Frankly, I’m happy to see this year end. It has been one of the most difficult years of my life. Lots of loss. In that loss, my mind has not worked as it usually does. That has proven to be a very negative factor in my creative projects.
The thing about loss is, one is expected to produce as though no loss has occurred. Creativity, good creativity, requires the use of the brain. I spent the last six months grinding. In the grind, eventually, I got where I wanted to go. But it was hard work, that required that I not say, “I can’t do it. I give up.”
I’m going to discuss what I’ve learned during this year of losses about the creative process.
Being honestly and productively critiqued, is an important path to improvement and growth. My design classes included critiques at least three times during a project. The first was given within days of the beginning. No one feels ready or remotely confident at this critique. Nor should they. It’s rough sketches. Raw ideas with little direction. Painful. And very useful. This is an excellent time to determine whether the idea has merit. This first critique has saved me time and clarified direction. The next critique is in the middle of the project. It is about refinement. More specifically, about simplification. About cutting the fat, as it were. It reinforces the good, cleans up the bad. It defines what might be missing, the final steps, and drives the project home. The final critique is not the “wow “moment one would get if it had never been seen, but it is a moment of polish and great satisfaction. This critique is a vital part of the fine art and student process. I will incorporate it in my music and film endeavors as well. The other things about the critique process are, it forces you to have a team, it makes you more honest about your imprefections, and ultimately it better prepares you for constant incremental improvement.
The other thing I learned this year is, the creative process can be corralled. I use to say, like so many creatives I know, “I have to wait for the feeling to hit” or “I have a block.” For a while now, I’ve been saying, “Show up to the canvas.” The idea being you most certainly will not be creative if you don’t move toward it. If you flip on the TV, or Facebook, or Netflicks, you have determined you can not be creative, so you won’t. If instead, you go to the tools of your creativity, you’re likely to engage. This can be applied to all forms of procrastination- going to the gym, making love with your partner, washing the dishes. Show up. Start. The block will likely dissipate after some engagement. But what about when your mind is crazed as mine has been this year? What if circumstances are so stressful, your concentration is gone. And worse yet, your reason for doing a thing? You aren’t sure how to make it through the day, much less make pretty clever things for people you’ve made commitments to?
This is when you ask for help. Maybe every day. Maybe the critiques are more frequent. Maybe there are more sketches. Perhaps you allow more time for the projects. This is what I know. There is a process to creativity. There is the beginning, when you’re learning how to walk. Nothing you’re creating has any merit. You owe it to yourself to keep going. The beginning is a process of data collection. Nothing more. It’s exploratory. Allow yourself to be messy. To be inaccurate. To be free and childlike. What I’m actually saying, is don’t be mean to yourself. Don’t be critical. (Which is different from a critique, by the way.) Instead, see the value in what your working on. Allow yourself to grind. What I found was that my projects were 90% grind. I mean that I went around and around in my head without new thoughts. Without new direction. Another metaphor might be, I was treading water. There came a point where it clicked. I went through this process again. And again. And with each effort, I came to understand, if I kept at it. If I let myself grind, I would eventually click. What came next is confidence. Confidence that I am not a slave to my muses. Instead of waiting for them to come to me, I can call on them. And if they don’t immediately answer, I keep asking. I keep trying. Trying something new. Anything.
Like so many of life’s lessons, it comes back down to moving through and past a misguided belief. To do that, one must make an effort. Effort is everything.