Celebrating the essential human quality of creativity
Establishing a Daily Creative Practice
If you’ve ever had a creative practice, you know it takes more than just thinking about it to make it happen. It takes commitment, action, the support of family and friends and, most importantly, time. When life gets busy, creative practice is often one of the first casualties.
We may find it easy to dismiss creativity as less urgent than, say, cleaning or social obligations, and less desirable a form of self-care than exercise or mindfulness. While creative practice lacks the body of scientific evidence that brought mindfulness to popularity, they both support a healthy mind. It could be said that mindfulness promotes stillness, while creativity promotes vitality, new ideas and agile movement through the twists and turns of daily life. It’s an energy that rejuvenates.
Establishing a daily practice is one of the best ways to connect with this energy. As with mindfulness, regular practice of creativity cultivates this quality it and promotes access to it regardless of circumstances.
One of the misconceptions about daily practice is that if we stop, even for a short time, we have failed. The fact is that success is not measured by intentions or regrets, but by actions. This is true for any practice, from meditation to athletic training. Only when self-berating thoughts keep us from our practice do we truly fail. To put it another way, one of the nicest things about having a practice is this: when you stop thinking about it and just do it then you get to stop thinking. And that feels pretty good.
Creativity is often confused with skill, as the aim is usually to make something beautiful or something whose beauty could be easily perceived by many. The baggage around creativity can therefor be heavy because we are easily disappointed in our creations. Too often people say things like, “Well, I practiced for two weeks and didn’t get better, so I guess it must not be my thing.”
Instead of practicing as if for a performance, practice creativity as you would practice meditation, with commitment. The commitment is the cake, while the results are just the icing. Even if we come to the practice grouchy and graceless, we learn that it brings catharsis and grace. By releasing expectations, we make way for beautiful things to occur.
Creativity is like a river and it is often referred to as a flow. When you begin, the river won’t be flowing very much, and that’s okay. Don’t look at that tiny trickle and think of it as a negative reflection upon you. The fact is that creative practice is what makes room for the flow. An artist is someone who has mastered the art of making room.
Imagine for a moment that you’re digging a canal. Every day you show up and dig a few more inches, and the water flows there. The next day you dig a few more inches and more water flows. But some days you show up and the whole damn thing is filled with dust and you can’t even see the water. On those days, would you get angry with the water for not flowing, or with the canal for not being wide enough? No. You’d scoop the dust away, handful after handful, until you saw that tiny trickle begin again. You’d do what you had to do, knowing that you just haven’t gotten there yet. You’d commit to the long game.
Establish your practice
Daily creative practice should be consistent and heartfelt. Consistency promotes skill and intimacy; if you bounce around too much from one creative activity to another, you won’t get to know a craft and you won’t get to know yourself through it. While a little bouncing around is fine, ensure that you have at least one practice you return to more days than not.
The most important thing is to be heartfelt. When the ego wants to get caught up in mastery or competition, remind yourself that you are doing this for yourself, not your ego. There is a big difference.
Here are some other considerations for creative practice:
- Determine the method, choose a medium, or choose a type of expression. For example, if you both write and play music, you may opt to improvise in either practice for thirty minutes a day.
- Determine the length of time. There are no hard-and-fast rules. Some people may block off an entire day while for others a half hour may do. Give yourself enough time to warm up, experience some degree of flow, and wind down/edit/clean-up.
- Determine the time of day that you always do this, particularly if you are very busy. Setting a time can help you avoid making excuses. On the other hand, your temperament or schedule may let you be flexible and still find a regular rhythm.
- Determine the place, one free of distraction. If it’s a shared space, inform people when you will be practicing so you won’t be disturbed. Give some attention to setting up the space so it is pleasant and you have what you need.
- Define your obstacles. Many things can get in the way, including time limitations, lack of ability (real or perceived) and lack of self-worth. Be honest with yourself about these things; every artist in the history of time has had them. Talk to people you trust, such as a counselor or close friend. Above all, be gentle with yourself as you find ways to monitor your self-defeating thoughts and continue anyway.
- Determine any support you will need. This is important and often overlooked. If you’re a musician, look after your instruments and purchase the accessories you need; if you’re a painter, purchase brushes you enjoy using; if you write, find a book that feels great in your hand and fits well in your bag. Clear things up with your loved ones so they know when you will be practicing and unavailable. This might mean saying no to all social engagements on Saturday mornings. It might mean agreeing with your husband or wife that you’ll close the door for thirty minutes a day or four hours every weekend, and you only want to be interrupted in emergencies. If people don’t get why this is important, simply explain, “This is important to me; it’s something I need, just like some people need to jog or go to church.” Use whatever analogy will make it most clear to the person you’re speaking to.
When you commit to a creative practice, you’re making way for creativity to flow. Establishing a daily practice isn’t easy, but I assure you it can be done. Day by day, you can make room for creativity until it is a rushing river once again, nourishing you and your life.
Andrea Bussinger, M.Ed. is a singer-songwriter and creativity coach. Having worked as a therapist for three years in the U.S., she came to Toronto in 2013, where she revived her own creative practice and developed a framework for helping others connect deeply with creativity. Andrea believes creativity is a tool for cultivating personal growth, clarity and awareness of our fullest potential. Check out her coaching website for more info: Ordinary Dreams