All in the Family

Zebras
Creative Commons License photo credit: Gusjer

I have spent the past week at a family reunion: my parents have been hosting their four children, four grandchildren and associated partners at their country home in Nova Scotia. It’s been a lovely, if somewhat hectic visit, and has kept me away from the writing table for the most part…

However, in pondering what aspect of creativity I might like to tackle next in these pages, it has occurred to me (as it often does) that my immediate circumstances might offer some inspiration. More precisely, I have been wondering about how my family, both immediate and extended, may have influenced my creative development, as well as the ideas and thoughts about creativity that are the subject of this blog.

And of course this isn’t just about me – as always, I don’t think I’m particularly special or unique in this and likely the same kinds of influences are operating in your life as well, whether or not you consider yourself particularly creative. I want to think about this in a more general way, starting from my own experience and extrapolating from there.
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On Commitment, part III – Tools of the Trade

tool
Creative Commons License photo credit: brainware3000

I bought a new keyboard recently. And I don’t mean the one I’m typing on – which could certainly use an upgrade, to be sure, but I’m referring to a much bigger one with black and white keys that makes music. It’s quite a serious one, a real professional tool with bells and whistles, not to mention buttons and knobs and flashing lights, galore. Oh, and the whole thing is fire-engine red, and made in Sweden. If you’re a serious keyboardist like I am, this is something to drool over – and in fact, I’ve been wanting one for years.

So why am I doing this now, rather than years ago? Well, for a number of reasons really, which I’d like to explore here as a kind of framework for investigating the third type of creative commitment: to the tools and techniques that take our work to another level. We have to be committed not only to the idea of creativity, but to the reality of it as well, and this often requires investment in money and time that may not return directly for years or decades to come.

Gearing up

While I am a self-confessed gear nut and can get pretty ‘into’ music technology, amongst a number of other varieties, I have been on a low-acquisition kick lately and have have been pulling away from this kind of thing for a while. This has been educational, to be sure, and liberating in a number of ways, but due to a confluence of factors – first, I landed a steady gig for next winter (not the one I auditioned for last month, but in the same vein) for which I will need a solid reliable and professional unit; and second, I found this one about to go very, very reasonably on eBay. So I jumped.

It’s not the first ‘serious’ keyboard I’ve owned, of course. I’ve been buying and selling gear on some level most of my life, and in and of itself on a purely monetary level I can confirm that it has been a disaster of an investment strategy. However, not all ROI (Return On Investment) is measurable in purely quantitative terms and if I start to think about how all this gear has affected my creative journey over the 25 or so years I’ve been pursuing music as my life’s calling, a very different picture emerges. More

Games People Play – creativity and competition

Games People Play – creativity and competition
Creative Commons License photo credit: CLF (product placement NOT intended…)

As some of you may have noticed – possibly even if you live in North America! – there’s a bit of a football – err, soccer tournament underway. Kind of a big one, they say. I’m not a ‘real’ sports fan by any stretch, but like many people I appreciate amazing athletic talent and often tune in when a big international competition is on. And I live in Germany… so, I’ve watched a few games of this World Cup and will doubtless watch a few more.

Soccer/Football has an interesting nickname: they call it “the Beautiful Game”. Having learned to watch it with a bit more understanding over the years, I have begun to understand why: there is a good deal of finesse and subtlety in it when it’s played at this level, and sometimes the plays have a beautiful logic and rhythm to them. And when a player or a team is really ‘in the zone’ as the saying goes, their performance often takes on that extra dimension: creativity.

Of course, this is by no means exclusive to ‘the beautiful game’ – I think most sports, even ones I don’t get a lot out of personally like boxing or Formula 1 racing, offer these sublime moments when the normal flow is transcended and magic happens – when a player or competitor takes on that special energy and does things that seem too perfect to be quite human. When someone does that a lot, they become legendary, and every sport has its legends. Watching them in their element can often provide a window into why other people care for a sport that is not to our taste.

Mirror, mirror, on the wall…

So while watching a game last night I was commenting on a particular team’s creativity (I have no idea whether ‘real’ sports fans talk like this, but I do) and it got me to thinking about the relationship between creativity and competition. I think to many people in the arts, which again is my own area of specialization, competition is a four-letter word of sorts. We talk about non-competitive games or activities in the context of encouraging kids’ creativity, and we are nervous about the idea of making judgments about the value of one person’s art or music over another’s.

Perhaps this is as it should be, but I sometimes wonder if we’re throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Is competition really the enemy of creativity? Or might there be something very empowering in it – even outside professional sports? More

Doing it Sideways… the Lateral Action Course for Creative Entrepreneurs

sideways
Creative Commons License photo credit: Sideways (the movie), via Hot Rod Homepage

Well it’s review time again. My aim with these is to work through a list of books and courses that I’ll be posting here very shortly on a handy Creative Resources page… Meanwhile, this one is in the time-is-of-the-essence category, as there’s a very limited window to get in on this one – and I simply can’t speak too highly of it.

