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.

Daily Verse – Walking with the Wise.

Walk with the wise and become wise, for a companion of fools suffers harm.

Proverbs 13:20 NIVUK

In this recent technological era we can gain unparralleled access to the very best people in our field of interest.

Most of them even do Masterclasses to teach you everything they have learnt on their journey.

We are often told in the marketing blurb ‘they have made the mistakes so now you don’t need to’.

According to Proverbs, however, this will not make us wise.

We are instructed to walk with the wise – hō·w·lêḵ – to go along with, keep pace with, to be conversant with.

Rabbi’s like Jesus did not just ‘teach’ in the synagogues, as we might here a preacher in a pulpit, but every footstep, every conversation, every gesture, even the way he ate his meals, would be observed by his disciples and imitated.

A teacher’s wisdom was the sum of every part of them, physical, spiritual, and thought.

Literally, walking in the footsteps of those wiser than ourselves in our field of interest, creativity, spiritually, or our work, will help us to become yeḥ·kām – to be wise in word, action, or thoughts. This word only occurs three times in the Old Testament, with all of them occuring in Proverbs.

I am not suggesting that we ignore every bit of wisdom which isn’t given to us in person – as much as I might like it, I cannot take a walk with Claude Monet if I want to paint ponds – but we should perhaps make more of an effort to form relationships/friendships – mentors – where we can experience their gifts in proximity.

Find a mentor/teacher and howlek them!

Creativity Update.

I have taken once again to writing my reflections upon a verse of the Bible each week day. As always I write what I most need to hear and do. I am conscious of more focus on individual words in this phase of writing than before. Then the whole verse was in consideration. Now it is one word. One detail. I try to find the right expression of that word. Possibly using many more words than I need.

I had intended to finish one of my novels during this April Camp of NaNoWriMo. It stood at just over 75,000 words. By day two I completely lost the compulsion to continue. I don’t think this was due to hesitancy or doubt on my part. My focus had shifted.

Since I first summoned the courage to place artistic Apple Pencil upon iPad paper on 24th Jan of this year, I have now produced over 400 pieces of art. Many will be consigned to the dusty storage boxes of the iCloud, but I have begun to share some of them via Instagram. More courage. At times I am overwhelmed by how little I know about art and a deplorable lack of skills, in a way that I am not with writing. Despite this I am trying to fill the gaps.

As with the Daily Verse I am captured by a single detail. It may be a specific colour or combination of colours. It may be a pattern or shape. I am studying other artists and their works. I am watching YouTube videos and events online from galleries. You must watch ‘The Eye of the Storm‘ about Scottish artist James Morrison. (The link may only work if you are in the UK – sorry!)

Each image I make has become like an act of meditation. I relax. I have no anticipation of the final result. I try to be aware of God as a draw or paint. The emblem of three trees and the cross are repeated motifs.

I will try and share more, more regularly.

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!)

Creativity on the Clock.

Photo by Tristan Gassert on Unsplash
Photo by <a href=”http://Tristan Gassert on Unsplash

Normal is no longer ‘normal’.

The rules have changed.

All those books, videos, and articles, telling us how to streamline our days to gain us that often small precious window of time to achieve our creative endeavours, are now a thing of the past.

Why?

Because we all suddenly have gained lots of extra time.

Commuting time. Coffee break and lunch time, where most of us probably still sat at our desks and worked. Outside the house hobby and sport time.

You can make your own list.

Instead we have the pressure to create because we have all of this ‘time to create’ time.

It turns out that having all the time we need is just as paralysing as not having enough time for our creative endeavours.

So what’s the solution?

For me, I went on the clock.

Some of you might remember going to work and having to ‘clock in’?

You had a card and you put it in the machine and your name and time ended up on a little printed receipt roll, which told the office that you had turned up on time, worked your day (when you clocked out) so they should pay you your full daily amount.

My own version of this has been to set a count down timer for fifteen minutes.

