Creatives: this week we are going to springboard again from our look at the creative cycle and creative personality character traits (if you haven’t already, I would recommend going back to look at the “Creative Personality Paradox” and the “Creative Cycle” posts for context) into some of the nuances in which it may impact you. Specifically: the ebbs and flows of creativity and birthing your creative work.
(I want to be sure to also introduce this concept with a clinical caveat: all human behavior exists on a spectrum, and most all behavior exists in some way in most people. When we call something clinical or diagnosable, we are saying certain behavior patterns become disruptive, and interfere with daily functioning in a certain way. When we talk about some of these creative energy cycles, I am talking about them as natural, not clinical. If you are unsure if any of these behaviors or cycles are disruptive or unhealthy for you, call me, email me, come sit in my chair- we need to talk about it.)
We know that one of the paradoxically occurring trait pairs in creative people is productivity/rest. We know from our exploration of the creative cycle that we naturally oscillate between these two states. What I want you to understand, Creative, is that having periods of intense productivity and creative energy is normal and natural to creative people. Don’t spend energy fighting or dousing it- embrace it and use it! What is also natural and normal is a period of rest and less interest and energy in your creative pursuits- you will not have this level of interest, inspiration and excitement in your work but for so long- and necessarily so- because creating expends energy.
Let’s consider two elements to this dynamic: reactivity and productivity:
Reactivity: you cannot indefinitely sustain an intense period of creative energy (imagine sprinting) natural energy laws dictate that in proportion to energy expended will be energy absence or opposed. In other words, you are going to need to rest after this push. That leads me to-
Productivity: by definition when you are creating something you are giving of yourself- your emotional, cognitive, neurological, physiological and other individual resources- you are partitioning some of these out to give birth to the new entity you are creating (think having a creative baby). This means you will be “less full” after you have done creative work, and will need to rest and restore yourself.
Do you ever enjoy a period of intense creativity- thinking to yourself, “Yes! This is the level at which I want to work! This is how I want to create/produce,” only to feel exhausted, unmotivated, uninspired and discouraged shortly after? Do you feel like you have failed because you cannot sustain the original creative push? I want you to know this is normal, natural, and to let it happen. To rest and restore is an important part of your creative process, and will allow you to more fully engage in the next flow of work.
What should you do during these lower energy, recovery periods? Creative people are emotional people. Too often what I see happening is that creative people punish themselves for the change in productivity, challenge the pieces they have produced and put them down, feel sluggish and anhedonia, and become depressed. They don’t know why they feel this way and blame and diagnose themselves. They may further deplete creative stores by trying to push through and back to the level of energy they were previously at without success and worsen their self esteem. This is obviously understandable, but what NOT to do.
During the “ebbs” of creativity, what is important is to replenish. This is a time to focus more fully on the healing process of creating, rather than product oriented work. Play in a new or different medium with childlike curiosity. Dabble in and get inspired by other creative works. Tap into what energy stores feel low and listen to your body’s wisdom on what it needs to replenish these.
There is no set length of time for ebbing and flowing creatively, not for groups of people and not even for individual people. You may experience any length of high and low productivity states. You will experience different strengths in your ebbing and flowing. Your task is to know yourself, recognize what you are experiencing, and pair it with the correct course of action. It’s a tangled web with lots of work attached- but so fulfilling, empowering and important to your ongoing wellness and longevity as a creative person.
Do I need to give you my usual invitation to come to my chair to begin this important work? Let it percolate. Look for examples within yourself. I invite you to take control and create your happiest self.
(C) 2018 Creatively, LLC
Creatives, this week we will continue our discussion of the creative personality and the creative cycle. We are going to dive into the notion of “showing up for creativity.”
Let’s take one step back and revisit the topic of art process vs product. As we are learning how to make art, and again throughout our lifetime as artists, we are very product focused: how does our finished product look, represent our view, our technical skill, the marketplace, the art world, and more? In fact, without discerning between the two, our default view of our art form is likely to be product focused. This is valuable and important, but distinct and different from the process of making art. The process we engage in while making art is connected to neurological creative processes that are grounding, inventive, fulfilling, communicative and even cathartic. Becoming too product focused can disrupt the artistic process, and over investing in the artistic process doesn’t usually create your best product. Depending on the goal, it is useful to more heavily weight or balance these two elements. Assignment due? You are likely to be product focused. Doing art for the therapeutic value? You will need to invest more in the process.
