Without structure, there can be no creativity. Routine, repetition, rules, structure: these are not the words that most people think of when discussing creativity. Indeed, they are ideas that many creative people reject.
And yet, when you dig deeper and ask more questions, everyone has their little tricks, favoured places, rituals, lucky charms. The same things by different names.
For people who might consider themselves non-creative, this is good news. It means that, by tackling your creative project or idea in the same way you would a sport or a business skill, you can get better at it.
The reasons creative hate this idea is that it takes away the magic. The magic of seemingly effortless work. But what people mostly forget is their history: the years of interest, of dabbling and practising that led to the point of magic, of seemingly effortless work. (and forgetting history also possibly also explain why many creatives massively under-value their own work)
When one watches top sportsmen do their thing, do not reflect on the hours of training. We witness the beauty and call it genius, talent and magic. And yet, for the artist, a lot of the same mechanic is at play.
Modern neuroscience has revealed that Human beings are notoriously bad at multi-tasking What routine and practice (rituals, tricks and lucky charms) give us is access to a well-oiled, automated process… a skill if you like, while our conscious focus is elsewhere. It’s what Mihaly Csikzentimihalyi calls FLOW … a mindless zone where magic appears to happen.
But it’s a zone that is closed to people who have no craft, no discipline and little practice. To get into flow you need a bell like Pavlov’s dog, that makes you metaphorically drool. And this is why it is so important to develop an awareness of what YOUR creative bell is. You need to find ways of automating some processes so that others can take place.
In his book, On Writing, Stephen King lays his process out in stark, unsparing lines: the same place at the same time for the same amount of time every day. He is SO habituated to write when he is in that time and space that he basically doesn’t have to think about it.
In a Paris Review interview in 2004 Haruki Murakami said,
“When I’m in writing mode for a novel, I get up at four a.m. and work for five to six hours. In the afternoon, I run for ten kilometers or swim for fifteen hundred meters (or do both), then I read a bit and listen to some music. I go to bed at nine p.m.
I keep to this routine every day without variation. The repetition itself becomes the important thing; it’s a form of mesmerism. I mesmerize myself to reach a deeper state of mind.”
From my own experience I can tell you that if I strong multiple days together of working on the same task, the focus becomes sharper, what needs to happen next clearer and the pile of completed work seems to grow like magic. I KNOW that you can write an 80 000 word novel in 3 months… just write 1 500 words every weekday.
So how do you find your routine, your own Pavlov’s bell? Well, have a good look at yourself. Are you a morning person or a night person? When is a quiet time of day that you van claim as your own? Do you prefer solitude or
companionable noise? Look for the intersection of these kinds of ideas until you come up with a place and a time of day that you can block of fin your diary and lable: Writing/Sculpting/Song writing. And then DO it. Every day. Get fit.
What do you do next? Do it again. And again, until it sticks. Do not ever judge what you do in this time. Just go to your space and do your time. Like any habit, it will take at least two weeks before it begins to feel comfortable, maybe longer if you’re really rusty. And then, like magic, clarity will begin to emerge. Just focus on the doing and don’t worry about the quality or the beauty of it. Hone your craft: focus on technique, on style, on themes.
When you’re fit, find a project, plan it carefully (not totally to the last detail… where’s the fun in that!??!) and put it into the routine. Set a deadline for the first version and go. I promise you, you’ll be amazed what you can create on demand when you are fit and your tools are sharp and shiny with use.