Daily Verse – Three Things on Your To-Do List.

Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.

Romans 12:12 NIVUK

We are used to productivity gurus and time-management geniuses giving us the number one rule – have one main thing on your list, have five things, have as many as you can think of but only to the top two, etc. etc.

In this verse, the Apostle Paul puts three things on our to-do list.

Hope. Patience. Prayer.

The same three things every day.

Hope – elpis – to anticipate, to be expectant, to have confidence.

Patience – hupomenó (this is the only occurence) – to endure, to remain, to have fortitude, to persevere.

Prayer – proseuché – to pray, to worship, to be earnest in prayer.

Paul is always quite clever in the way he gives us the ‘big focus’ of our faith but also adds in qualifiers almost without notice.

Not only are we to have Hope, Patience, and Prayer, as central to our days, but we also have rejoicing, affliction, and constancy.

We are to rejoice in our hope – chairó – be glad, cheerful, calmly happy.

We are to be patient in affliction – thlipsis – trouble, burden, under pressure.

We are to be faithful in prayer – proskartereó – to continue, be diligent, to adhere to.

Paul’s to-do list isn’t one to be ticked off and consigned to the ‘completed’ archive or filing cabinet of diaries, it remains our priority everyday. We may not tick the items off everyday, but we still have the chance to do it the following day.

So rejoice in the hope of our lives with God.

Be patient in difficult and troublesome times.

Be faithful in our Prayers to God and he will lead us in both hope and difficulty.

The ‘Chicken and the Egg’ Guide for Creatives?

It is a common catchphrase – which came first, the chicken or the egg? – which appears to have a simple answer, either way, until you come to justify it.

Apparently, it was Plutarch which first posed the question in the 1st Century AD, addressing the problems of origin and first cause. Aristotle, writing four centturies earlier wouldn’t even have considered the question as he believed there was no true origin.

By the close of the Sixteenth Century the Christian world didn’t even consider the dilema as God made, or created, everything. By the Twentieth Century Evolutionary Biologists decided the answer had to be the ‘Egg’ as they calculated that the first hard shelled egg – not laid in water – couldn’t have happened until about 312 Million years ago.

So what has 2000-312,000,000 year old debate have to do with creativity?

To answer the much more pressing question of whether I am procrastinating or not!

If the egg = researching for searching for the creative impulse and chicken = actually doing the creative thing, then you are looking at the problem as I am.

I am new to art and, although I have always loved looking at art and watched lots of documentaries on art movements and artists, I am acutely aware of the lack of reference points and natural triggers I possess when I come to do the creative action.

So I research. A lot.

The it struck me, this morning as I glanced at my still empty sketchbook pages for the day, that most of the time I had for the action of creativity was in fact being taken up by the research to obtain the creative triggers, to then be creative.

So which comes first?

Creative Action?

Or Creative Thought?

Ironically, as a writer I would definitely tick the box of Creative Action. I usually start with the thinnest sliver of a starting point – maybe a few words or a person walking or entering a building – then I write. As I write the Creative Thought occurs and I get the next scene or chapter developing in my head.

As an artist the process is definitely the reverse.

Perhaps it is because there are more elements to taking action? What type of surface, what type of meduim, brushes or palette knives, sketch an outline or simply apply the paint?

In general though, how does your creativity arrive?

If you are a person of faith, or an evolutionary biologist, then you maybe decisively fall on one side or the other of the debate. Or perhaps you give the answer of certitude ‘well, it depends . . . ‘

I appear to have a foot in both camps.

My faith make me certain that the chicken came first, and if it turns out the egg was created before the chicken, then the whole creation thing happened anyway, so the principle is still proven.

I beleive that creativity comes from the Creator.

So my creative thinking process is, as I have begun to suspect, an elaborate means of procrastination.

But taking time to think and research has definitely furnished me with many creative ideas and actions!

