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Archive for Creativity

Project Stages

The stages that every project goes through…

  • “I’m a creative genius. This new thing I’m working on is going to take over the world.”
  • “This is crap. No one is going to like this. I’m an idiot.”
  • Persevere anyway. There’s some value in finishing it, even if it’s not very good.
  • A friends tells you that they like it. Attend a three-hour congratulation party; guest list: yourself.
  • Another friend tells you that they don’t like it. Three nights of insomnia and self-loathing.
  • Procrastinate for one week. Watch YouTube videos about cats. Listen to music. Read poetry. Eat ice cream.
  • Complete rewrite.  Previous friend says that they still don’t like it.  Achieve peace and self-confidence independent of all other people’s opinions.
  • “I LOVE THIS! I could work on this 24/7 and never be tired of it. This is what heaven must be like.”
  • “I HATE THIS! This is hell. Why didn’t I pursue that career in tax accounting?”
  • There’s a light at the end of the tunnel. Hang in there. One more edit. No, just one more.
  • “Get this thing away from me. Push it out the door; I don’t care if it’s finished. I never want to do another project like this as long as I live.”
  • “Hey, I have an idea for another project…”

Start over from the beginning.

Two Approaches to Creative Projects

It seems to me that there are two approaches to creative projects, both equally valid, but each having its own risks.

In the first approach, a creative genius has the whole project already finished in their mind, and they just need to communicate it to the other people on the team. The first risk in this case is whether the so-called genius really is a genius; i.e., is their vision worth pursuing? But also, can they communicate it to the team? Too often, envisioning and communicating don’t go hand-in-hand. Lastly, can the team members embrace the idea? Even if it’s a great idea, and it’s been communicated clearly, the team still needs to be able to work together effectively to bring it to fruition.

In the second approach, a creative person has an idea in rough form, and the team collaborates to finish it. In this case, the “genius” of the original idea is less important; there are certainly some ideas which weren’t great initially but led to great things by collaboration with a great tream. But the main risk with this approach is whether the team is the right group of people, each with the right talents.  If so, the genius of the person who initiates the idea is not so much in coming up with an idea as in their ability to recognize which team contributions do and don’t belong in the finished product.

Over the years, I’ve realized I’m more the second kind of person. I enjoy working with other creative people and welcoming their input. I’m not afraid to change directions, even if the new direction isn’t where I was initially headed.

But I’ve also met people who have the amazing gift of envisioning a finished project in all its details.  Sometimes I wish I could be like that, but usually I’m just content to be the guy who needs the help of other people to find out whether my ideas are good.

Nutrition for Musicians

I remember a long long time ago, I read a book on the psychology of creativity and first ran across the concept that creative minds “digest” experiential input and, much as our bodies do with food, reassemble the digested components into new constructs. This morning for breakfast I ate a blueberry bran muffin, for lunch I ate a bowl of soup, and for dinner I ate some Thai food. My body is not, however, a chimeric conglomeration of bran, soup, and Thai food. Instead, those foods were broken down into bits and pieces which were then assembled to replace the parts of me that needed to be replaced. Similarly, in a given day a musician might hear a song that they really like, see a beautiful sunset, and share a delicious meal with a friend. All of these are taken in, somehow “digested” into elemental building blocks, stored away, combined with other previously stored building blocks, and out of this complex matrix of beauty, experience, and emotion comes… a song. It’s mysterious and spiritual.

Now, then, what if we stop eating? A body that literally stops eating gradually runs out building blocks from which replacement cells are constructed. It’s called “starvation.” And if a musician stops listening to music, stops experiencing life in a way that provides inspiration? Creative starvation.

One might say “Yes, of course, but how is it possible to stop being inspired?” As long as you’re alive, you’re experiencing something. Very few people I know are actually starving to death. But a good number of them don’t eat nutritiously. And it’s also true that a good many musicians I know don’t pay much attention to their creative nutrition. Working a 9-to-5 job, commuting on the freeway, listening to talk radio, or even maybe listening to the same playlist that they listened to in high school 20 years ago… that might all be the creative equivalent of eating fast food.

The funny thing is that I know a lot of people (maybe it’s because I live in Los Angeles) who are absolutely passionate about nutrition. They follow strict doctrines about what goes into their bodies. Organic. Vegetarian. Vegan. Raw. Only foods that start with consonants. But when it comes to what goes into their minds, they might as well be in the drive-through lane at Taco Bell. (I don’t mean to pick on Taco Bell; I’m sure they now have some healthy options on their menu.)

Let’s start taking our creative diet just as seriously as our food diet. Some practical suggestions? Here’s one: How about a balanced diet of classic rock, jazz, classical, hip hop, folk, country, electronic, and experimental music? Here’s another suggestion: Go on vacation. Seriously. Go somewhere you’ve never been before. Preferably somewhere where people speak a language you don’t know. Hike in a bamboo forest. Eat gelato in Rome. Go deep sea fishing. Or listen to some music; I mean really listen to it; not in the background while you’re doing something else. I mean turn off everything else, sit back, close your eyes, and listen. It’s kind of like going to a gourmet restaurant, chewing slowly, and tasting each bite before swallowing.

It’s not like you’ll instantly be more creative. Eating healthy is a long-term investment. But eventually it will pay off. Someday you’ll write something that will make you say “wow, where did that come from?”

So, go get inspired. Bon apetit!

For the Sheer Joy of It

When was the last time you created something purely for the joy of creating? I’ve been asking myself this question lately. For most of us, our art rarely has such pure motives. We write a song (paint a picture / write a story / knit a sweater) for any number of reasons. Maybe someone is actually paying us to do it, or maybe at least we’re hoping that someone else will hear it.

But what if you knew that no other human being will ever hear the music that you’re writing, that no one else will ever even know that you wrote it, and that you’ll get nothing in return other than the experience of writing it?

I remember when I was just 5 years old. I would write a song and then, high on adrenalin, I would run around singing it over and over. I don’t know if there was anyone else there to hear it, but even if there was it wouldn’t have mattered to me. The only thing that mattered was that I had created something, and it made me happy. I wasn’t writing music so that other people would like me. I wasn’t even writing music to bring pleasure to other people. I certainly wasn’t writing music for money, because the thought had never occurred to me that music and money might be related in anyway. I was just writing music for the sheer joy of it.

I’ve heard people say that someone is “lucky to be able to make a living doing what they love to do.” But next time you see a five-year-old running around singing a song that they just made up, remember, they are the lucky one.