I clock in – press start.

Then stop when Chewbacca roars at me.

It doesn’t sound much, does it?

Fifteen minutes.

But with this timer I’m hitting an average of 440 words in that fifteen minutes and this includes ‘thinking time’, as I am generally a ‘pantser’ when I write fiction.

Two fifteen minute sessions and I am almost hitting my minimum 1000 word target a day.

Why did I choose 15 minutes?

Two reasons.

I realised that I often wrote as much in 15-20 minutes as I sometimes did in an hour!

And, I could not possibly find an excuse not to write for fifteen minutes if/when our new normal goes back to the old normal.

Try it for yourselves.

Set a timer for whatever period works best for your type of creativity.

It might be a 30 minutes session if you are a musician? An hour session if you paint.

Remember you can do multiples!

Experiment.

Clock in and clock out.

Let me know how you get on with it.

 

 

Day 467 – Creative Like Bill Belichick, Pt.2.

So yesterday I suggested that relatives could take inspiration/lessons from sports and hopefully I will convince you today.

Bill Belichick is the most successful NFL coach ever because:

  • He stays focused on the overall goal and works hard to achieve it
  • He never goes through the motions and always trains with purpose
  • He makes sure that he puts the right players on the pitch at the right time
  • He doesn’t panic if things don’t seem to be working early on in the season and understands the importance of late on in the game and the season
  • He doesn’t waste time talking about the game

So how does this translate into being creative?

Be really clear about what you are trying to achieve.

Belichick knows the season is about winning the Super Bowl and so is the pre-season and the post-season. If you want to write a novel then that is the goal, nothing else. Prepare. Execute. Analyse to make next year’s performance better. It is hard work so put in the hours. Be focused and cut out distractions. Commit and achieve.

Practise with purpose and put what you learn into action.

A very underestimated part of what Belichick does is the practice field. The Patriots train with crowd noise. They train with old and scuffed up balls, removing as much of the grip as they can. They try to recreate conditions similar to the ones they will play in. All practice is purposeful.

It can be hard if you are time pressed for your creative pursuit but you need to practice. If you are a writer then try and find an extra couple of hundred words which are based on what you are writing, or will write in the next chapter. It might be character descriptions, or scene setting, or dialogue. If you are an artist you might need to experiment with colour, or sketch certain body parts, or try different techniques for applying the paint.

Use the creativity you need for that particular moment.

Don’t get distracted or show off. Use the skills to produce the elements you need to make that particular chapter, or picture, or composition, exactly as you need it. Be prepared and execute. If the scene is your chapter is heavy on dialogue, then make sure you have been practicing that element. Listen to good movies or tv, listen to or read good scenes from books and plays.

Don’t Panic!

Sometimes, particularly in the early stages, things might not go quite the way you had planned. It happens. Work out why and fix the issue. Sometimes there might not be a specific problem, you just didn’t execute well enough, so make sure you do the next time. Keep pressing on and know everything will come together late on in the season when it really matters. You may have zigged when you wanted to zag but keep the process going and remain focused on the end result.

Don’t waste time and energy.

Monosyllabic answers and repetitive phrases at press conferences are communicating that this isn’t where we win championships and Super Bowls.

As creatives we have platforms which can really boost the audience for our creativity in ways which no other writers/artists have had before, but it can also be a massive distraction. Social Media is the press conference. Learn from Bill. Don’t waste your energy and know it is taking time away from your main job. It is necessary, which why even he does them, but his conduct tells you that he knows what is important. The end result.

So Create Like Bill! And I hope to see you all in the Hall of Fame! (But don’t be surprised if Bill doesn’t speak with us!)

Day 466 – Creative Like Bill Belichick, Pt.1.

I’m not trying to alienate anyone here by mentioning the New England Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick. I understand that the franchise and the coach are like Marmite – you love them or you hate them.