However, if I fill in the time sheet of thought versus action, then the beginning of the Bible would go like this:

In the beginning, God took five and a half days to do research then realised it was almost the Day of Rest, so he decided to do a final bit of research and then wrote in his planner to definitely create something first thing on Sunday!

(Saturday is the Jewish Sabbath – just in case you were wondering.)

So, maybe you are like me and you are certain you’re pretty sure you know which comes first?!

Then again both options are creative, so what does it matter?

Or maybe this brings us onto another age old debate?

If a tree falls in a wood with no one there to hear it, does it make a sound?

Or, are you only being creative if there is an end product to prove it?

Go and be creatively thoughtful or creatively creative, and I will join you.

Line Up Your Shoes.

It is traditional when entering a Japanese home to take off your shoes and place them together, neatly, inside the hallway. These shoes should also be pointing out of the building, prepared and ready for your outward journey.

Creative types come in all shapes and sizes – like people really,

There is a romantic notion of creative genius being messy and chaotic but creating beauty out of it.

For some of us that might be true – messy and chaotic at the very least.

Others may be ordered and organised.

I have no judgement on either type, but I will confess that I can easily slip into one but prefer being the other – you can decide which.

One of the traditional ways of craftspeople and artists in Japan I admire the most is their focus on their tools and the process of creating.

For them, their tools are an extention of their movements and the process is part of the creativity.

Preparation and tool placement is very much like the chef’s mise en place.

Every thought and movement you make in the process of your creativity, helps to form the final piece.

Wasted movements take away from the creativity.

Searching for a brush you know is somewhere in a drawer, running out of a tube of paint in the process of application, trying to find the piece of paper you wrote that chord progression on in the footwell of your car, all interrupt and divert.

Organisation my not be a ‘creative’ word, but preparation and making the process as smooth as possible will have a fantastic impact upon your creativity.

Like lining up your shoes for the next journey, line up your tools for the process of creating.

Creative Mindfulness.

Mindfulness is the new mantra covering a lot of areas from simple meditation to a mental health checklist.

Some meditation and mindfulness techniques exhort you to think of ‘nothing’.

Hit the eco-setting, dim the screen, go to a blank screen rather than screensaver.

If you are a creative then this is probably impossible.

If you have managed it, I would argue that it may not benefit you.

Being creative is who you are and not a menu-setting.

Imagine asking a dancer not to move their body whilst you play a piece of music – they would probably cause you of being cruel.

Whether you are a writer, musician, or artist, you are tuned to be creative.

It is how you respond to your environment. It is how you communicate. It is you.

So, rather than emptying your mind, sit for a short period and reflect upon your creativity.

What are you happy about in your output? What are you finding difficult? What are you being drawn to which is new?

Afterwards, write down the strongest thought which came to you.

Pursue it.

Be creative with it.

Create.

What Would You Do With 47% Extra Time?

A study, led by Harvard, claims that an average ‘knowledge’ worker works in a state of distraction for 47% of their time.

Flip this around.

By being more focused they could accomplish the same amount of work in half the time.

Or potentially double their output.

Just because we are ‘creatives’ it doesn’t mean we don’t get distracted, or it doesn’t matter if we are distracted.

So how effectively can you focus?

Remember that multi-tasking is a myth – your brain focuses on each task by rapid switching, so you only ever do one task at a time.

Phone messages. Phone calls. Social Media. Changing the tunes. Not being clear on the task you will execute in a defined period of time. Not being prepared with everything you need for that task.

Any improvement in your habits or discipline, which impact that 47%, will result in a significant improvement.

Professional cycling team Ineos – formally Team Sky – are as famous for their 1% rule as they are their Tour de France victories.

Try and improve everything you do by 1%.

Over time those 1%s add up to something incredible.

  • Prepare properly – have everything you need where you need it.
  • Schedule specific tasks in your calendar and put a time limit on it.
  • Use a timer to keep you on track.
  • Limit the amount of time you need to switch away from your task – if you are hinting for 90mins don’t have a playlist which only lasts 55mins, for example.

