Being in the academic world, translating + copy writing on the sly and maintaining a poetry blog + continuously stealing snatches of time to write short stories has found a way of making sure my creative glands (yup, creative glands that secrete creative juices exist!) stay in shape. And the beautiful thing about creativity is the more time and effort you put into it, the more creative you get — there’s no “running out” of it, there’s no using up the reserves.
I’ve found that spending time on your creativity, be it writing, art, music, photography or whatever your creative endeavor may be, is key. It’s sad to hear “When I have the time, I’ll write my memoir” or “I’d really love to sign up for kickboxing but I can’t clear a weekday slot for a session .. work is so unpredictable!” (quoting my sister) or “If only I had the time, I would (fill in the blank) but my life is crowded with (fill in the blank).” I’ve been there. I’ve been crowded out of my life by what seemed like endless deadlines, never ending chores, one thing after the other that demanded time, attention, emotion and energy. But if you have the time to sit quietly for 10 mins before bedtime doing nothing, then you do have the time to sketch out a quick idea, put down plot to paper or hum a little tune. If you have time to nurse a cup of coffee for a good 10 mins in the morning before you leave for work, you have the time to rough out a few creative ideas for future art projects. If you have one day of the week off, clear two hours off your schedule to write. Don’t make the mistake of thinking creative work has to be done at stretches of time on end. Little chunks of time do count. They are not trivial. They matter. While it would be heavenly to have sabbaticals and long weekends off to paint or do art, half of us live in a world where busy little things force us into stagnation and we agonize over the not-having-the-time-to. But guess what? If you’re going to wait for a stretch of time to be miraculously gifted to you, you are probably going to wait forever because things are going to keep coming in, wave after wave and you will never find the time. So cheat. Steal time. Little snatches in the commuter, 5 minutes during lunch break. Have a pen and a notebook on you at all times so that you can doodle while waiting for the client to show up or for the next class to come in. Better still, MAKE time. My good friend, teacher and published author ( of Lendas do Timor among other hauntingly beautiful books) , Maria Cristiana Casimiro used to wake up at 4 a.m. to work on her Master degree before spending office hours teaching at the university. Another friend of mine, Mohamed Elbadwihi, who’s only 23 and already the founder of Blink Labs, says “No”. No to any and every thing as long as he’s at his desk working on a project or program. On top of that, he works til 3 or 4 in the morning. Both Cristiana and Mohamed remind me that what separates the best from the talented masses is the amount of dedication they invest in what they love and believe in.
“Everything is material” to quote Sylvia Plath. I like that. Things you experience during the day, people you talk to, that untimely hiccup in your schedule … there’s always something to gain from it. Very often, a random incident drifts into my thoughts, a fragment of a conversation with a person, the way a stranger reacted to her daughter spilling juice on their groceries and I find that little details like these help me fabricate the micro level of my story/poem. Don’t let anything pass you by. A boring meeting, painfully slow workdays, a cumbersome task … doesn’t matter what it is, you’ll find that it’s material if you want it to be To me, that is akin to being “perpetually creative”. If I’m not sitting down writing, I’m subconsciously gleaning material to write (even if it’s just standing in line at a store watching the cashier lady chew gum and roll her eyes while bagging the groceries).
Network. If you draw, make artist friends. If you write, make writer friends. If you dance, make friends with ballet shoe store owners for discounts. Kidding ! Having people in your radius who resonate in your wavelength does really keep you in check. When you slack or get lazy, a friend who has her twitter feed chock-full of progress updates on her memoir or an artist friend who posts his work on FB every weekend is a gentle but firm reminder of how without progress, you’re pretty much a has-been or wannabe. Networking also allows you to share ideas and thoughts and be generous with praise and/or critique. I love reading translated texts by my friends. I love when my friends send me art and poetry. It’s inspirational. It’s motivating. It teaches me. And if my opinion is asked for, it helps me practice being critical. Plus networking helps you be in the know. Especially if it’s pertaining conferences, grants, putting in a good word etc. etc.
Someone once said, if you’re reading good books, you will write good books. What you feed your subconscious (or soul or mind – whatever tickles your fancy), is what you’re going to churn out creatively at the end of the day. This doesn’t only apply to art and books and film we expose ourselves to. At one point in time, I was studying Biblical battle scenes – David and Goliath, swords (which I was and still am, enamoured with), decapitation, etc. etc. and all my poetry turned out quite dark and gory. Adam (who is the artist in our poetry-art collaboration which you can find here) used to comment on the Poe-ness of it all. I personally adore Hemingway and Zola and Collette and Rumi and I believe the more I feed good poetry and prose into my mind, the better the quality of my work.
Have a healthy amount of belief in yourself. That has done wonders for me. Somewhere along the line, I threw out the tendency to produce perfect pieces and stopped second guessing every choice I made at the creative level. I posted unedited first/second/third drafts of my poetry on Project Artery and just hung myself out there for criticism. I did the same for copy writing. I’d produce a few early drafts for my clients, a list of suggested styles, ask what they liked/disliked about it and work along the line they wanted. Turns out I start being more creative that way. Being comfortable in imperfection helped. Being around people who gave me constructive and honest criticism helped. Believing that I could do it helped.
Enjoy yourself. Really. I find it difficult to be creative when I’m all stressed out. I only start being super creative when I’m having fun. I do my best work when I’m in love with the piece, when it matters to me, when my emotions are in tune with the words, when all I want to do upon waking up is flip open the laptop and type away .. in short, when I’m really having honest fun.
So the crux of the biscuit (as Frank Zappa would call the heart of the matter) is to not view creativity as a trait certain people have or certain others don’t or something you need to apply yourself to, etc. etc. Just be (and then stay) creative. Starting now.