09 June 2015

Creativity = Motivation + Discipline

All I need to write by Grant Snider

This post started as a quick reflection on my personal journal on Tumblr and why I haven't felt like posting lately.




But the more thought and consideration I put into it, the more it seemed appropriate to write a more formal article to reflect on and share my creative process. I have always been frustrated with my creative output, and a self study was long overdue.

To begin my analysis, I reflected on my feelings. Sometimes I feel creative. Sometimes I don't. Sometimes I feel motivated. Sometimes I don't. I sketched a graph to represent these poles.



Next, I considered which activities seemed to align with different conditions. When I feel highly creative and highly motivated, it's difficult to stop myself from creative work. However, when I feel neither creative nor motivated, even simple editing or organizing feels like a significant accomplishment.

But is my creativity at the mercy of my feelings? Do my moods really dictate my output?


That's when I decided to get really geeky and gather some actual data by creating a Google Form for myself which I keep open in a tab on my smartphone web browser.




Over the past few weeks, I have diligently assessed my activities, resulting in some interesting data.




Mostly, I am curious to analyze these data to discover patterns. Do I follow my feelings logically? Do my activities influence my feelings? Am I wasting my most creative opportunities?


As this self assessment continues, I took some time to explore my creative history...



The muse is not a fairy

My first and most important lesson in creativity came from Jack Grapes, founder of the Los Angeles Poets & Writers Collective. In a writers' workshop session, he described how it was a mistake to believe that creative inspiration is a phenomenon that 'happens' to us.

He instructed us to follow a creative routine: Write at a certain time each day. By doing this, we would train our minds to think during thinking time and write during writing time. Ignore spontaneous inspiration that leads to pulling over to the side of the road to jot down an idea you 'don't want to forget'. 


If the idea isn't good enough to remember, it's not good enough to drop everything to write down. Trust that the vast complexity of our brains will cooperate.



Connect socially

Jon Caliguiri, an old friend, also an alum of Jack's writing courses, and long time creative collaborator responded to my post by sharing his Song of the Month Challenge:

'I agree! Almost 3 years ago, a friend and I committed to writing and recording a song a month each.  We've been doing it consistently for that time and I haven't missed a month aside from the "furlough" months we take off every year to reedit and tweak things.  It's been the greatest experience and has helped my songwriting and recording immensely. It's like a book club for rock and roll.'

Connecting with others in my creative work has always been a weak point for me. I don't accept critique particularly well. I respond to critique terribly. I take great pride in my work, but ironically not enough to share with confidence. Often, my products are not shared until they are finished and my focus and energy have moved on to a new project. 

Perhaps the brilliance of Jon's project is that it's a concrete commitment, not a nebulous goal. What he's making is not necessarily as important as his engagement in the process.


The product flows from the process, and the quality of the songs he has produced is clearly increasing as a result of his commitment.


Jon's comments reminded me of a quote by Duke Ellington which I also referenced in the post, Exhibition: PBL To The Max!'I don't need time. What I need is a deadline.'



Discipline

Arguably, the most important element of creativity is discipline. While I was studying music at The New School, my piano teacher, LeeAnne Ledgerwood, shared an important video which I published and commented on in the post, Bill Evans - Creative Process and Self Teaching. In the video, Bill insists that honesty and commitment are crucial to building creative fluency. An analytical approach that systematically builds skills lays the foundation for creative expression.

The more I reflect, the more the solution is clear. I need to set aside a time to practice creativity. As a teacher, father, and husband, that time can only be five o'clock in the morning. This wouldn't be the first time to follow such a masochistic schedule, as I described in the post No Sleep November, but the purpose is quite different, more personal, and permanent.

Can I drag myself out of bed that early every day? Or perhaps a better question is 'how?' Nobody else is going to do it for me. Optimistic, the short video by CHris Jimenez, provides a succinct guide that is helpful for me.






Perhaps if I can focus on going to bed well, I'll be on my way to meeting the first goal of waking up in a good mood.


There have been two great graphics on creative routines published recently: The Daily Routines of Famous Creative People and When Genius Slept, both based on Daily Rituals: How Artists Work by Mason Currey. Another resource worth exploring further is This Emotional Life guide to Creativity by PBS.


These are all great for entertainment and even inspiration. They may even lead to increased motivation. But they won't finish a novel or My String Quartet.


The only way to achieve those goals is through discipline to commit to a regular work time and to muster the courage to share my works in progress early and often.
It's going to hurt, but it will be worth it.