You can Log/Record what you do in the time you devote to your creative endeavours, to see how personally bad the problem is for you. Every time you stop doing your intended task make a quick written or voice note.

Review it and do what you can to delete those clear distractions. See how much of that 47% you can gain back.

(The distraction of keeping the log doesn’t count!).

Chase Jarvis – Creative Calling – Pt.1

You know who Chase Jarvis is right? You’ve heard of CreativeLive?

No? Then hit the links before reading any further.

It’s okay. I’ll wait for you.

Sorted? Great!

Now we all are familiar with Chase and his amazing team in CreativeLive, then let’s get into his book Creative Calling.

This book is his blueprint and experience of living a full life of creativity and harnessing the energy of your talents to live the life you truly want.

It covers all types of creative impulses and outlets.

Chase puts out a massive amount of free content in personal sharings, interviews with the top creatives and entrepreneurs in the game. There is a mass of free content on the CreativeLive site as well.

The latest offering from Chase is the Creative Calling Book Club.

This is a free 6-weekly class where you are tutored and taken through the key elements of the book with Chase Jarvis himself, for about an hour. There is usually a long Q&A session at the end as well. It takes place live each Saturday – 6pm UK time – but the content is then up on webpage shortly after.

In this post I want to share the main takeaways from Week 1.

The first takeaway is in essence a daily mantra for creatives:

  • We are all Creative!
  • Believe Creativity is a muscle!
  • Do small Creative acts in daily ways.

You don’t need to see a painter cut off his ear to know that being creative is just as much an emotional/passionate state of being as it is a job of work like any other, needing continual inspiration and daily input.

We are all Creative – most of us need to use it – that part of us – more regularly.

In fact Chase has a saying which puts this the best: Do the verb to be the noun.

You have probably heard of writer’s block? I’m not sure if there is an equivalent in other artists’ endeavours? Painter’s Block . . . Embroiderer’s Block . . . Musician’s Block . . ?

Creativity is a muscle. So what’s your daily work out and is it in your calendar alongside your physical workout?

You’ve not got either? Then that’s a whole different blog post!

Athletes don’t just train a couple of times a week. Most will train everyday, but they vary what they do and tailor workouts to specific skills in their disciplines or areas of their bodies.

Small Creative acts in daily ways. If I focus on writing, which is my predominant creative sphere, then I need to write everyday on my main project. I also need to do research. I need to read other writer’s words and see how they do their thing. I need to play around with words – use them, flip them around, drop them into different orders, see what happens and what they can do.

How do these three elements fit into you creative sphere?

The next big takeaway is IDEA.

  • I – Imagine what you want
  • D – Design a system to do it!
  • E – Execute the plan!
  • A – Amplify

What do you want from your creativity? Is it a full time career? Is it the ‘me’ time you rarely get? Is it to create art for your family and friends? The what is a value set against a graph it is the sum of your desire for your creativity.

Once you’ve decided (and it is okay to change your mind!) what you want then you need to design a system to accomplish that want. There are plenty of generic systems out there but you need to design one which fits your current life and circumstances. How much time can you put aside each day? When? What sequence do you need to create in? Get your system!

Now you have the want and the system, you’ve got to execute! Start creating and keep doing it, in line with your system, every day, or the days you’ve allocated to being creative. This is down to you. You may have the support of family and friends to help and encourage you, but ultimately it is you in the cockpit – fly the plane!

To finish with you need to amplify. Take your system and improve it, build upon it, make it slicker or bigger. Develop your want and alter it, enlarge it. Increase the time you spend on your creative endeavour. Change the days you do each element on. Switch to every other day but increase the time in one go. The choices are yours to make.

Chase Jarvis and CreativeLive – they’ve made a huge difference to my creative attitude and output. See what they can do for you.

(And no, I’m not being paid my them – they don’t even know I’m here!)

It is okay not to finish (at the moment).

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Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash

I am sure I’m not alone in this.

