Ever walked through a door and forgotten something you just thought? Think of your brain like an ocean, there’s all manner of detritus, things floating, some things have been thrown in there by experience, and some things have grown and evolved there. Your fore thoughts, conscious thoughts are the beach and some of those things end up floating in on the tide and back out and some get stuck in the sand for you to grab and use. Driftwood becomes a sculpture and a message in a bottle becomes a story…
I think many artists don’t like to think of their creative process in terms of work, but I suspect the most productive and successful artists do take this approach. It can be hard to equate being creative and working but by being systematic, choosing hours to work, prioritising and planning helps with all aspects of life.
When I was younger I thought being free, not working, creating when I felt like it was the way to go, I felt free and easy and didn’t have to fill my time and mind with non-creative things. Of course, not making a living from your creative endeavours eventually brings you to reality, quality of life, wanting to travel, wanting and needing certain things means eventually you need more money. I eventually found my way to a stimulating career not related to the art I make and am very happy with it, and I also have financial stability. This means two things, one is that I can create freely without worrying about money, I don’t have to have any financial considerations for my art (music, writing, films) but also, the unexpected outcome was that I have learned a work ethic and have learned how to manage my time. I am now more productive as an artist than I ever was when I didn’t have a day job.
Having my days filled with work and often being exhausted and not able to do things does have an impact, but what I do is constantly make lists, lists of everything. Sometimes I’ll be sitting in a meeting and suddenly a concept or a song title will come to me and I may scribble it on something and often I do lose it. Or, I think I’ll remember it in 10 minutes when I have a chance to note it down… but it’s gone, lost in the sea of my overactive brain. I’ve forgotten more song titles than I’ve used (and that number is in the thousands) I’m very prolific, which also means I’ve learned to accept some ideas will be lost, I have enough ideas.
This brings me to “Writers Block” which can be applied to any creative or non-creative endeavour. You can get “work block” or “painters block”… There have been times I’ve stopped doing certain things, at one point I didn’t make music for over two years, this wasn’t block per se, but due to my life circumstances at the time. My solutions to those times when I just can’t make progress is simple, put it aside and do something else. It is simple, but by sitting and vexing over what happens next doesn’t do any favours and will likely make you feel worse. It’s easiest to just stop for a time.
I do this at work, maybe I’m creating a presentation, writing a report or assessment. To deal with this I time manage well, make sure I have enough time to create over time, and if I need to stop, it doesn’t put me behind. For the non-professional artist, the pressures are your own, simply don’t create them. Have a work like approach, allocate yourself hours, evenings, weekends or what you can to do your creative work, but don’t decide an arbitrary deadline that will only pressure you.
I know many people who do say that pressure helps them to work, having that deadline motivates them but these are often the ones who complain of having a “block”. Just like at work I give myself realistic timescales, I like to finish things, finishing gives great satisfaction and I have a tendency to finish things as quickly as possible to tick it off my list. As I’ve gotten older I’ve learned to take more time and give myself more time to create, the process should be enjoyable and the finish when you get there should be something you’re happy with because it’s good for you, not because it’s simply done. If I am writing and it isn’t enjoyable I stop, I’ll feel like it again at some point.
Do be methodical, do be systematic, enjoy the actual process (even though even being creative has logistical elements that may not be fun, particularly failing technology) write your ideas down and don’t worry if you get stuck, good ideas aren’t limited and don’t put undue pressure on yourself. Importantly, reflect on the times when your creativity is flowing well, what worked for you then? When you hit a block it’s likely other life elements getting in the way, deal with those so they are out of the way you can free your mind.
There’s nothing wrong with targets, you might say “I’ll finish my book by the end of the year” or “I’m going to start that new band in a few months” but also accept that creativity ebbs and flows, sometimes it comes to you naturally, and sometimes it doesn’t. Personally I try to do something creative every day, I might throw it out later but I do it to feel satisfied and keep my mind in my creative world, but sometimes ideas are rubbish, and that’s ok too. Picasso would’ve thrown away plenty of paintings, Kafka wanted his work burned, and millions of songs have not made it onto albums. Ideas come and go, epiphanies float off into the ether, and someone uses your idea before you have a chance to, just move on and also remember that an idea may not be original but your voice is.