Creativity is beautiful in its simplicity – ‘bringing something new into being’ is an aspect of our humanness as natural as taking a breath. If we’re a ‘creative person’ then we need to create. Perhaps this is why creativity has been found to promote good mental health: it gives us a sense of flow, purpose, meaning.
But sometimes our creativity can drive us crazy too. There are all sorts of reasons for this, but one of them is that the ‘ideas’ part of creativity requires different skills to the ‘follow through and make it happen bit.’ So we might be great at coming up with lots of ideas, but then things stall and we can’t seem to turn our ideas into reality. Surely we’ve all experienced the frustration of that???
The Ideas bit
This is the part of creativity we’re most familiar with: the seemingly random, innovative, quirky, unexplainable, expansive, never-ending, intuitive side. It’s what gives ‘creative types’ their reputation! I think of it as the essence of creativity.
But what is it? How does it work? Where does it come from? Really, nobody knows. Some people have been so flummoxed by the nitty gritty of the creative spark that they’ve concluded it’s simply divine; the artist or writer is a conduit of God’s creativity. Even for non-religious artists it can feel that way at times – when the ideas flow, impulses come from seemingly nowhere, or we create something that we had no intention of creating.
What we do know is that creativity needs certain conditions in order to thrive:
- Divergent thinking (thinking outside the box, being willing to look beyond the obvious).
- Openness to experience & trying new stuff.
- A quiet and, or, stimulating space to think freely (allowing us to access what Carl Jung called the ‘Creative Void).’
- A fun, relaxed approach that embraces curiosity and playfulness and experimentation, as well as overwhelm and not-knowing, and half finished projects, and feeling stuck and all the messy stuff that happens when we access the creative void and begin to create.
These are all about spark, originality, exploration, authenticity. Here we’re looking at the big bang of creativity; the ‘aha’ moments, and the inevitable struggles that are part of that. This description makes it all sound very grand, but that amazing moment when an idea dawns is just the same for a novice writer starting out as it is for a seasoned writer winning major prizes. The same parts of the brain are firing; the same magic is happening.
The making-it-happen bit
But to be a happy, successful creative we need to do more than merge with ideas in the magical wonder of the creative void. We need to nurture those fledgling projects into something full grown and wholly realised. At least, we have to nurture some of our projects in this way. It’s fine to leave some of them where we found them – at the back of our minds, or in a befuddled dream. It’s fine, too, to abandon projects halfway through if we realise it wasn’t the right thing. All writers and artists have left unfinished projects to mulch back down into the creative void; nothing ever wasted, everything food and fuel for another time. Just as death is part of life, it’s part of the creative process too.
But creatives who generally struggle to follow through with projects find themselves inevitably frustrated and unhappy. There’s a difference between being a productive creative who chooses to leave a piece of work unfinished, and a creative who rarely gets beyond the ideas stage.
Two sides of the same coin
The paradox here is that seeing our creative ideas through to completion demands some significantly different skills to those required to come up with ideas in the first place. The first phase can be more about being, than doing. It can happen effortlessly, with no action necessary. It might involve nothing more than sitting on the sofa staring off into the middle distance! Admittedly, leading a creative life that nourishes our creativity involves a lot more than this, but none-the-less it’s possible to have an amazing, ground-breaking idea while doing nothing more than sitting in your pyjamas.
But the second stage of creativity – the physically productive stage – involves action, some kind of organisation, maybe a new routine, certainly commitment, tenacity and self-belief. We’re talking specifics, deadlines and resilience!
Perhaps we’re thinking this sounds boring – or scary!! Maybe we’re telling ourselves that being all about routine and structure and repetition is the opposite of what we need as creative beings. We’re not like that, we lament. That’s not us.
But at certain stages of the creative process it needs to be us! Of course, it’s perfectly possible to feel our way, gently, working without a concrete plan, towards our end goal. For some people it works. But for lots of us it doesn’t really work at all. Our creative minds are butterflies; there’s always a new, beautiful flower to tempt us away from finishing the task at hand.
Ignore the chatter
The ‘making-it-happen’ phase still incorporates all those ways of being that we looked at initially: openness, a relaxed approach, quiet and stimulating spaces to work. It’s also super-important at the ‘doing’ stage to beware the internal chatter: Oh, this is crap; nothing’s working; why did I ever think this was a good idea; I don’t have what it takes; I can’t finish; it doesn’t make sense anymore; people will think I’m stupid.
We all experience the internal critic and the trick is to know that. Our internal chatter (basically, made up thoughts) is constant and, actually, completely irrelevant. It says nothing about who we really are, or what it is that we’re creating and is in no way to be confused with intuition or insight. Well established writers and artists still have those annoying voices offering insults as they work. They just know not to take them seriously.
Consciously embracing some kind of structure, in order to get our project finished, doesn’t mean that we abandon our flexible, intuitive, expansive nature. It just gives us a better chance of completing stuff! Having made a commitment to finish will help us work through our doubts. Having a deadline we’ve shared with someone else will keep us motivated. Working in a supportive group, or with a coach, towards specific goals with specific timescales will keep us accountable.
Let go of resistance
We might not like to think that structure and routine are part of the creative process, but invariably they are. I’ve heard so many people say ‘I’m just not disciplined enough,’ or ‘I’m not an organised person,’ or ‘I have plenty of ideas but never find the time to make them happen.’
We tell ourselves all sorts of things that aren’t true. We get used to thinking about ourselves, our circumstances, and our creativity in a certain way. We think we know ourselves, but more often than not we limit ourselves with our supposed ‘knowing’. All of us have untapped potential; all of us are more adaptable than we think we are. Adapting is what humans do best!
This isn’t about changing who we are. The modern world is full of messages about how we need to change, to do more, to be better. I’m not talking about that. We don’t need to change. We have everything we need, just as we are. We just need to stop getting in the way! Thinking outside the box, being open to new experiences, having a fun, relaxed approach is part of our creative nature. Let’s use it to our advantage! Is there really anything to stop us deciding that planning can be fun, that discipline might be exciting, that commitments and deadlines might be freeing?
Seriously. What’s to stop us…?