So here’s the thing, there’s this creativity myth that a lot of us subscribe to either all or some of the time. The myth goes something like this… I should feel inspired all the time. I should be doing creative things. I should want to do creative things all the time. If I don’t there is something wrong with me.
Now let’s do a bit of myth-busting. Let’s imagine for a minute that creative energy – or inspiration, is like physical energy – or wellbeing. Our physical energy fluctuates all the time, some days our step is full of bounce and we’re active from morning to night. At other times we drag ourselves through the day, collapsing into bed utterly exhausted at the end of it. Sometimes we can’t get up in the morning at all, we take a duvet day, or are simply unwell or even very ill. Our fluctuating physical energy is something we’ve learned to accept. It can be frustrating or even depressing when our energy levels are low, or low on a regular basis, but we don’t expect them to be consistently high.
We also accept that our wellbeing depends on countless outside causes, effects and conditions. If we’ve been eating poorly, not exercising, overworking, partying hard, or are overstretched with commitments to family, work and community, or if we’re stressed, unhappy, or going through difficult times – then we know that this will have an effect on our physical energy and levels of wellbeing.
And yet we somehow expect that our creative energy, our inspiration, won’t go through the same natural fluctuations as our physical energy and isn’t likewise affected by outside conditions. The myth is that inspiration should be consistently and constantly available to us, that we should always feel creative, and that any dip in our creative energy is somehow a bad thing or even abnormal.
Pause for a minute – and reflect on your beliefs about creativity, how much are they influenced by this creativity myth?
I suspect every single one of us consciously or unconsciously subscribes to it to some extent or other, and I’m no exception. However I’ve learned from my own creative practice and from coaching and teaching hundreds of other creative and want-to-be creative people, that creative energy, just like our physical energy, goes through its own cycles and has its peaks and troughs too.
Bringing some mindfulness and self-compassion to this has been enormously helpful to me. Over time I’ve also developed strategies for dealing with these fluctuations using some basic, mindful cognitive approaches and practical creativity nurturing. They go something like this.
1) Feed it. Seek out the things that nourish creative energy and inspiration.
2) Make space for it. Weed out those things that don’t give creative energy a chance to increase, and give it room to grow.
3) Exercise. Energy feeds energy, so a little workout does wonders.
4) Be kind to it. Practicing self-compassion, gratitude and enjoying the moment helps us relax and appreciate what is.
5) Be aware. Practicing mindfulness with the conditions, causes and effects around our creativity, is extremely helpful.
If we want to increase our physical energy we know we have to treat it right. We eat well, get enough sleep, maybe take some supplements or medicine if we’re unwell, go for a massage. It’s the same with creative energy. It also needs feeding. These are the things that I’ve found feed my inspiration: going to galleries and looking at art, being in nature, walking, reading novels and poetry, being around other creative people and talking about art, literature, philosophy and ideas, doing courses or workshops, meditation.
What feeds your creative energy? Make a list. How many of them do you do on a regular basis? Can you do more?
Make space for it.
Can you do more? Is there actually space and time in your life for creating and the things that feed creating? These are the things that take up unnecessary (and the key word here is unnecessary) amounts of space in my life: overworking, social media, dawdling, prioritizing other things, too much busyness, tiredness. I know my tendencies, so I have learned to mindfully keep an eye on them. I remind myself to slow down. I try to limit my time on social media (not always successfully!) I prioritize some space for creativity in my days. And especially important and especially difficult for me, I try and make time for quietness, stillness and rest – for spaces of less or no activity at all, empty spaces.
What things are taking up unnecessary space in your life and cramming your creative energy into corners? Can you bring some mindfulness to them? Can you little by little start to change habits?
Energy does indeed give birth to more energy. We go for a walk in the park when we’re a little tired and come back refreshed. Likewise a little bit of creative exercise will give rise to more energy.
We sometimes think that creative inspiration has to be this huge thing of immense value and artistic merit. We can’t just simply write a few lines, it has to be a novel. We can’t just doodle, it has to be proper painting. We can’t just take a few snaps on our way to work, we need a serious photographic project. Consequently we ignore the small creative impulses that brighten our days.
When we’re not-creating we also have a habit of dreaming up grand and shining plans that get bigger and bigger, more and more complex, until they’re too intimidating to even start, or look so impressive, that again we dismiss the little flickers of unrelated creativity that come and go.
But to increase our creative energy we need regular exercise, and for me the answer to this is doing a little something – sometimes a very little something –every day. In addition when I do feel a little creative flicker, I make space for it and act on it if I can. This is how this blog was born, out of a small creative flicker of inspiration as I lay waking up this Sunday morning, with the opportunity for creative space I’d left myself by not planning anything until later in the day. At the moment I’m also drawing my hands every day. These drawings only take a couple of minutes, but they’re building my enthusiasm and confidence for life-drawing again after time away from it, and I’m enjoying them so much I just want to do more. My inspiration is growing.
In what ways can you act on your small creative impulses and moments of inspiration? Can you make space for just a few minutes of creating every day to help your creative energy grow?
Be kind to it.
We don’t expect our physical energy to always be 100%, so let’s not expect our creative energy to always be at maximum capacity either. Let’s go a little easier on ourselves.
Cultivating gratitude and appreciation for the creative energy we do have and for all the things that are feeding that, feels good, and makes us feel good about ourselves. I celebrate my hand-drawings. I look at them with gratitude and remember how much I enjoyed doing them. I share them on social-media because I’m proud of myself for making time for them and valuing myself enough for doing them in the first place.
Practising self-compassion, kindness and understanding around our fluctuating levels of inspiration is also really important. Remembering that creative energy goes in cycles, and allowing that to be ok, is vital.
Practicing self-compassion around our creative rhythms is supported by being mindfully aware of the conditions that cause them. Rather than beating myself up for not doing more of my own creative practice at the moment, I remind myself that I’m getting very close to the end of another book, that I’m rather tired as I get to my deadline, and that all in all it’s been a tiring and quite stressful year. Really, it’s pretty amazing I’ve any creative energy at all!
I mindfully notice the thought that keeps popping up that I’m not writing another novel at the moment and maybe I should be. And I kindly tell myself, that that’s ok, writing a novel takes a lot of sustained energy over a long period, it’s the physical equivalent of a marathon, and at the moment a slow amble is all I’m really capable of. There’ll be other times for novels and marathons, in the meantime there are drawings of hands and little pieces of flash fiction, and blogs.
Can you bring some mindfulness to your thoughts, shoulds and beliefs about creativity and inspiration? What are the myths you fall for? Can you bring more awareness and a certain practical sensitivity to your own rhythms?
These five practices: feeding, making space, exercising, being kind, and being mindful are the things that bust my creativity myth, and help me enjoy and cultivate more creative inspiration and energy in my life. Some of these you may already be practicing, some you may have had a bit of a lapse with, some may be a challenge – making space is a lot of people’s nemesis! However they are possible for all of us, and as we slowly integrate them into our lives, we find our inspiration and our creative energy grows, and when it doesn’t we are more at peace with this.