Sometimes you just can’t finish a project.

You hit a wall. You lose the thread. A character doesn’t follow the plot line you have carefully constructed for them.

I’m sure it happens to artists and musicians also.

As a writer you normally do two things.

First, you give up; thus proving that you probably aren’t really good enough to be a writer after all. Second, you become belligerent and try and force the character, or plot, into fitting into the shape you created for it.

I’ve done both.

But, more recently, I’ve been learning there is a third way.

And it is easier than the other two.

You just close the notebook or electronic file and open up a new one.

Then, every now and again, let your creative mind wander back to the project and see if anything new occurs to you.

Let me give you an example.

I will call the project White Ladder.

White Ladder started with an image of two old men talking in a room one evening. They see a news clip of a new movie actress wowing audiences. It turns out that one of the men knew her mother.

That image and about 400 words, of mostly dialogue, was over 20 years ago.

It just never got past that initial stage.

A couple of years ago I heard a radio programme which focused on particular musicians and their defining albums. They played some of the songs and talked about the inspirations and processes of making the albums.

The one I listened to was David Gray, talking about his album White Ladder.

Suddenly that image of the two men talking came back to me and a variation on the theme started to form, energised by the words and mood of David Gray’s album.

The plot line was now dictated by the titles of each of the tracks on the album and the mood set by, often, just one line of the lyrics.

I don’t usually plan. I am a pantser by trade.

A couple of weeks of looking back at the plot line then led me to open up a project on Scrivener and start putting words on the page.

74,428 words later I stalled. I was at the three-quarters finished stage.

The two main characters had not followed the plot line and were all out refusing to do so.

I huffed and puffed and threatened to delete them, but they knew I was bluffing. So I gave them the cold shoulder for about six weeks. It turned out they were more patient than me.

So I took a key idea from within the project and tried to write the story from that perspective instead.

That was good for 34,149 words. Then the plot line decided not to follow the original plot I had carefully conceived. The two main characters waited patiently on the street they were walking, looking at me, waiting for me to make a decision.

I now had the word count of a full length novel, but three-quarters and one-quarter of the same story in two versions.

Dust gathered on both versions. Apart from reworking the whole plot into a series of ten short stories, telling the story from the perspectives of different characters.

I think I got that idea from Patrick Gale and his fantastic book Notes from an Exhibition.

Dust still gathers.

I know this story will be finished, because it keeps tapping on the door of my creative studio, reminding me that it is still there.

But in not finishing White Ladder (yet!) I have learnt a lot.

I have learnt that one simple scene will eventually become a full story if you wait long enough.

I have devised a story plot three different ways.

I have 108,000+ words of writing practice, which will eventually be a finished novel.

I have learnt to be patient with myself.

I haven’t failed because the book isn’t completed.

It’s okay not to finish – for the moment!

 

Productivity isn’t always what you think.

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Photo by Carl Heyerdahl on Unsplash

Choose twenty books about being creative and they will tell you to produce!

They aren’t wrong.

If you are a creative then create.

I think it was Seth Godin who said, real artists ship.

I am not arguing with him.

If I am a writer, then I need to stand at my desk and write. I need to complete that novel.

Recently though, I’ve become more persuaded that productivity isn’t just the end product.

If I write with a fountain pen, at some point I need to load it with ink. Without that ink, the words on the page will be invisible.

The ink is the books I’ve read, the drafts which have drifted towards the electronic storeroom or the recycling bin, the interviews I’ve heard or seen with authors, the ideas sparked by the movies and tv series I’ve watched, the conversations I’ve overheard, waking up in the middle of the night with words like a whisper in my ear . . .

Being creative is your way of life. It is you being productive.

Don’t always judge yourself by the final product.

If I write 200 words less than my target, I can easily judge myself a failure, but the interview I heard with John Le Carre, or Ian Rankin, could fuel my next two books.

Don’t stop shipping, but don’t begrudge stocktaking either.