo, for which participants write a 50,000-word novel draft over the course of a single November.
When you write 1,667 words per day, you’ve got no choice but to toss all expectations of quality out the window, and when you do that, it’s a helluva lot easier to actually get the draft done.
- If you’re a musician, you might try a 30-day improvisation challenge like Clarissa from Wisdom And Beauty 101 did.
- If you’re a writer, you could check out Holly Lisle’s free How to Write Flash Fiction That Doesn’t Suck course, which teaches you how to write short stories in batches of 5. I’ve taken it. It’s fabulous.
- If you’re a painter, experiment with keeping several canvases on the go at once. That’s what Ania Witwitzka does. She says it makes each one seem less precious.
3. Do it cheaply.
In Your Inner Critic is a Big Jerk, collage artist Danielle Krysa writes, “I used to fill my studio with perfect white canvases. They were perfect, I was terrified to ‘ruin’ them.”
To make it easier on herself, she bought a pretty red notebook. “It’s actually still on my studio shelf, completely blank,” she continues. “Still too precious.”
What saved her was discovering the art of Martha Rich: “She paints on found bits of paper, and on the pages of old books. Brilliant!”
Krysa borrowed the approach, and it gave her “a creative, weird, delicious place to start. And these pieces that were meant to be studies actually turned into final works that I framed, hung, and am still proud of today.”
I get where she’s coming from. Even though I know all the cool kids are supposed to write in Moleskines, I can’t bear to risk soiling such a pricey item. That’s why I use these instead:
4. Do some creative cross-training.
Steven Pressfield writes, “The more important a call or action is to our soul’s evolution, the more Resistance we will feel toward pursuing it.”
Only painters quake at the sight of a blank canvas. Only performers get stage fright. As Thomas Mann puts it, “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.”
That’s why practising an art that isn’t “yours” can help your creative energy flow.
I wouldn’t call myself a “photographer.” I’ve never memorised all that stuff about “f-stops” and “aperture settings.” While I enjoy taking pictures, I don’t need to take them the way I need to write.
But, on my non-writing days (I write 5 days per week), I happily take snapshot after snapshot, and I edit them with the slapdash enthusiasm of a kid with sparkles and glue.
Then, on my next “working day,” I’m brimming with ideas. While I’ve been distracting my conscious mind, my subconscious has nearly always knit something together for me.
- If you’re a dancer, you could try painting.
- If you’re a singer, maybe mess around with Instagram.
- If you’re a writer, drop in on a dance class.
Focusing on what matters
When the stakes are high, we put pressure on ourselves to create something good, and when we do that, we step on our own creative hoses.
When we make art for its own sake, emphasising quantity over quality, doing it cheaply, and practising a little creative cross-training, we re-focus our attention on what matters: the process.
As Ania Witwitzka puts it, “It’s not about making cool and beautiful stuff. That’s not the point. The point is your journey.”
With that in mind, the “cool and beautiful stuff” tends to happen eventually, almost by accident. We start having fun. Having fun, we practise more. Practising more, we get good.
And even if we didn’t, it wouldn’t matter, because now, working is its own reward.
Featured image: “People breaking the room wall by fist,” photo by Victor Zastol’skiy, Adobe Stock.
PS: Those of you who’ve been following my blog for awhile might remember my sister Celeste Lovick. If you’d like to read her gorgeous novel about a woman’s journey of artistic awakening against the backdrop of the world’s biggest music festival, you’ve got just a few days left to pre-order Medicine Song on Publishizer to help bring it into the world.
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