Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Developing Creativity

Another cool, cloudy morning -- and I even slept with the windows open and the AC off last night, so I got a really good rest. I can't believe this is July in Texas. It has occurred to me that the streak of really hot, dry days ended not long after I bought a new swimsuit. Since then, the only days suitable for swimming have been when I had something else going on. I'm not taking the credit for changing the weather, but I do find it somewhat amusing. If I'd known that all I needed to do to get cool summer weather was buy a swimsuit, I'd have done it ages ago. Alas, I suspect once August hits we'll be back to normal, which will be a huge shock to my body. I've already started going into "fall" mode.

As part of the Ongoing Plan for World Domination, I've been digging into some things that might give me a different perspective and boost my creativity. A few years ago -- well, actually, longer than that, probably more like ten years ago (Ack! Where has the time gone?) -- one of the big things in writing groups was The Artist's Way. I know my local group had at least one seminar on it, there were tapes about it in our group's tape library, and the author was a featured speaker at one of the RWA conferences. Essentially, it's a "creative recovery" program designed to help you find and nurture your inner artist so you can be more creative and live your destined creative life. I bought the program book back in the fall of 2001 when I was at a very low point. I'd had a book on the market for more than a year with no response, my then-agent was practically snubbing me, I hadn't managed to make anything I was writing work, and my day job had even started dragging me down. I tried a couple of times to get through the program and usually lost interest a few weeks into it (it goes to 12 weeks).

I thought I'd dig it out again and give it another shot, and I think I've figured out why I never finished it. It's actually pretty discouraging and depressing. I feel like it encourages a victim mentality and a kind of paranoia. The first few weeks are all about finding the "monsters" in your past who have kept you from living a creative life or who might sabotage your attempts at becoming more creative. So, your third-grade teacher correcting your spelling on an essay and not praising your writing is a monster whose influence is even now keeping you from being the creative person you're destined to be (I'm not exaggerating -- that's one of the examples in the book). Meanwhile, you're supposed to be wary about who you talk about your creative recovery to (oops! Does the whole Internet count?) because many of those people will be blocked creatives who will be jealous of your progress and try to bring you down so they won't have to face the fact that they're blocked.

My issue with this is that I don't feel like I really have any monsters in my past. Yes, there have been people who dared to (gasp!) criticize me or my work, but if I allow them to keep me from pursuing my creativity, that's my fault. I can see that someone who was genuinely emotionally abused might have trouble finding the safe emotional space to create, but if the fact that your fifth-grade teacher didn't put the picture you drew on the wall is the reason you didn't become an artist, then you didn't really want to become an artist. Blaming this person for you not fulfilling your destiny seems counterproductive, and I don't see where writing an angry letter to this person (not to be mailed) is going to help all that much. I felt like this part of the program was encouraging me to dredge up negativity and deny my own responsibility. When I look at the places where I've taken the safe path or avoided doing something, it's been because of me, not because of anyone else. I controlled my reactions and allowed myself to become so discouraged that I couldn't write when I got a lot of rejections. I still have no idea where the fear of singing in public came from, but I can't think of anything any person did or said to help generate that. And I actually feel more empowered by taking responsibility for all this because that means I can change it. As for sabotage on the road to recovery, I have had people in my life who've resented the amount of time I spent writing, but I think it really was about the time and my priorities, not because they were jealous of my creativity.

I probably am coming at this from a different angle than most people, though, because I am living a creative life. My job is writing books. I'm not an accountant who's always dreamed of being a painter but never tried because it wasn't practical. I'm doing what I want to do, just not as well or as successfully as I'd like to do it. So, for instance, one of the things you're supposed to do each week is have an "artist's date" where you go do something alone that allows you to get in touch with your "inner artist child" and carve out time for yourself. But 98 percent of my time is spent like that. What I need is to do the opposite, and make time to interact with other people so I don't get stuck inside my own head.

So, I'm probably not doing all this the right way, but I think that thinking about it has been good for me, and we'll see if I get any new insights once I get past the point where I usually lose interest. What does seem to be helping is the "morning pages," where you write three pages of anything that pops into your head as soon as you wake up. I've found it a good place to brainstorm, almost like thinking out loud on paper. I don't know if there's a link to the fact that I've been getting more work done lately, or if my decision to play with this program again stems from an increased dedication that's affecting all of my work. Whatever, I'm getting more work done and having more interesting ideas that seem to be going beyond my usual boundaries.

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