Capricorn Heart: The Goat = perseverence, photo by Janet Riehl
Column by Janet Grace Riehl with Stephanie Farrow
Last month we discussed what creativity is and isn’t. [1.1 “What Is Creativity, Anyway?“] It isn’t flirting with whimsical ideas or attending a weekend workshop. It is doing the hard work of tapping into and harvesting our own raw life source. It requires establishing a sustained creative practice. I sometimes write it as an equation: Connection to Source + Sustained Work = Creative Practice.
What does a creative practice look like? How do we go about establishing one? In other words, what are good work habits, and how can we develop them?
A writing practice goes beyond journaling. Julie Cameron made writing morning pages popular, and they’re a creative vehicle for many writers. A sustained creative practice, however, takes it farther. As a Buddhist might put it, morning pages are the finger pointing at the moon, rather than the moon itself. In a regular creative practice, you’re designing, building, and working toward a goal—the moon. You are writing with a purpose, not writing randomly and hoping for the best.
You and your muse. Don’t wait for inspiration to come to you. What if the Muse shows up and you’re not there? She can’t meet up with you
if she doesn’t know where you are. Setting a regular time and place is your
Time and Timing. Decide how much time it’s reasonable for you to write each day. What time of day is best? Factor in your biorhythms and your personal schedule. Maybe you’ll write your “morning” pages at midnight after the kids are in bed. When my father worked as a manual laborer, he wrote in the company locker room on days when they couldn’t work outside. Make choices you’re reasonably sure you can maintain.
A cheap date. Decide on a place to write. Some folks prefer public places with lots happening, like Natalie Goldberg who famously writes in cafes. Others work better in quiet surroundings without much outside stimulation. Don’t feel like you have to take the Muse out anywhere special—inviting her for a cup of tea in the living room is enough. When you’re starting out, keep the place you choose as constant as possible.
Ink it in. Make an appointment. Write the time and place on your calendar—in pen, not pencil. You wouldn’t stand up friend, so don’t stand up your muse. If you can’t make the appointment, don’t beat yourself up; simply reschedule.
Pumping iron. Start slow and work up to longer practice periods. You’ll be able to write longer and more productively the longer you work at it. Focus on developing consistency and perseverance—the power lifting of a creative practice. Relying on inspiration alone is for weaklings.
There’s an apocryphal story of a man who could lift a horse unaided. Asked how he did it, he said that as a boy he picked up a newly born foal every day and continued the exercise as he and the horse grew up. Finally, as a young man, he had the strength to pick up the horse without breaking a sweat. You can do the same in your creative practice.
Our January Creative Catalyst blog (1.3) will be about tapping into our creative source, using an exercise to get started. In the meantime, work on establishing a solid creative practice: Set a time; set a place; and P-U-M-P that creative iron.
I’ll be fielding questions about practical creativity—the one that emerges over time through practice. You can pose your questions via comments on this post, or directly to me, via email. You’ll find my contact email at www.riehlife.com