The idea of “showing up for creativity” comes from a long held belief by creative people that the spark of creativity or inspiration isn’t constant (remember the creative cycle post?). Oftentimes between these moments of inspiration (which can range from less interest or energy in your creative work to being stuck or blocked creatively) we decide we will wait for that next creative wave to crest before diving back into our work. To “show up for creativity” is the idea that this is backwards: the spark doesn’t organically appear without doing the work. Rather, by continuing to produce work, you will build the momentum and energy back to the moments of inspiration and passion that creative people live for. In other words, the belief is: do not wait for creativity to happen, show up for it every day.
This is actually a commonly disputed belief, and unfortunately the evidence for or against the system is by necessity anecdotal. Essentially, like many things in the creative personality, whether or not it works for you to “show up” for your creativity and continue to produce work during inspirational lulls, depends on the unique factors that make you, you. What it does do is give us a concept by which to begin to explore and discuss your creative process, struggles and goals. I am interested in how the adage works for you.
How do your creative instincts, protective mechanisms and personal history respond to the concept of “showing up for creativity?” Dare you to test the theory? What I have said before and what my own psychological research has sustained, is that to be happy, fulfilled, resilient and their best self, creative people need to create. Regularly. All the time. This is perhaps one way to make this happen. Many creative people swear by it. So tell me, Creative. How does it strike you?
(C) 2018 Creatively, LLC
Happy Spring Snow Storm! Unfortunately, due to weather, the Zen Doodling workshop at Root Studio will be cancelled tonight. Contact Root Studio about rescheduling. Stay safe out there!
As artists, we have a unique way of viewing others and the world around us. We communicate this through our work, and it is as cathartic and fulfilling for us as it is exciting and enjoyable for our audience. As a fellow artist, I am interested in exploring this with you. As your therapist, I am also interested in how you view yourself in relationship to the world and others.
In psychology, we talk about a “mental map” as a sort of extension of cognitive mapping. In simple terms, we each have a mental map which we use as reference for how we interact with the world. It is comprised of rules, routines and rituals built from lessons we have learned, people we have interacted with, experiences we have had, and things we have gleaned throughout our personal histories. It is sort of like your personal belief system, but all encompassing, advising how and why each of your behaviors is chosen.
I want to take the concept of our unique mental map as a springboard for today’s concept- which I want to call a “referential self.” What I mean by a “referential self” is a version of yourself at a point in time in your life which is significant, and by which you define yourself. You may frequently go back to this version of yourself to assess progress, changes, relationships, decisions and other aspects of growth and development throughout your life.
These “referential selves” are frozen in your mind visually and characteristically. In fact, this is a good starting point for identifying what referential selves you may have. Without looking at yourself, imagine yourself. Not what you look like today necessary, but just “you.” How old are you? What are you wearing? Feeling? Can you pinpoint other details about this version of you? You may have more than one mental image which may mean several referential selves.
I wonder 2 things for you about these aspects of yourself: 1) what signifies the storage of this version of yourself (eg why this version of you?) and 2) how do you use/judge/see this reference? Take a moment to think about these questions. Is one of your referential selves captured at a moment when you fleshed out important pieces of who you are? Does this version of you have insecurities and flaws that you continue to cling to, even though they may be many years behind you? You may consistently judge yourself or identify yourself as this version of yourself no matter how much you have changed since then. I call this being “stuck” and it is a good concept to explore in therapy.
May I suggest the following exercise, as a continuation of self-portrait activities we have previously done together: use your chosen creative modality to explore one of your referential selves. Truly express who this version of yourself was- the good, the bad and the ugly. When you have finished, take a step back (musicians and dancers- you might record your work so you can replay and examine it fully). As objectively as you can, pick apart why this reference is captured and stored (question one above) and how you continue to identify yourself by this version of you (question two above). Go deep. Pull the thread. What did you find?
(C) 2018 Creatively, LLC
I have been wanting to talk about this for a few weeks, and today, the timing feels right: let’s explore the creative cycle.
Many things in life operate in cycles. Creativity does, too. In this case, as in many others, by identifying a creative cycle we are simply naming clusters of symptoms and behaviors that tend to occur together to understand them better. That means of course there is variation from person to person, and that the naming is more for communicating and understanding than diagnosing or labeling.
Anecdotally, I have observed the following tendencies and stages to be roughly cyclical in my creative clients:
Building up of energy
Making plans, generating ideas and designs
Completion and editing phase
Sharing and excitement phase
Deescalation of energy
Lowered creative energy/creative block.
