I love when the things I’m listening to/reading converge by accident. It is this wonderful moment when the places I go to entertain or inform me collide together and there’s this sudden rush of energy and excitement. I don’t necessarily know what it means but it feels like the air is buzzing.
To get the full effect, which you probably won’t anyway because it really needs to collide in your life and your mind not in the mind of another person, I need to pull back.
I had decided in August that October was going to be month to reset for me. I love plans and schedules and so had dutifully been following pretty much the same schedule for the last two years with minor variations depending on my work circumstances. And in the midst of that I think I lost a little spark, I wasn’t as productive and I wasn’t as creative and I wasn’t having any fun! I wasn’t hitting any of my three core goals for life. So I made a plan. I can hear you laughing. I know right, planning had killed my spark so I made a plan to get it back. It seems counter intuitive but I think for me it was more about being intentional. I didn’t want to just lament what I had lost, and wait for it to wander back into my life. I wanted to jump start it.
Here was the plan: For October I would table shop business and focus on fun projects that I wanted to do for myself. It’s not that I didn’t do them before, its that I felt guilty every time I did one instead of work for the shop. The second part was I would replace my very routine weekly workout schedule of strength training twice a week and a run with surfing. I was already trying to surf once a week and was playing soccer about twice a week but this month that’s all I would need to do. The fun stuff. (I also allowed yoga in case it was flat). So far its been great and I’ve learned a lot. I definitely feel excited to get back to work which is part of the feeling I was trying to generate. It also allowed me to step back and do some thinking about the shop.
But what this post is about actually happened before October began. I was getting ready, listening to other creative people’s thoughts about it. I downloaded Big Magicby Elizabeth Gilbert off audible but before I started it I stumbled upon another interesting piece about creativity.
I recently discovered Revisionist History, a podcast by Malcolm Gladwell, and have been loving all the episodes. The one I’m talking about today has to do with creativity. Its called Hallelujah, and he weaves an interesting story about the song Hallelujah as a case study about the styles in which people create.
When he’s talking about the styles in which people create he was referring to the way a person creates over their lifetime. Time, iteration and how those two things play off each other.
He first described Conceptual Innovators. People we would easily identify as ‘genius’. They know what what want to do. They work fast, planning and executing. The first thought is the best thought.
The second, which is what the substance of the episode is about, are Experimental Innovators. They don’t have plan, they work slower they don’t know where they’re going. They live by trial and error. They take longer to decide what they want to say. And they are often unsatisfied with their drafts. So they continue to fiddle. There’s no linear plan, they are working, hoping to stumble on something to seize the imagination.
Gladwell asserts that music is where Experimental Innovators’ methods are best used. Their labor over each line of the music, chasing an idea works well for music. They never give up. They keep searching. Digging. Even, as in the case of the song Hallelujah, passing from artist to artist until someone covers it just right.
There’s a line that I love from the episode: ‘Sounds like he found the song.’
The song was out there waiting to be found, someone just had to put in the work to find it.
Whats interesting (to me at least) is shortly after listening to this episode I listened to Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert a book all about the creative process. And the ideas they were both chewing on mixed together to inform my own thinking about how I create. What kind of process do I use and how can I better support that process. Through space (both physical and temporal), through planning and especially through an attitude of self forgiveness.
I loved the whole book and what she had to say really resonated with me. One bit that I think gave me some permission to move on from projects was her assertion that ideas or inspiration don’t wait around. That the idea/project at the time wasn’t bad but if you get caught up with other stuff and leave the idea/project alone, it can die.
I promise you I have many half painted canvases and half sewn garments lying around my house that I had been so excited to start to begin with. And then someway or another the idea left me. Either I ignored it due to some other project i needed to get done or (as is the case quite often with sewing) it wasn’t turning out as I had hoped and I had no idea how to fix it so I let it sit until it no longer inspired me.
Hearing that this, the inability to finish a project I started, is not necessarily some moral failing on my part, but rather inspiration leaving me or leading me to something else is liberating. That is not to say I don’t work hard on projects and that I don’t have ideas that I nurse for years into existence, but it is permission to leave things that have lost their spark.
Which actually converges with another book I’ve read, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. She speaks primarily of cleaning and organizing and removing extraneous stuff from your life. But her idea of an object sparking joy within you reverberates into this conversation as well. Why would I keep a project that no longer sparks joy? That no longer calls deeply to my heart? Projects that bring joy and call to my heart are still hard, its not that I leave behind anything that becomes a challenge. I mean what would be the joy in a project without the challenge? As Jimmy Dugan famously said in A League of Their Own:
“It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard... is what makes it great.”
All in all I think this month has been what I needed. It has definitely made me think about how to care for my creativity and for myself. It has also re-energized me immensely. I’m ready to go for next month. Let’s make all the things!!
Oh, you might be asking if I am an Experimental Innovator or Conceptual Innovator. The truth is I think I’m a blend. I often ascribe to a ‘first thought best thought’ philosophy but I also have projects that need reworking, that I revisit often. Leaving room to be both, and recognizing that if I end up in an Experimental moment it doesn’t mean I’m doing it wrong, feels motivating.