I have to admit something to you. As much as I like being creative and making things, I struggle during my creative sessions. In my imagination, other artists are playfully splashing colors on the canvas, while when I get to the canvas or work bench, I just sit there and struggle to get something done.
Recently, I was in my studio working on an idea for a painting, and whole time I experienced delays and interruptions. It was late evening. It was after a full day of work and I was tired. And on top of that, I was listening to a podcast on politics and it was making me angry.
I just told myself I need to change something. I'm not being very creative and this just isn't working for me.
My approach to creative time has been quite haphazard. I usually try to fit studio time into the cracks and crevices of my schedule. So my first attempt was to look for a regular time in the evenings. I thought that shouldn't be too hard because I wouldn't be giving up much except maybe a few TV shows and a bunch of web surfing.
I thought I could just turn that after-dinner time into time for my art, but after a few tries it wasn't working. The evening is often our family get-together time. When I disappeared into my studio, I felt guilty about not spending time with my family.
And even if it wasn't family night, I was still getting interrupted by phone calls and text messages.
Also, I couldn't let go of being entertained in the evening. So I'd listen to podcasts. I didn't realize it at the time, but it was another more subtle form of interruption.
Also being the end of the day, I was tired. My work during the day usually involves programming creative solutions for my clients. So even if I wasn't physically tired, I was mentally tired,
Needless to say, my creative sessions weren't really satisfying. They usually ended after about 20 or 30 minutes.
And that even put more pressure on me knowing that I had so little time to work with.
So I thought, okay, what about the weekends? I could give that a try. I could schedule some longer sessions where I could spend maybe five or six hours on a project. But that didn't work for me at all. Weekends for me are unpredictable. We often go out as a family, whether it's traveling or doing some errands or whatever.
There's also lots of cool stuffthat happens on weekends, so it was really hard to keep a regular schedule. Even if we weren't going out, there's stuff that needs to get done around the house.
I ended up having so few weekend sessions that I wasn't creating anything at all.
So I thought, well, how about finding more focus for my evening sessions? How about committing to creating something every day and then posting it to Instagram?
I like Instagram, almost all the people I follow are artists, and it's inspiring to see their art. And it feels great to get likes, you know, and the more I posted, the more likes I got that really felt good.
But eventually I was noticing I was creating things that I didn't care about. Instead of making things that excited me, I was asking, what can I make that'll get likes? My art was becoming performative in, uh, you know, "Hey, look at me" sort of way.
None of these attempts at having good studio sessions were working for me. I was really frustrated, and I was feeling stuck. I wasn't creating, and I wasn't learning anything new.
In the past few months, I've been doing some thinking and reading about the intersection of creativity and play. And I wondered if there might be some clues there about having better creative sessions.
I recently came upon Amy Isaman's Dear Creativity, Let's Play podcast. It's an awesome podcast, and if you're wondering about the process of creativity, I really urge you to listen to her podcast episodes. I'll put a link to her podcast and the website in the show notes.
In particular, you should listen to Amy's conversation with Jeff Harry. He's Vice President of Fun at Play. It's episode number 52 and it's called To Get Creative, Own Your Weird.
Jeff is an amazing person, and he's done a lot of thinking about play. In his conversation with Amy, he really explains how creativity and play go hand in hand.
I want to highlight here what he gave as the definition of play.
His definition of play is:
you are fully present;
you forget about time;
you're not thinking about anything;
you are fully you;
and you're excited about life.
So, I thought, wow, this, this really resonates with me, and it explains so much of what I'm not experiencing during my creative sessions.
So for instance, instead of being fully me, I'm thinking about how others might react to what I'm making.
Instead of being excited about life, I'm just frustrated by my lack of progress.
Instead of being fully present, there's always the specter of being interrupted.
Instead of not thinking of anything, I'm listening to a podcast.
And instead of time vanishing, I have that pressure of like only having 20 or 30 minutes before I need to do something else.
I decided to call these my little killjoys. Each of these thieves steal playfulness from my creative sessions. Here's how I'm now approaching each one.
I started with the one that always has me thinking about how others might react to what I'm making, creating. Let's call it the Instagram effect.
Instagram is a great way to share your art. And like I said, I follow a lot of artists there, but I've also found that it it's a lot, like those infomercials on TV. You know, the one that tries to convince you that your life will be so much better with an Instapot.
Just like an infomercial, scrolling through Instagram is a bombardment. The images go by so quickly, and they only show the bright side of things. Your friends seem to be living beautiful lives and look how productive they are all the time.
At least for me, it's, it's a little bit overwhelming and I can't help but compare my own experience with all these beautiful images. And I start to feel a little bit inadequate and guilty.
And the other thing that I realized is that Instagram was just reinforcing my craving for likes.
Once I started posting my drawings and creations on Instagram and getting likes, that positive reinforcement made me look at everything through the lens of, you know, how many likes might I get?
I think that Instagram is a great way to make connections, especially if you're an artist, but there is that temptation to create solely for the like button.