This cycle also follows the model of diametrically opposed traits we looked at a few posts back (remember the pair of high/low energy?) Speaking of, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi also has his five stages of creativity:
Preparation (becoming immersed/interested in a topic or problem)
Incubation (subconscious marination when we make connections and work on the problem)
Insight (“AHA!” Moment)
Evaluation (is your newly birthed idea worth following)
Elaboration (the most time and energy is spent here- where you do the creative work)
Though named and grouped differently, both models generally outline the same cycle: germinate, build, produce, disseminate and ebb.
Thinking about this, take a moment to look at where your process might fit into these cycles. Have you been producing lots of ideas and work without a distinct direction? You may be generating/incubating. Landed on a concept but not sure how to produce? Maybe you have your idea and insight and need to push into creation to move forward.
If you know where you are in the cycle, you can more easily identify what to do next. You begin to understand and flesh out the nuances of your own creative cycle and therefore how to best operate within it. Start with the basic framework and let it percolate- what is your creative cycle like? Where do you spend the most time within it? What might you want to change about how you move through it? Come sit in my chair and lets explore, problem solve and keep you creating!
(C) 2018 Creatively, LLC
Creative Prompt for Getting Unstuck
I toyed with lots of great topics for today’s Creatively blog, and finally this seemed to feel right. I want to give you another creative exercise prompt. The goal of this is to get your creative juices flowing, help you hone in on your unique creative voice, and get unstuck if you are feeling in a rut.
To preface the exercise, I want to tie it into Person Centered Therapy. This is an approach that I use often in sessions. Simply put, the focus is to follow your “organismic valuing process” or your innate sense of happiness, to become “congruent” or your most fulfilled self. The work in this approach focuses on finding other voices creating rules, judgments and external imposed values, and separate these from what organically, intrinsically makes us tick.
In the creative world, part of the building blocks of the creative process is to learn fundamentals, study the “greats” and educate ourselves with the current masters in our creative avenues. We spend time in schools, classes, trainings, online, in libraries, in galleries, at shows and more to absorb, imitate, and learn. At some point as artists, we need to step away from this and find out what is uniquely ours. This is not a simple or a short journey, and I do not mean to minimize it by putting it in basic terms. It can take years and usually is not a static thing. But- where to start?
Like in Person Centered Therapy, I want you to try to find your organismic, innate, voice. What are your tendencies, preferences, lenses? What does your gut tell you to do? This will require you to quiet down right/analytical/educated brain and “feel” into your work. In the creative world what makes you unique- the only thing that stands you apart- is your individual perspective and what comes naturally from you. This is what we want to tap into.
So for this exercise:
Take a moment to try and quiet your inner critic and “committee” of what your work/good work/ any work “should be,” is considered “good,” is considered “fresh,” “relevant,” etc. Close your eyes and feel into the part of yourself that is uniquely and individually you. Embrace and affirm this person. Ask it- “what do you feel?”
Now, preparing and allowing for the work you are about to create to not be you best masterpiece, allow, having settled into your unique sense of self, advise you what to do. Create a piece that is not analytical, educated, skillful, or guided by any other judgments or rules- allow it to create itself based on what organically feels right to you.
I know this is very broad and open! It is supposed to be! If you are an artist, feel into what type of media, what type of marks, what colors, subjects and more “feel” like they belong to you. Continue to check in with yourself to quiet the inner voices trying to dictate your choices for any other reasons. Authors- use a similar approach to choose subject, length, type of writing, words used etc. Musicians- what do your instincts tell you to play? Something harmonic? Pleasing? Discordant? Aggressive? Lyrical? Instrumental? Dancers- release the dictation of steps and styles and allow your body to move in a way that “feels right” to your soul.
If you find yourself frustrated, trying too hard, or going back to learned styles, that is ok. Just find again that inner voice and allow it to come back online and push you into your next choice.
Creatives, I would love for this to be a regular practice- for you to find and tap into your innate creative choices, and let this advise the direction you go with your work. Try this exercise, and let’s talk about it- your voice is valuable and unique- explore it, express it, embrace it!
(C) 2018 Creatively, LLC
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is a Creativity Coach, Creativity Counselor and Professional Artist in Sykesville, Maryland. She provides Online Creativity Counseling in Maryland and Virginia, and Online Creativity Coaching throughout the USA, Canada and the UK.
The information provided in this blog is from my own clinical experiences and training. It is intended to supplement your clinical care. Never make major life changes before consulting with your treatment team. If you are unsure of your safety or wellbeing, do not hesitate to get help immediately.