I have become a creative inspiration glutton of late. I have been gorging myself on inspirational podcasts, filling my free time with books* on creativity and how to live holistically, and watching films of people chasing their dreams.
I started this book The Artist’s Way almost 4 months ago. Each of these twelve weeks has discussed how to recover and nurture a creative lifestyle. It’s been great.
Except I haven’t been creating as much as I thought I would. Well, I have been writing more, which is absolutely is a creative endeavor. But I used to get out my watercolors several times a week, but for the past few months I haven’t been making stuff with my hands. I know that the seasons in which I’m in the routine of creativity, I am healthier, more fully myself, but right now, my creative life has shifted to an almost exclusively cerebral realm. I’ve been reading about creativity. I’ve been thinking about creativity and even writing about creativity, but I haven’t been actually creating.
Luckily, I am armed with an arsenal of knowledge about creativity, as my brain has been overstocked with nourishing wisdom for my inner artist. One thing I keep reading about is the importance of getting curious. Of paying close attention to our lives and leaning into the rawness of finding out what lies behind our actions. Or in my case, inaction.
There’s a helpful practice that I have picked up this year in my professional development at school. It’s a part of the Design Process.Originally a procedure for engineers to problem solve, Design Thinking guides any creative person from a problem to a solution. The first step is to accurately define the problem. To clarify the issue, you start with an assumed problem, a surface level frustration, and ask “why?” five times. The introspective geek who loves digging deeper into the root of things in me l-o-v-e-s this. I use it all the time to get curious about emotions that I notice arising on the surface. It helps clear the clutter and get to the heart of the matter more quickly. It could go something like this:
I haven’t been creating very much art in the last few months.
I haven’t had the energy to do get out my watercolors.
I have been putting my energy into reading, and also more into social media.
I’ve been wanting to research creativity as an occupation because it’s something I want to be doing more full time. I want to feel really prepared.
I think I connect feeling prepared and knowledgeable and fully resourced with feeling valid as a human being.
I’m not trusting that my creativity is enough. That I’m enough. I’m really scared to take this leap from creativity as a hobby to more of a full time thing.
Usually, around the third or fourth question, things start to get real. The excuses disrobe and the naked fear and insecurity are exposed. My problem isn’t that I’m not sitting down with my watercolors as much as I used to, it’s that I’m letting fear keep me from things that I know bring life. In getting curious about the why’s behind my inaction, these inner motives are revealed as attempts at self protection.
So, time to fess up Allie: what am I actually gaining by trying to self protect here? If I keep up the guise of preparing to be creative, I don’t actually have to be creative (yet.) I’m like a plane on the runway, with the captain telling the passengers that we will be “taking off shortly” (always code for 20 more minutes…) I’m afraid of failure. I’m afraid of being exposed as an impostor. Of being uncomfortable. Or that I’ll be told I’m not good enough.
I typed those words out, and then I heard myself (or maybe it was Liz Gilbert’s voice in my head) reply “Oh, is that it? Yeah, those thoughts aren’t new, and they aren’t going away, but fear is boring! Being stuck in fear is even more boring. Acknowledge it, and move on!
Sometimes we get stuck in these habits of numbing comfortability—and it feels harmless, or maybe even “important” to our goals. Looking for a quick inspiration on Pinterest leads to 45 minutes of mindless scrolling and rabbit trails. Craving some stress relief, we turn on Netflix, and before we know it, the somewhat condescending notice pops up: “Continue Episode?” We make plans to start projects or pursue a dream, but they shift to the back burner because we are chronically and incredibly “busy.” Busy with what, exactly? Sometimes (for me anyway) “Busy” is just a covert version of “Scared,” frantically running around trying to feel important.
So I’ve been scared that my creativity isn’t enough. I’ve been making myself busy with blogs and podcasts and books about creativity. Now, I don’t want to throw any babies out with the bathwater here. I will probably continue to read and listen to mediums that fuel my creative thinking, but I need balance. I’ve come to learn that balance, for me, looks like a combination of reading and writing, consuming beautiful art and producing art, even when there isn’t a specific purpose.
So, this week, I started a creative project. One that will take awhile. The idea came while I was reading in bed, and I decided to close my book, to go over to my art table and start the project right then. I decided that it would be a project that I would do completely in secret. But before I began, I wrote myself this permission slip.
When my focus is on the process of creativity, rather than the end result, the measure of success is in the very act of creating. And that’s when I thrive as an artist.
* Seriously though, if you are looking for some creative inspiration, here are some books you should check out! These books have deeply shaped me throughout the course of the last year.
Big Magic | Elizabeth Gilbert
Rising Strong | Brené Brown
The Artist’s Way | Julia Cameron
Eat, Pray, Love | Elizabeth Gilbert
Show Your Work! | Austin Kleon
The Art of Travel | Alain de Button
Essentialism | Greg McKeown
Walking on Water | Madeleine L’Engle
The Harry Potter Series (JK…lol) | J.K. Rowling