I’m talking about the Lateral Action Course for Creative Entrepreneurs*. It’s mostly a joint project between Brian Clark (of Copyblogger fame, among a host of other endeavours) and the wonderfully helpful Mark McGuinness who somehow finds time to maintain his own Wishful Thinking blog as well as producing many of the Lateral Action site materials – which are themselves highly recommended. There are also contributions from frequent Brian Clark collaborators Tony Clark (everyone seems to feel the need to clarify that they are not actually related) and Sonia Simone.

The Lateral Action course was my first substantial information-product purchase, and I doubt I could have made a better choice. It presents a truly vast amount of information, for one thing, and it’s also really superbly structured – walking you through Content Marketing from the broad strategy level to much more specific tactics.

This has proved invaluable to me as an artist trying to come to grips with how to interface with this unfamiliar world, and given me the confidence to start building out my creative vision into a long-term business model. And it really is aimed at helping artists and other creative types come to an understanding of online business – no mean feat, as we are often notoriously bullheaded on the subject – well, speaking for myself anyway.

The sections on psychology are tremendously useful as well, directing us around some of the more dangerous pitfalls and blind alleys of the journey towards Creative Entrepreneurship. Mark McGuinness is a practicing Creative Coach and he clearly has a profound understanding of the psychological aspects of creativity, but for me the real value has been in helping me bridge the gap between creativity and the entrepreneurial mindset. More

On Commitment, part II: the Creative Journey

On the road
Creative Commons License photo credit: joejiang.sg

I seem to be developing a habit of ‘reaction posts’, but I can’t help it – when I read something provocative, it tends to plant a seed that slowly grows in my mind until it is well beyond the scope of a comment. In this case, I’m responding to Jonathan Fields’ post “The Creative Addiction: Is the Muse Friend or Foe?”.

Fields post consists of a quote from writer Pearl S. Buck and a couple of discussion questions. I’ll begin my discussion with the same quote:

The truly creative mind in any field is no more than this: A human creature born abnormally, inhumanely sensitive. To them… a touch is a blow, a sound is a noise, a misfortune is a tragedy, a joy is an ecstasy, a friend is a lover, a lover is a god, and failure is death.

Add to this cruelly delicate organism the overpowering necessity to create, create, create — so that without the creating of music or poetry or books or buildings or something of meaning, their very breath is cut off…

They must create, must pour out creation. By some strange, unknown, inward urgency they are not really alive unless they are creating.

Now, this is melodramatic stuff, and plays into a common stereotype of the creative person that is not, I believe, universally or necessarily true.

First of all, I take exception to the inverse implication that if I am not such a sensitive flower – if (say) I can handle a bad day or (heaven forbid!) an actual failure without wilting in a corner or crawling under a rock to lick my wounds, then I must not in fact be a ‘truly creative mind’. I beg to differ.

And then we have the issue of addiction, or at least “strange, unknown, inward urgency”, which probably amounts to the same thing. Is creativity an addiction? This is Fields’ central question, and there are some cogent replies among the comments. Personally I don’t really buy it, or at least I prefer to think about it differently…  More

On commitment, part I: Just Schedule It!

Everything Must End
Creative Commons License photo credit: Shyald

(This article contains reworked material from a post on my previous blog, ‘Cliffjump!’)

Steven Pressfield wrote a post yesterday called ‘Do It Anyway‘, which got me thinking. It’s about powering through the “first I have to…” conditions and excuses we create to justify putting off our creative work. I wrote a comment:

By giving any playtime whatsoever to the ‘first I have to’ demons, we are giving ourselves permission to delay, hedge our bets, stew a little while longer, and generally talk ourselves off the ledge of doing something that might put us at risk of being laughed at. This is directly at odds with the permission we actually need to give ourselves, which is to get on with it, to try and (possibly) fail – or, just as possibly, ace it.

… And then I realized I had more to say. I’m not sure it’s quite as easy as Just Doing It. If it were, a lot more work (creative and otherwise) would get done. The fears that hold us back are more complex than that, they are deep and deeply intertwined. And they become even more insidious when we reconstruct them into habits and systems of rationalized Resistance – to use Pressfield’s own term.

I am not convinced that brute force is the best way to break through these barriers. The excuses we make often cover up old, deep, or very raw wounds, and simply tearing off the bandages might not be wise, or even possible, for everyone. It might work sometimes, for some people, but for many I think it may take more than sheer force of will.

Set up the dominoes

I’ll be discussing this more, and offering my own ‘program’ for getting past barriers, in the upcoming Cliffjump! Manifesto. In the meantime, I’d like to offer one remedy that is perhaps a little easier to put into action than simply not making the excuses you’re currently making.
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