On being creative

What is missing? ... The work is quite feasible, and is the only thing in our power. ... Let go of the past. We must only begin. - Epictetus (taken from The Daily Stoic)

How many times have we heard the same sentiment expressed in different ways:

"You don't have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great" - Zig Ziglar

"A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step" - Lao Tzu

"The beginning is the most important part of the work" - Plato

We may have the grandest of ideas but they are all but worthless if we never put them into action.

Pressure

We get hung up on the idea of being creative. We convince ourselves that being creative means that we must produce amazing art or poetry or literature. We put ourselves under undue pressure by only focusing on the result and cannot see how we can achieve it.

Creative is simply defined as:

relating to or involving the use of the imagination or original ideas to create something

Imagination - check, ideas - of course, create - obviously. But look at that last word: something.

It doesn't say that being creative means we have to produce a masterpiece, it just says we have to create.

Something. Anything.

The artist starts with a rough sketch. The poet begins with a thought, feeling or emotion. The author first conceives a character, event or outcome.

Even masterpieces have very humble beginnings, but they must all start somewhere.

It is the very act of creation that is important, the willingness to start even if there is no end in sight. Nine times out of ten this may be a false start - second bang, the gun goes off again and we are pulled back to the beginning.

Fortunately for us we will not be disqualified and can have as many false starts as we need, as many as it takes to get it right and get over the finish line.

We just have to start.

Write365 - 6th August 2014 (updated)

On being creative

Resolutions, meditations and stoicism

I'm not really one for New Year's resolutions; if you're going to do something why wait until 1st January and add the stigma associated with possible failure.

This year, however, I decided that I would read more, especially philosophy which is a long standing but under explored interest.

I have been interested in the Stoics for a number of years having quoted and expanded on the likes of Seneca in the past. When I questioned the validity of my daily posts as a body of work they were compared loosely, and favourably, to Marcus Aurelius' Meditations. Good company to keep.

So it was to my surprise and delight that I came across "The Daily Stoic" by Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman (366 Meditations on Wisdom, Perseverance, and the Art of Living) in a local branch of a chain of book shops. Curiously, it was the only philosophy book in the store and happened to be tucked away in the religion section.

A lucky find.

The book is written as to be consumed in bite sized chunks - one meditation (stoic quote) per day accompanied by a thought or explanation for added context, although there is nothing to stop you from reading it all in one go.

I think that defeats the purpose.

Having one thing to focus on per day, a kind of philosophical devotional, is a great way to step back from the bustle of life and may serve as inspiration for a post - although that won't be every day.

Spirituality

I'm not a religious person but am increasingly spiritual in a non-religious sense. Spirituality may have originated with religion but its meaning and concept has expanded over time.

According to Wikipedia, spirituality:

"aims to recover the original shape of man," oriented at "the image of God"

What is philosophy if it is not trying to establish the original shape of man? With or without the divine.

Resolutions, meditations and stoicism

Inspiration and Flow

InspirationIn times of creative drought we can look back on our previous accomplishments almost with awe and ask "how did I do that?"

Questioning our current state, we wonder how we came up with the ideas. We demand to know where the required skills came from. And, perhaps most importantly, we demand to know what changed.

We stopped!

That's right, we stopped; stopped doing whatever it was that got us to where we were. We stopped playing, writing, running, painting - no matter what it was, we stopped practicing.

Forget about the theory of practicing something for 10000 hours - we could do so and become an "expert" but, as soon as we stop practicing, that expertise starts to diminish until, if we stop for long enough, it is eventually lost.

Forget about the 10000 hours theory because it doesn't matter how long we practice: after we have stopped and the benefit has gone we will look back in wonder at our achievements in exactly the same way after only 100 hours as after 1000 or 10000.

We are our own inspiration.

When we practice we open ourselves to the experience, we train our bodies and minds to behave in a certain way such that they know how to act. For physical activities we refer to this as muscle memory but for creative endeavours we can call it flow.

Flow is when things happen unbidden, when the process takes over and you feel almost as those you are a passenger carried along for the ride. Patterns form seemingly of their own accord; thoughts and ideas thrust themselves into our consciousness; the perfect words reveal themselves at just the right times.

When we are in those creative droughts we beg for inspiration and wonder how we ever achieved the mental states we used to find ourselves in feeling that we might never return to them.

But flow is not an accident.

Flow is the result of that practice. Flow is the result of all of the hard work even though, when it happens, it feels effortless and almost otherworldly. Flow is what happens when we experience epiphany after epiphany, when what is hidden inside is released and (except in the rarest of instances) that can only occur because we have practiced.

Inspiration strikes because we allow it, because we train ourselves to receive it. Inspiration strikes because we put gradually place ourselves in those mental states; bit by bit, day by day, until we are ready.

All we have to do is practice.

Inspiration and Flow