I've stepped away from Instagram for now. I'm trying to build a habit of satisfying myself first, letting my curiosity run and letting my inner voices speak. My goal is to be much more deliberate about the art that I post there.
I want to take care that I'm posting an authentic version of myself, not the version that I think others are wanting of me. And what that's done for me is that I'm already feeling much more playful when I get into my studio.
The next killjoy is being frustrated by a lack of progress or a lack of skill. This thief shows up, particularly if you're a multipotentialite like me, someone who's interested in many topics and enjoys trying out many different skills.
This frustration is one of the major feelings keeping me from feeling excited about life and about my creative process.
I have all the time in the world to create. And yet that feeling of excitement is kept at bay.
The image I get is me as a kid, looking through the window at a playground where all the other kids are playing and creating and having fun while I need to do my homework.
I overcome this by reminding myself that creating is itself a vulnerable act. Every time I sit down to create something new, I expose my true self. That is, I expose what I'm capable of and not capable of.
And I expose my heart. I expose what I'm thinking and feeling and that vulnerability makes me want to hide. I don't want people to think that I'm a fraud.
And so here's where I lean on the findings of social researcher Brené Brown. She points out that vulnerability leads to connection. The courage to be open with another person is where the connection happens.
I've read most of her books. And so I know, like on an intellectual level, I know it to be true and I've actually even seen it happen in my life, many times over. But I can tell you this particular one, this killjoy, this being frustrated by lack of skills and lack of progress is really the hardest to get rid of.
So I'm working on it. I just keep reminding myself that it's not just okay, but it's actually necessary to be vulnerable in the stuff that I do, and in the art that I create.
So when those feelings of vulnerability show up, I celebrate, I express gratitude. I know that not everyone will understand the things that I make and the things that I create. But I celebrate those who do. And learning new skills is hard. So I just celebrate the fact that I'm trying.
And here's something that's really helped. For every little bit of progress I make in my creative journey, I celebrate that progress by writing it down in a completion journal. I have this daily completion journal, and every time I do something, even if it's just starting something or making just a little bit of progress, I write it down.
And I celebrate that. That journal has been so incredibly helpful. Every time I open it up, I see how much I have accomplished every day.
If you're someone who likes to dabble and likes to try lots of different things, if you're a multipotentialite, I can't recommend enough having a daily completion journal. It's been so helpful.
Let's move on to that specter of being interrupted, the one that was preventing me from being present.
I think of it like being a prisoner subjected to water drip torture, you know, always wondering when the next interruption, when the next drip will happen.
So the first thing I did was to silence all notifications. Emails, apps, everything, but phone calls. All my devices have a do not disturb mode and I turn it on from 6:00 AM in the morning to 10:00 PM in the evening for all of them.
No more notifications. I was worried that I might miss something, but it turns out I was missing anything at all.
As I'm working on a piece of art, I'll often listen to a podcast or if I'm not listening, I'm still kind of carrying on a heated conversation in my mind about politics with that imaginary uncle.
Just like with interruptions, listening or having those inner conversations were preventing me from having my mind open to what's unfolding in front of me as I'm doing my art.
So I'm no longer listening to podcasts during my studio time. And I'm noticing how nice it feels to be in silence. I'm also using my mindfulness training. I do a 10 minute meditation every morning to strengthen my mindfulness. And I'm using that mindfulness training to just simply notice when I'm not present.
Before the pandemic, one of my favorite ways to reduce interruptions was to spend some time at a local cafe or at the library. But you know, that hasn't been an option for over a year.
So I thought more deeply about where and when these interruptions came and it occurred to me that most of these interruptions were coming in the afternoon and evening.
I decided to do something radically different. I've decided to schedule all my creative sessions in the morning.
And what I found is that this is a great time to be creative. My mind is clear, there's almost no interruptions. Most people are still asleep or focused on getting their workday started.
So scheduling two to three hours of creative time in the mornings has effectively eliminated the specter of being interrupted.
It also eliminated that other killjoy, the feeling that I was only getting 20 to 30 minutes of time to be creative.
And I'm starting to feel that feeling of timelessness, of being lost in my work, that is so, so essential to feeling joy and play.
So here's the good news. All of these changes that I've just spoken about have been helping me to be more present. And that playfulness that I've been looking for is, is really starting to appear.
Scheduling my creative sessions in the morning has been really helpful in reducing interruptions and giving me that sense of timelessness.
Being mindful and turning off those podcasts has definitely helped me be more present. Staying away from social media, especially as it relates to how I think about my art is, you know, it's still a struggle, but I'm working on it and I'm working to be more vulnerable and authentic in my art.
And I don't always get there, but just keeping this in mind has helped me focus on the art that really excites me.
And I just want to say I'm excited for 2021 and beyond. I think we have an incredibly creative year ahead and I can't wait to see what it's going to be like.
Thank you so much for listening to this podcast. I really appreciate that you took the time to listen. I hope there was an idea or two that will help spark your creativity. And I would love to get any feedback that you have.