Today I’m going to solve all of your problems with trusting the creative process!
JUST KIDDING, no one can do that, trusting the creative process is also a process! But this post will still help.
Apologies for the radio silence, but November got carried away and temporarily pushed blogging to the back burner - I’ve been doing too many things! Luckily some of them are pretty cool: planning and attending an educational field trip for APPI to the Guthrie Theater to take a backstage tour, performing 5 new piano pieces at the New Ruckus Composer Night, rehearsing new music with my trio (our cellist Aaron Kerr just wrote us a new piano trio whose influences include minimalism and grindcore(!)), 2 back-to-back studio recitals, some string and vocal accompanying, and prepping for the two concerts I have coming up in November. Note to self - stop letting yourself get this busy, it’s not sustainable!
This month I’m also doing a really fun new project - testing out a set of composition prompts with a small group of people. I created 21 days of bite-size prompts for musicians who have been curious about composing, but maybe need some direction, accountability, or just permission to try it!
This idea has been in the back of my head for over a year now, and the brainstorming really ramped up last month, when my brain had a flood of information for me (though I’d planned on relaxing all day), so I had to capture it, and that’s when I knew it was time to get this thing started.
Overall, I am having so much fun with it, in all phases of the process - brainstorming ideas, editing them and putting them into sequence, writing the daily emails, trying the prompts myself (my favorite so far is an ostinato about a crime-fighting manatee), seeing what others are writing, providing encouragement, and just chatting about the process.
After we finish, and I get some feedback from the people who participated, I’m going to develop it into a helpful resource for getting started with composing - stay tuned for that in early 2018!
I had the typical beginning excitement when starting to write the creative prompts, but of course, once I reached the messy middle phase, I started to feel unsure. I started to avoid working on it, even though it’s something I’m really excited about. This is The Resistance (see The War of Art by Steven Pressfield), and I had to simply tell myself that, though it was slightly uncomfortable to forge onward, this is 100% normal, and I could indeed still work on it even if I didn’t know exactly how it would turn out or if anyone would like it. (I don’t want to pretend that this is easy, I’m still working on it!)
I’ve seen this humorous account of the steps of the creative process in a meme (I don’t know the origin, if you do, please let me know.)
- This is amazing
- This is tricky
- This is terrible
- I am terrible
- This might be okay
- This is awesome!
I think that most of us totally relate to this! It does take a lot of trust and faith to see yourself through #2-4 (especially #4!)
One of the main things that’s kept me from starting creative projects is thinking that I don’t know how to do it, which induces fear because I want to do it right! (Recovering perfectionist here.) And that’s always true - we never really know how to do each project until we’re doing it. So, if you can take the leap to start something, and commit to figuring it out (however you make that happen), you can finish it!
Another thing that has helped me finish projects is letting go of my pre-existing expectations of greatness. Most of the time I have really high expectations, and sometimes they’re even pretty specific. This can be helpful in terms of goal-setting and getting the project done, but it can also hold me back from looking at things in a new way (which is critical in the creative process).
Trusting the process seems scary at first, since it has an element of surrender (especially for those of us who are kind of control freaks...), but once you get used to it, it actually becomes comforting, because it releases some of the responsibility that was previously all on you. The first time I performed at The New Ruckus composer night, someone commented to me, “You obviously have a lot of trust in the process.” I was surprised, because I didn’t realize how much I actually was trusting in the creative process, but also surprised at how relieved I felt that he was right!
Also, if you’ve ever said, “I’m too old to ____”, stop it right now! There are so many people who have started wildly successful habits (and careers) later in life. Ask yourself, “Would I rather be starting at age [your age + 10]?” (I’m guessing not.) Just start, take a tiny step first!
“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”
- Chinese proverb
By showing up every day, you’re telling the universe/creative forces/whatever-it-is that you’re committed and that you trust that ideas will come to you. We all have days where we feel stuck, but most days when I show up at the piano, something good happens. Those other days are still valuable - even an idea that seems bad at first can often be sculpted into something useful, but if not, oh well, you’re reinforcing your creative habit. Then, on a really good day, you might get into a flow state where you have no idea what time it is or if you missed lunch! If you don’t keep up the daily habit, you might miss out!
Giving your creativity a personality
This one might sound a little weird, but it’s way easier to trust a person than an amorphous concept, so, give your creativity a name! I’m not sure what form I view my creativity as being, but I have taken to talking about it like it’s a separate entity, because it kind of is! New ideas don’t usually come from my logical brain, they pop up, sometimes seemingly out of nowhere. Oftentimes when I’m sitting at the piano composing, I stop and “play back” what I’ve written in my head, to see what I hear / what my ears tell me to write next, and it might be weird, but I usually think, “Okay, ears, I don’t know where you’re taking me, but I’m on board. Lead me to the next spot.” I don’t think that my creativity just comes from my ears (it’s a bit more mystical than that), but I like thinking of it as a certain personality.
On the podcast The Type A Creative (it’s great, check it out), Jenni Brown now likes to ask each guest what they’d name their right brain, inspired by the episode with Elle Luna (who runs the 100 Day Project that I participated in earlier this year). Elle's right brain is named Firecracker Princess, BTW. I have to work on finding a name for mine!
Creativity begets creativity
If you can create more space for thinking (walks, long showers, drawing without extraneous noise, etc.), you’re supporting your creative habit, too. I’m not talking about a lot of time - you could start with 10 minutes and it’ll expand from there. Even though I feel really busy lately, when I have a project going that I’m really excited about, it’s so much easier to get through and ENJOY every day. Consider the overall ratio of projects in your life that take more energy vs. those that give energy back to you (for me, that’s creative projects). I think that ratio being off is what led me to burnout earlier this year, and letting my own vision guide me makes me much happier.
Also, the more creative projects I do, the more different kinds of creative projects I want to do, and the more it spills over into other aspects of my life. For instance, in the last month, I’ve gotten really into drawing, just out of personal interest and the desire for a screen-less activity to do later in the evenings, and I find that while I’m drawing, ideas come to me easily, because my brain is not so distracted and can wander around more. Universe, I’m getting your message - I need to do more of this!
You can do it too
Pep talk time: If starting a creative habit or trusting the creative process seems scary or unattainable to you, that’s 100% normal, but you can still move forward with those projects you’ve been putting off. (For some actionable tips on keeping up a creative habit, see this post.) You’re in great company; this struggle to birth creative work has been undertaken by so many great artists over thousands of years. Committing to regularly engaging in the creative process is difficult, but ultimately rewarding; that's what keeps me coming back for more!
If you have a creative struggle that you want to share, I’m all ears, and I'll help if I can - feel free to share it in the comments below!