Practical

The joy of dislocation (creativity and travel, part II)

Anchor [Explored]
Creative Commons License photo credit: Salmando

I have been travelling a lot lately, so I guess that means it’s time for a followup to my old Creativity and Travel post from a couple of years back. I’ve also been reading a bit more than usual, and one of the things I’ve been reading is Jonathan Fields’ excellent book Uncertainty, which I may do a full review of at some point.

I liked a lot of things about Uncertainty, and it rang true in a lot of ways; mostly confirming my suspicion that in many ways I am that oddest of creatures, a person who basically enjoys unstable or unresolved situations, genuinely likes to shake things up, try new and unfamiliar things, take on challenges I don’t know if I’ll be able to meet.

In many ways this ties into my general philosophy of ‘just say yes‘… interestingly, an old friend just contacted me via Facebook and told me that he remembers me from time to time when he uses a story about me learning to tune pianos to try to inspire patients to ‘confidently go forth into areas where they have no apparent skill in the present moment’. Guilty as charged, I suppose!

security blankets

However, I am also human and so despite learned habit I am subject to many basic human instincts and traits, so the idea that we can find ways to mitigate our general distaste for being out on a limb also made a lot of sense to me. One of the key concepts Fields outlines is that of the Certainty Anchor: these are things in our lives that do not change and/or that we feel sure of, that can give us something stable to hold on to while we take risks in other areas.

Many of these consist of routines. We can anchor our threatened sense of self around a set of things we are sure about and that give us a feeling of security – familiar places, people, little rituals or practices we do the same way or at the same time every day. We all do this anyway, but if we pay a bit more attention to it and do it consciously or with more intention, we can increase that feeling of security that allows us to take risks in other ways.

So what does this have to do with travel? Travel is when we cast the certainty anchors aside for a little while and step into the realm of the genuinely uncertain. Or at least, it can be. Why would we want to do that? Read on…

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In Praise of Beginners (part 2)

4/366: Beginning
Creative Commons License photo credit: Magic Madzik

In part one of this article, we looked at the value of channeling what we might think of as the ‘beginner’s spirit’ in our creative work – that combination of curiosity, naiveté and excitement at the discovery of something new that so often lends the work of ‘beginners’ its energy and spark, and which is all too often missing in more established, ‘career’ artists, musicians and so on.

Today I’d like to look at another kind of beginner, and to think about this idea in a different light. And to illustrate what I’m talking about, I’m going to look at the work of my good friend Josh.

Josh is a cartoonist. Well, in fact there are other dimensions to his work, but that’s the one he’s best known for. He publishes a daily comic strip called Caffeinated Toothpaste, which is basically an illustrated diary of funny, interesting or unusual things that happen to him in the course of the day, filtered through his rather quirky sense of humour and worldview.

(He’s also known to swear quite freely in the course of this… I doubt this will be a big problem for my readers, but just in case – you’ve been warned!)

Now Josh has been putting these strips out for a couple of years now, a little longer than I’ve been at the Sound Fascination project, for which in fact Caffeinated Toothpaste was one source of inspiration. But he’s been far more consistent with it, and in this time he’s finished over 800 comics.

Now, it’s exactly this perspective that most people take on this kind of thing: it’s the number finished that’s impressive (and make no mistake, I’m as impressed as anyone with that kind of tenacity and work ethic). We have a pretty strong bias towards the value of finished works.

But as I was writing about beginners last week, it occurred to me that finishing a piece every day like that also requires doing something else every day, and that’s getting started… Josh doesn’t just finish a piece every day; he also begins a new piece every day, and I think that’s a rather remarkable thing that deserves a bit of thought… More

Creative Mastery

Padmasambhava Statue, Nepal
Creative Commons License photo credit: Wonderlane

Today we’re going to talk about mastery. Thats right, you heard me. Mastery. Not ‘being pretty good at something’ or ‘knowing more or less what you’re doing’ or even ‘being in the zone’ or ‘feeling the flow’. Mastery. Being a master of whatever it is that you do. You in? Good. Buckle up…

So. I have a few piano students these days, and while the lessons are largely focused on practical pianistic things, I try to teach from the same kind of holistic perspective and approach that informs my composition and performance work – and of course, this blog. So from time to time some of the more abstract and philosophical stuff does find its way into the lessons.

Recently I found myself trying to convey something which has become very central to my whole thinking about music and piano-playing, in a kind of subconscious way, and I think it applies to creative work more broadly. It concerns, as you may have guessed already, the concept of mastery.

I suspect that many creative people tend to have a vague idea of mastery as something unattainable, or at least attainable only by an elite and supremely gifted few. Something for the rest of us to strive towards, perhaps, but never attain. And what would it feel like to attain it, anyway, since we never really sit down and define exactly what it means? How would we know that we’ve arrived?

Some of us are even uncomfortable with the whole idea, mistrusting perhaps the elitist overtones… And yet there are masters, undeniably – those whose abilities seem to transcend normal limitations, whose confidence and poise match their technical command, who make it seem easy.

