In the last post I wanted to explore how mindfulness could help the creative process. I’m a writer and I was finding my creativity a little sapped. Whenever I sat down to write (and it wasn’t often enough – I’ve been very good at procrastination lately) I found my writing a little stilted and awkward. I felt as if I was trying to mine each word from my subconscious and it was slow, painful and clumsy.
I needed to find another way. I needed to find my flow, that feeling when you’re so in the moment of creating, that the words/art seem to come from somewhere deeper. It feels effortless. You feel connected to your art.
Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way uses a technique called the morning pages. You write three sides of A4 everyday. It’s not journalling as such. It’s pure stream of consciousness writing. It’s a great way to free up your creative side and to find a looseness in your creativity that might be lacking. She advocates doing it every day, just letting the pen meet the page for those three sides of paper and ignoring the inner critic. It doesn’t matter if it’s good or bad. It doesn’t even matter if it makes sense. You don’t read the pages back. You either put them in an envelope and file them a way or turn the page and forget about them. It’s purely about the activity, the doing it. It’s not about the end result. After two to three weeks you will find you feel more creative, looser. I can guarantee it works. I’ve used this technique many many times.
I was interested in taking this practice further. Could the same process be used for visual art? Could you do morning canvases for example?
At its simplest, it is mindful creativity so I don’t see why not. I think the morning pages are still an essential tool in our repertoire of being more creative but I think we can expand on that.
This was my idea for constructing a creative mindful process:
- If you are new to creating in your chosen medium and the whole thing terrifies you. Try this. I’ve lost count of the number of people who have said ‘I have a great idea for novel/story/book, but how do I get started?’ There is only one way. I suggest sitting in front of the keyboard (canvas/sketchpad/notebook) and just doing it. Set a timer for 30 minutes to begin with. Open up a blank document (or pick up your pen, paintbrush, pencil or whatever) and just write (draw, paint etc.) for those 30 minutes. Do not stop to think. Just meet the page. One word after another or one line stroke after another. Keep going. It doesn’t matter if it’s good or bad. Just keep going.
- If your mind wanders or you freeze, don’t worry. It’s natural. Just return it to the action of writing, putting one word in front of the other, one brush stroke after the other. It doesn’t need to look good, make sense. It’s just the process of creating that you’re interested in.
- If you find yourself criticising what you or doing or wanting to give up, recognise the thought and let it pass. Just another leaf in the stream passing below. Observe. Let go. None of it matters.
- Soon, you will learn to just enjoy the flow of creating. Keep setting the timer for 30 minutes when you create. I recommend you do this every day for at least two weeks. What you’re doing is creating a creative habit. Once you’ve got that creative habit going, try expending the timer to 45 minutes, then an hour. One day you will sit down to write, draw or paint and you will suddenly realise you’ve been at it for two hours or more but it felt like minutes. Congratulations – you’ve made a mindful creative habit!
So how did you do? Reading back, I realise that number 3 is easier said than done. How do you simply let go of your inner critic?
In answer to that, there’s a couple of important things to bear in mind. Some attention needs to be paid to where that inner critic comes from. Whose voice does it have? Where in your past does it originate? Pablo Picasso famously said,
All children are artists. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.
It requires a little digging. Was there a teacher who said you weren’t really a writer or said your drawings didn’t look like X or Y? Was it a parent who was well-meaning and trying to protect you who said you were wasting your time and you should be focusing on proper pursuits that would earn you money? Once you can recognise where the inner critic originates, you can mindfully acknowledge it, thank it for trying to protect you but firmly remind it that its wrong.
We’re all good enough to express ourselves. Everyone has a unique perspective on the world and a voice that should be heard through their chosen medium. There is no good or bad art – only art that one person prefers over another because it resonates with their unique world view too.
The other element in letting go of the inner critic is repetition. With repetition and practise, it becomes habit. You will find, like meditation and mindfulness – the more you do it, the more control you have over your thoughts.
That’s one thing that people mistakenly believe about creativity – that by being more creative they will lose control. I used to have that fear. I felt as if by being creative I would lose the control and order of my rational mind. The thing is that creativity actually takes an awful lot of focus and practise. There’s nothing sloppy or dangerously wild about it all. It’s about finding the confidence to not to worry – to focus on the thing you enjoy – the pure act of creating.