How to Have a Creative Life that "Pays the Bills" (Part 2)
Phase I - The Idea
There are endless ways of getting started although the tactics that work best for me nearly always involve a distraction. If I’m experimenting to find ingredients for a new ‘Inspiration Kit’ I think of a few possibilities and then start playing. When I get into the play then the rest of the world disappears – that’s what I mean by a distraction. It’s a kind of wakeful trance and I get carried away with all the things that I can do with the materials.
Usually I find some techniques that are going to be exciting for other people and presto, I’m on the way to creating a new package.
If you’re completely at a loss for an idea – a sort of ‘pre-idea phase’ – then a different sort of distraction might help. Maybe something attracts and inspires you...it could be nature, art, a sound, movement, a smell, food, an invention ...something that keeps drawing you back.
Think about the ‘attraction’. Perhaps make some doodles or play with collage (there’s a whole section about this in my book, ‘GO – The Art of Change’). What is the ‘attraction’ telling you?
Possibly you can learn about the ‘attraction’ by remembering things that have really worked well for you in the past. I recall designing a ‘How to do it’ package on making a painting when I was 12 years old. I loved doing it although my first student became a doctor rather than an artist.
What you’re doing through this process is finding out a few things about who you are and what works best for you. When you identify your ‘zone’ then it’s a short hop to an ‘idea’.
Imagine how you might make a single step to take you closer to your ‘zone’.
Sleep on it. Before you go to sleep just relax and let your thoughts float around without telling them what to do. We don’t know how our mind works – especially when we’re asleep – but something happens when our ego takes a rest.
The idea you receive should really excite you and motivate you to take action. Possibly you’ll be motivated to take action without even being clear what the idea is. You might be drawn to movement, sound, colour, structure or whatever attracted you.
Ken Robinson gives a wonderful illustration of what can happen. He talks about an eight year old girl called Gillian Lynne who was thought to have a learning disorder. A wise doctor thought about Gillian’s fidgety behaviour and eventually said to the mother, "Mrs. Lynne, Gillian isn't sick; she's a dancer. Take her to a dance school." Gillian became a famous dancer.
When that idea comes, it may be completely unexpected (I share a great home-grown example later in the case studies section).
Phase II - Action
In most cases, when you first receive your illumination, there won't be a clear way forward. The 'how to' is missing. And if you don’t arrive at a specific idea you can start on phase II anyway. Action generates ideas just as ideas generate action.
It can be messy. When I started TLC I had a very strong idea that a school of creativity was important, but I didn’t know how to make it happen. So I experimented. I took up an offer to run a couple of workshops and started to engage with a huge learning curve (much bigger than the poster mission).
Whatever you choose to do, pay attention to what happens. What is each action telling you? Does it work? How might you try it in a different way? What are other possibilities?
Jasper Johns, the uber-famous American artist, said that the process of creativity was to take something, do something to it, and pretty soon you end up with SOMETHING. Jasper was right although he didn’t tell the whole story.
Your actions are a conversation with your idea. Artists, inventors and entrepreneurs turn this kind of conversation into a way of life. When things go wrong they ask themselves, “What is this ‘mistake’ trying to tell me?”
If you’re into something big, like building your life, each action is going to be a small step in a much greater journey. It won’t all happen at once.
It’s worth reflecting on your own experiences of learning to walk (or talk, or do anything that seemed impossible to start with). Apparently kids make thousands of attempts at walking and each attempt helps their muscles to change and their sense of balance to improve. The mistakes turn out to be a form of preparation.
Gradually you’ll build your own set of tactics so that you can keep exploring without getting stuck. Every now and then you’ll arrive at a new eureka moment and the process keeps growing. I marvel at the way it works.
Case Study #1
Melissa Burtenshaw's story is a perfect example of how activity in one area can inspire MASSIVE action in a totally unexpected way.
Melissa ordered one of our Art Inspiration Kits. It contains a bag of fragrant ground coffee, Whittaker’s chocolates, an art journal, and a high quality pen (along with some instructions).
The first exercise has you brewing the coffee. Then playing with patterns and mark-making. It's a surprising process. You never know what to expect.
In her own words,
I was really excited about receiving the Art Inspiration. When it arrived I opened it and thought “Oh yeah, we'll see about this”' Then, when I was at a friend’s house I brewed some art coffee and started making the random splodges as I chatted.
The splodges I made were bold and free. I realised that it was actually quite cool, but still didn't feel the inspiration that I had hoped for.
A few weeks later I decided to go out to nature and sit with my mini sketchbook and see if I could find my inspiration again. I opened the book and was looking at the coffee splodges I had made. I saw a little man in one splodge and a monster in another splodge. Looking at the monster splodge, a thought came to me:
“Sneaking through the darkness on the other side of town is a very scary monster who wants to wear the crown.”
From this one sentence came more and more. Two hours later I had written a draft of a children's story: A story of a monster who comes in and uses money to gain power and two groups of people who react in different ways to the monster and how they use peaceful methods to get him to take down his crown (a social commentary story).
And I was inspired!!!! And, to this day, I am feeling inspired!!
I just wanted to say a big ‘thank you’ for putting that positive energy into the creativity kits. Keep doing what you're doing. Your work transforms lives.
I love the final part of this story. Melissa feels a gentle urge to pull out her art journal (from the kit). And when she sees patterns she'd made weeks earlier it inspires an unexpected idea.
With the idea spurred a flurry of action which resulted in a complete draft for a new children's story. And it only took her two hours!
This is creativity in action. When it hits, it's exhilarating and compelling.