I believe that coming to terms with this word, and what it means to us, can have a profound impact on our approach to creative work. So I’m going to try to get very specific about what it means to me (and as always, you’re heartily invited to join me with your comments at the end!)…

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The Trouble with ‘Should’…

Carrot + Stick < Love
Creative Commons License photo credit: opensourceway

Greetings! Once again I find myself writing here after a much longer absence than I had planned, which is unfortunate – but also, in this case, instructive… Cutting straight to the chase, I have been struggling a little with motivation, focus and productivity lately. Well, actually I’ve been struggling either quite a bit, or not enough, depending on how you look at it. In any case it’s something I’ve been giving a good  deal of thought, and I think some of it merits sharing here. So, on with the show!

A fine kettle of fish

To clarify, I should explain that I have a number of interconnected projects, initiated over the past couple of years, all of which I’m quite invested in but all of which are also somewhat ‘stalled’ in one sense or another. While none of them are exactly poised on the brink of completion, let alone massive success or return on the considerable time and energy investment I’ve put into them, I do feel they all have significant potential in one sense or another – whether on an artistic or business level – and so I’m quite attached to them.

So besides the obvious – too many things on the go – part of what is going on is probably the paralysis that kicks in when I get close enough to something to realize that the stakes are high and failure, possibly public and highly disappointing, is an increasingly real possibility. I seem to suffer from a kind of allergy against going the distance, finishing what I’ve started. A sort of disconnect creeps in and my attention drifts.

How is it that we (assuming this affliction is not unique to me, which strikes me as unlikely) can become so disconnected from meaningful work that we’ve spent valuable time and energy starting, thinking through, imagining and problematizing and re-imagining? More

Freedom, Money and Time…

freedom
Creative Commons License photo credit: DorkyMum

Hi there… regular readers will recall that last year I wrote a review of the Lateral Action course; it’s a ‘Roadmap for the Creative Entrepreneur’ which I bought last year and got a lot out of, so I wanted to recommend it. Well, the doors are opening again and this time Mark McGuinness, who runs the wonderful Lateral Action blog, has prepared some superb free content to go along with the relaunch, in the form of an ebook called ‘Freedom, Money, Time – and the Key to Creative Success‘. I think it’s worth a read, and wanted to pass it along to you.

Here’s a bit of initial information to whet your appetite, or you can just go ahead and click here to download the book straightaway – no opt-in or anything. The ebook does contain an affiliate link, which means that if,  after looking through the free materials, you decide the full Roadmap is for you I would make a commission on the price you pay.

However, the book itself is free, and there is a TON of other great information on the Lateral action site that won’t cost you a dime, including a guest post by yours truly and an extensive email course by Mark called ‘The Creative Pathfinder’ – so there’s really no pressure to buy anything here – but I do still think the full Roadmap is superb.

Free Ebook: Freedom, Money, Time – and the Key to Creative Success

Creative people need three things to be happy:

  1. Freedom – to do what you want, when you want and how you want it. Not just in holidays and spare time – but also doing meaningful work, in your own way.
  2. Money – to maintain your independence and fund your creative projects. Of course you want a nice place to live, but you’re not so worried about a bigger car than the guy next door. You’d rather spend money on experiences than status symbols.
  3. Time – to spend as you please, exploring the world and allowing your mind to wander in search of new ideas.

Usually, you’re lucky if you get two out of the three. But if one of them is missing, it compromises the other two.

Without money, you don’t have much freedom, because you have to spend your time chasing cash. Without time off, money doesn’t buy you a lot of freedom.

And if you’re doing something you hate for a living, it doesn’t matter how big your salary is, or how much holiday you get. You still feel trapped.

Surely there must be a more creative solution?

This is the premise of a new free ebook by Mark McGuinness: Freedom, Money, Time – and the Key to Creative Success.

The ebook describes Mark’s unconventional career journey, as a poet and creative coach, and the lessons he’s learned the hard way about finding the right combination of freedom, money and time.

It’s full of practical advice you can apply to your own situation, if you want to earn a living from your creative talent, or if you’re a freelancer or small business owner and want to make your business less stressful and more profitable.

Mark and his partners have also prepared an in-depth training program to accompany the ebook, and I’m pleased to be an affiliate partner for the launch (see above). But the ebook itself is free to download, with no need to even give your email address!

Click here to download your copy of Freedom, Money, Time and the Key to Creative Success.

And feel free to share the ebook with anyone who you think would find it helpful.

Enduring Creativity: what marathons have taught me about creative energy

Paris Marathon
Creative Commons License photo credit: Josiah Mackenzie

I recently trained for and ran my 5th marathon, and as often happens since I started this blog, I began to think about what the experience might offer in terms of creative insight. I’ve written recently about the joy of creativity – about how good it can feel when it’s going well. This post will continue this theme, but also form a bit of a segue into what to do when it isn’t going so well…

(The title appeals to me because it contains a nice double entendre: the positive spin is that we are searching for and moving towards a lasting kind of creativity, a lifelong habit that brings joy and fulfillment to our lives and the lives of others; the flipside is that creativity can sometimes feel like an ordeal, something that must be endured, cannot be avoided. We just have to muscle through it somehow. The reality, at least in my experience, is somewhere in between, or more precisely a bit of both…)

I’ve noticed that sports and athletic metaphors are used quite often in talking about creativity. Perhaps setting the complexities of the creative mind against the different and somewhat simpler backdrop of physical activity makes it easier to observe and notice patterns.

Running, which happens to be my sport of choice, seems particularly fruitful as a metaphor, especially when tackling the thorny subject of creative burnout… More