It’s May 16th, 2020 as I type this and we are at about two months of social distancing amidst the coronavirus pandemic. I hope you and your loved ones are doing well.
Lessons learned from creative projects: Present Day
It’s a time of contrasts, the most obvious one being the difference in how each one of us is affected by the pandemic, scattered as we are on a spectrum that ranges from bored and inconvenienced to despair and devastation. For some, this has meant a time to reconnect with home and family and for others, their lives are altered beyond recognition. The other striking contrast has to do with time itself: each day appears the same, a monotonous repetition of similar activities and sometimes seeming to drag with loneliness and yet, entire months are slipping away quickly. Like characters in a storybook, will we emerge from our homes to find the world a completely different place?
The one thing that has helped me the most is being engaged in a creative project: writing a novel. It’s been something as flighty as helping to pass the time and as important as serving both as a refuge, while we navigate the uncertainty of the present time, and as a mission that guides me into the future.
The journey is the reward.” – Steve Jobs
Engaging in creative work is to live knowing, in Steve Jobs’ words, “the journey is the reward.” Please note that I use creative projects and creative work interchangeably. The goal is to talk about work that involves creativity. It is to enter the realm of muses and inspiration, and to pair it with hard work. I have now been writing for nearly 2 1/2 years and it has been an experience like no other. I say that not to make it sound more grand than it is but to share that this project has required me to believe in its worthiness to persevere at it for so long. It has meant a daily battle with self-doubt and to approach the work much like a conquering general. I am sharing lessons that I’ve learned from being engaged in some creative project or other for more than a decade as well as lessons learned from others (writers like Steven Pressfield, Elizabeth Gilbert, Rollo May, among others) who have shined a light on the process:
1. This one is so simple: find something you like doing. So many times we are engaging in creative work that we feel we ought to like or have someone hand it to us. Find something you want to do.
2. Of course, if it was that simple, everyone would do it. It’s been my experience that wanting to draw, write, design, sing, make music, figure out a creative solution etc. is usually mixed with a fear of not being good enough to achieve the kind of results you want. If we compare the creative project to a hot air balloon, unhooking it from the weight of your expectations will allow it to rise. So, be open, be curious, and let go of any expectations. It’s an experiment and you don’t know how it will turn out and that’s okay. There is no goal except to engage with the creative process.
3. Practice, and then practice some more.
4. Show up to do the work. This may seem obvious but showing up day after day allows you to tone your “creativity muscle”. And showing up to do the work allow you to start building: words add up to become paragraphs, pages, chapters, and ultimately, a book. Remember the Margaret Atwood quote: “A word after a word after a word is power.” More importantly, showing up repeatedly to do the work allows us to reach a kind of tipping point: I have seen this with establishing new lifestyle habits such as exercising regularly or eating veggies. When you do it repeatedly and for long enough, you cross this tipping point where it’s now become second nature.
5. This next one is something of a two-in-one and I struggle with it: it’s important to know when it’s time to let something go just as it’s important to realize when something is a block that you have to remove to proceed.
6. Procrastination and resistance to doing the work seem part of the process. I have scheduled dentist appointments, cleaned the house, browsed gardens on Instagram, and tried to organize my books by alphabet, all to avoid doing the day’s writing. It is strange that what bring me to a place of meditative calm and quiet is also a place I resist going at every opportunity. Maybe some people just sit down easily and write but I have to battle my procrastination impulse every day.
7. Fear of not being good enough. Fear of being seen. Fear of being successful. Fear of consequences. Fear of being ignored. Fear of being laughed at. There are many fears to choose from. Fear is okay. Fear is expected. Persevere anyway. More on fear can be found in this earlier post.
8. Let go of perfectionism: Read these two posts for my thoughts on how perfectionism can sabotage creativity.
9. Be accountable. The creative work that you may be engaged in may be a small art project or it may be your soul mission. Regardless of the size and nature of the creative project, hold yourself accountable for the work. if you commit to writing 1000 words a day, keep the commitment. In Nike’s words, Just Do It.
10. There may come a time in creative work when your attention shifts from you, your story, and your need to express yourself, to your audience. It’s like a tipping point where it feels like the story escapes from you and becomes more about the collective rather than the individual. It’s my opinion that this is a desired outcome.
I hope these lessons learned from creative projects and work are helpful to you and if you have more to add to this list, do leave a comment. For more on the topic of creativity, here’s a YouTube video from PBS and another Bookended post on 5 Must-Read Books On Creativity.