For full disclosure I am a San Francisco 49ers fan, but as a sports coach you have got to learn from the best and the 6 Super Bowl victories simply make him the best.

I was listening to the Sky Sports NFL podcast, with the excellent Neil Reynolds and Jeff Reinebold, where they were finishing up their pre-season ‘state of the franchise’ thoughts and the final team being mentioned was the Patriots.

It occurred to me that surely the secrets of Belichick’s success could be applied to being creative.

Hear me out.

Players on a team are ultimately a set of skills and experiences. The coach uses those skills and experiences to craft a win. You get enough wins in a season then you get the big prize at the end; but even if you don’t, those wins remain achievements in themselves.

As a creative you gather together as many skills and experiences as you can. You use those to produce a piece of work. You put together a good enough body of work then you are often acknowledged/rewarded/awarded titles and prizes.

Let me be more specific.

You are a writer. You gather your group of players – in this case authors/books/characters/plots from across all your years of reading. You use this knowledge, these skills and experiences, to write a chapter – to win. You win as many regular season games as you can – you write as many chapters as successfully as you can. Losses and ties mean you need to do some revision. The post-season is where you hone it all down to that last championship game – the finished novel.

Perhaps, alternatively, the different games in the normal season are different types of writing. The post-season is your overall body of work.

The head coach is the natural editor in your brain. A little more of this. A little less of that. Those elements for that particular match, or these elements for this piece of writing, in order to be successful.

Hopefully, you can see where I am going with this.

Tomorrow, I will try and convince you of what Bill Belichick can bring to our creative endeavours.

Day 463 – Sunday Reflection.

I’ve been busy revamping my study.

Basically, I’ve got rid of more stuff I had forgotten I even had, or had kept because it might be useful at some point. I decided that some point had been reached and that the stuff wasn’t useful after all.

A family desk taken by my eldest son, freed up space for an armchair I’ve been looking at with fondness for a while now. I write at a standing desk, but I was hankering after a seat to muse, imagine, read, in.

I thoroughly recommend a standing desk if you don’t usually use one. Some are very pricey but mine is about the size of your laptop and does the job perfectly.

Revamping and tidying up are often necessary but also serve as perfect actions for not writing.

I sway between being really frustrated when I don’t write and just accepting that sometimes my brain needs a pause to fix something in a story, or make the necessary links to the next stage of the story.

I’ve probably mentioned this before but I don’t plot/plan in a James Patterson kind of way. Once the plot is down on paper then I know the story and my brain is off to the next one. The discipline to then take an extended plot and write it up into the finished novel eludes me. Be honest though, James Patterson probably feels the same way, which is why he has all of those co-authors.

I plan more like Lee Childs. I turn up, like Jack Reacher (okay – like a Jack Reacher who has been placed on too warm a wash cycle than the label directs!), meet a couple of people – good or bad – and the rest happens from there.

I am currently writing something new and it is requiring a little more thinking than I am used to. I think? Or I am doing a good job of pulling the wool over my own eyes. Sometimes, kicking back into the habit of hitting a word count each day, no matter what, really does get the job done.

I confess that all my normal habits have gone a bit wayward, with the only one remaining intact is the one where I listen to a new album everyday. Writing 1000 words a day has become disjointed. French language learning hasn’t been learnt for almost three weeks now. Exercise has not been what it should be. I have read more, and listened to podcasts and audio books more frequently.

My cotton-wash-when-it-should-have-been-a-wool-wash Reacher gives a Gallic shrug (as he can’t remember the phrase he was looking for) and wanders off into the night to regain his writing habit and his credibility . . .

Day 439 – Aloud.

When you write, read it back.

Not in your head. In your head it sounds different.

Read it aloud. Preferably to someone.

Most of the mistakes and awkward sentences will become apparent to you straight away. Some the person listening to you will point out.

It can be challenging. Not everyone reads aloud well. Not everything you will write will sound good. You have broad shoulders and a tough chin, you can live with it.

Happy reading!