Creativity. A process. (Part 1)

"O' for a muse of fire, that would ascend the brightest heaven of invention."
William Shakespeare

"Motivation is for amateurs"
Chuck Close

In classical mythology the muse is defined as the nine daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne who presided over various arts: Calliope (epic poetry),Clio (history), Erato (lyric poetry), Euterpe (music), Melpomene(tragedy), Polyhymnia (religious music), Terpsichore (dance),Thalia (comedy), and Urania (astronomy).

I'm fairly sure that the ancient Greeks didn't have a muse for the graphic arts, or photography for that matter, but, as a creative professional for the past 20+ years, I can tell you that I indeed have had moments of muse like/divine inspiration. Times where the ideas have flowed from me with grace, quality and ease onto the drawing paper, the tablet, into the camera lens.

Conversely I've also had moments where I've sat and stared at a dry and desolate computer monitor, or blank sheet of paper, for what seems like an eternity without a single creative thought passing from the ether and into my space.

Thankfully the barren times have been few and far between but I am well aware that creative inspiration is a tricky, and fickle, master to serve. What is here in plentiful abundance today can be gone from your space tomorrow and vice-versa.

Consequently, in an effort to bring some applied processes and focused structure to my creative work, I have found, and employed, a set of strategies in an attempt to make my life as a creative more thoughtful and productive. Some tricks of the trade, so to speak, that I've researched, tested and worked with to help me produce my highest quality work possible.

Let's start with the first two:

  1. Spontaneous Idea Arrival - Pay attention to your inner voice.
    I'll be engaged in a daily routine, participating in an activity that has my focus squarely on the task at hand, when sometimes I'll get a little nudge in the pit of my stomach, a flicker in the back of my mind, something quiet but persistent out of the corner of my eye and then it appears. An idea for a photo, a project, a blog post or some other crazy solution is suddenly being sent my way. At that point it is up to me to proceed with the idea in some fashion before it's gone and lost to the junk and clutter of daily living. Grab a camera. Open Evernote. Launch Photoshop. Find a pen/paper. Anything. Grab something, get it down and start the process. You can judge it's merit later.

    I just finished the book "Big Magic" by Elizabeth Gilbert where she explores the process behind where creative ideas manifest themselves and how to wrangle/work with them once you receive the inspiration. In her book she speaks of her interview with American poet Ruth Stone and her creative process where she writes that...

    "When Ruth was a child growing up on a farm in rural Virginia, she would be out working in the fields when she would sometimes hear a poem coming toward her—hear it rushing across the landscape at her, like a galloping horse. Whenever this happened, she knew exactly what she had to do next: She would “run like hell” toward the house, trying to stay ahead of the poem, hoping to get to a piece of paper and a pencil fast enough to catch it. That way, when the poem reached her and passed through her, she would be able to grab it and take dictation, letting the words pour forth onto the page. Sometimes, however, she was too slow, and she couldn’t get to the paper and pencil in time. At those instances, she could feel the poem rushing right through […]”

    Quiet your mind and train yourself to be aware of these moments. While it probably won't be as dramatic as what Ruth Stone describes...I promise you if you take the time to listen, trust and act on these gifts of inspiration they will definitely yield fruit in your creative endeavors.

  2. Scheduled creative time. Show up. Be present. Put in the work.
    I know. I know. As creatives we are supposed to be care free, spontaneous beings who are well beyond the rigors/demands of such mundane things as scheduling and time management. Creativity knows no such master as time and surely you can't expect me, as a creative, to sit down and work until the appropriate muse is upon me right? Wrong. Very wrong.

    For me, scheduling my creative work time has been a game changer for me and my craft and it is something that my mentor, Noah Elias (, preaches.

    For one it allows me to have some sense of order as I can look at my calendar, see what is on my plate for the day and plan on how my daily work is going to move me towards my weekly, monthly, yearly goals.

    Secondly, and this is equally as important, scheduling allows me to protect my creative time, as much as possible, from the intrusions and interruptions that life can sometimes throw at you. If something is on the calendar, in front of you, it makes it more tangible and much harder to break.

    Another benefit of having strict scheduling of your creative time is that I believe your best work occurs if you put some time parameters on your session. Having a defined start/stop time to your work allows you to appropriately focus and stay productive throughout your session instead of idling away the afternoon while you wait for the muse to visit and inspiration to strike.

    For me...1 hour long blocks seem to work best as it is just enough time to allow me to adequately gear up at the start of the session, let the mundane/daily noise of the world flutter away, find the rhythm of what I am working on, then stop before the freshness of the work/ideas fades.

    Comedian John Cleese, of Monty Python fame, defines this time as his "tortoise mind" which, for him, is a more contemplative/creative place of focus and play that gives him the protection,permission,time and space needed to leave the day to day world behind and create a space to find the ideas for his craft. Brilliant.

Strategic intent. Having a process. Defining the parameters. All combining together to make creativity work and work creative. Thanks for being here and for taking the the time to read about the first 2 steps in my creative process. Look for the other 3 in my next blog post next week.