Portable Creativity

Old fashioned wheelbarrow
Creative Commons License photo credit: Walt Stoneburner

As mentioned in the previous post, I’m travelling in Canada just now with my family, on our yearly whirlwind visit to see friends and extended family. As I often do, I have a ‘mobile rig’ with me, with a view towards doing some creative work while I’m here, rather than putting everything on hold until I get back to home base in Berlin.

This year I’ve been somewhat more successful at this (so far, at least) than in previous years, partly because I have an ongoing project that lends itself to ‘short-burst’ creativity: the Sound Fascination project. I thought I’d take a moment to look at that and why it’s helping me keep the creative juices flowing a bit more.

I think it’s important to clarify that this is not accidental. It’s kind of built in to the framework of what I’m doing, and that was deliberate. I’m not saying this to blow my own horn and point out how clever I am; it’s taken me a long, long time to arrive at this point and I’ve had to confront a few creative demons along the way. So, in the spirit of learning from my mistakes and sharing the few bits of wisdom I’ve been able to glean in the process… let’s get into it!

See what condition your conditions are in

The crux of the matter, for me, is conditionality. I have learned, through long and careful observation, that I have a strong tendency to put ‘un-meetable’ conditions on doing creative work, and I suspect a lot of creative people do the same. We say to ourselves, perhaps subconsciously, that we will do something when the conditions are right. When we have such and such a tool, or when we have a certain amount of uninterrupted time, or when we get back to our studio, or when the stars align and we are ‘inspired’…

We tell ourselves that creative work is about painting our masterpiece. If only my life weren’t so busy, or if only I had the money to buy that piece of gear that would make everything come together… then I could really dig in and realize all these great ideas I have floating around, manifest their true potential. I can’t do my best work under less than ideal conditions, so why bother even trying?

The trouble is, most of these conditions are never met, and even if they are, we tend to come up with new ones. Why do we do this? Because it’s lower-risk than actually putting ourselves ‘out there’ and working with whatever conditions we find ourselves in. It’s an easy cop-out: I could have done great work in my life, but the conditions were never quite right.

Anytime, anywhere

So when designing this project, I deliberately set out to make it a ‘do-anywhere’ kind of affair. I’ve done tracks in a power outage, 35,000 feet over the Atlantic and in an airport terminal. Again, this is not intended to show how cool I am; this project was partly motivated by the fact that I didn’t do much creative work at all for a long time, and I wasn’t happy about it. I’m merely noting that if you change the rules, you can sometimes change the results…

The rule for this project, and based on its success so far I’m thinking it will become a rule for my whole creative life, is that no conditions are allowed. No more waiting for things to be ‘just right’ before creative work can begin. And no more waiting for ‘inspiration’ to strike. Dare to suck! Get into it and get on with it, no matter what the conditions are…

While I’m not suggesting that everyone should set up their creative life exactly like mine, and I certainly don’t think this is the only format in which to do really creative work, I suspect that many creative people let these ‘un-meetable conditions’ undermine their motivation and would do well to find a way around them. Sometimes you just need to get something started, and letting go of the reliance on ‘ideal conditions’ being met has helped me get things started more often. Sometimes I even finish them!

What about you? Do you let ‘conditions’ limit your creative work? How do you get around them? Or maybe they’re not a problem for you and you have a whole different way of looking at this… Am I missing something? Can conditions be helpful? Your thoughts in the comments section below are welcome!