Winter # 12: Creativity depends on emotional management
90% of the work is dealing with our psyche telling us not to do it.
Welcome to Winter, Issue #12 of Making Time. Each week, I share a seasonal perspective on the creative process. This month, my theme is Space to Create. If you’d like to follow along on this year-long experiment, you can subscribe for free.
The hellebores I planted last year are finally blooming, despite the best attempts of the deer to eradicate them, along with every other plant I love.
This weekend, I spent four hours at Oliver Burkeman’s live workshop, Designing Your System for Creativity. I signed up at the last minute, not so much because I felt compelled to design any systems at the moment, but because I’ve received so much wisdom from his newsletter and books that I suspected it would help me in some way.
And while I did come away with a mountain of ideas for better managing my creative input and output, there was one point he made over and over that stuck with me:
Creativity is largely dependent on emotional management.
The primary reason it’s difficult to be creative is that we must face our own emotional roadblocks. All of us are subject to negative thoughts and beliefs that prevent us from creating in the ways we want. Some examples he gave (to paraphrase):
I’m not ready yet.
My work is unoriginal.
I am overwhelmed by the size of my project.
It won’t be perfect.
I don’t know what to do next.
I don’t have the time/attention right now.
Our mind throws all of these at us to avoid the potential fear and pain that come from the creative act.
What are we so afraid of? We’re afraid of the judgment of others, so we try to short-circuit it first with our own self-judgement. At the same time, we also judge ourselves for not creating.
David Bayles and Ted Orland write in Art & Fear:
"Consider that if artist equals self, then when (inevitably) you make flawed art, you are a flawed person, and when (worse yet) you make no art, you are no person at all! It seems far healthier to sidestep that vicious spiral by accepting many paths to successful artmaking — from reclusive to flamboyant, intuitive to intellectual, folk art to fine art. One of those paths is yours."
In other words, there is no doing it “wrong”, but only finding the path that is right for you. The failures along the way are part of that process, and being able to tolerate them is the emotional capacity at the heart of creativity.
Head, Heart, Hands
Things to make us think, feel, and do.
I am very excited to read Jenny Odell’s new book, Saving Time. Here’s an article about it in The New Yorker. I’ve been working on taking this idea on board, that I will never have enough time to do everything I want, something Oliver Burkeman also emphasizes in Four Thousand Weeks. It’s one of those ideas I believe to be true but just can’t seem to accept, you know?
The emissions of the attention economy are poisoning us all.
Speaking of our dwindling attention spans, here are some ways to increase your ability to pay attention. I’d like to add “work with your hands” to that list. I don’t know if there’s any science to it, but I find it gives my brain a break while allowing me to “think” though my body.
If you’re growing seeds this year, here is some great information on caring for new seedlings.
My dear friend Jen gave me Meera Sodha’s cookbook called East for Christmas, and I’m cooking from it exclusively this week. I’ve made a colorful winter vegetable pilau (delicious!) and the paneer, tomato, and kale saag (excellent with naan).
I suspect that making these lovely DIY bookmarks would be asking for trouble when it comes to The Kittens, but I want to do it anyway. (Instructions are in Finnish, but you can see what’s going on, or use google translate).
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When I was in college, taking creative writing, the professor said something that stuck with me: there is no such thing as "writer's block" as a condition. It doesn't exist. He went on to explain much of what you said Sarai. His point is we alone have the personal ability to get ourselves out of a creative rut.
Speaking of my warped brain, LOVED the article on attention spans. I knew the obvious (such as social media), but never thought about emails ruining our attention spans. As someone who "works" from home, on vacation, sewing, running errands, even working at another job-I can say I'm using email all.day.long on my phone.
It's hard for me to balance because I work for my husband, which allows me to work from home, go on vacation, sew during the day, run errands and occasionally work another job (that I prefer).
It's not quite guilt I feel, so much as a price I pay for flexibility. I think I need to change the structure, though, because my attention span is at an all time worst. I feel like a teenage squirrel.
Yay! I just got myself the book, too! I’m excited to make the laksa, ramen, and all the different tofu preparations.