One of the artists whose work keeps inspiring me over and over again is Imogen Heap. Have you seen the documentary Everything In-Between: The Story of Ellipse yet?
It’s the story behind the scenes of the making of her Grammy Award winning album. The documentary gives wonderful insight about the creative process. It is a very personal story of one woman and her music, about the process of songwriting and album-making with all its beautiful and tricky moments. Here is a little preview:
After having watched the documentary, here’s what I came to think of regarding the creative process:
1. The need to create comes from the inside and cannot be directed by outside things like the market.
An artist creates because of an inner need. If you worry about what people would like to hear or what kind of songs make it to the charts, before actually listening to what’s inside of you, you’re on the wrong track. If a song becomes a hit, is actually not in your power. Focus on the things that are in your power and the reason why you create (because it makes you happy, fills you with enthusiasm, and so on).
2. An artist needs time and space to create.
In order to tap into the creative ideas inside of us, we need to tune in to our inner voice and the space where these ideas come from. It means creating ourselves the environment and the possibilities to get inspired and to do our creative work.
But there’s more to this ‘time and space thing’. When I watched the DVD together with students of mine, they reacted with: ‘Yeah but she has the money to do whatever she wants’. Remember, this kind of talk is actually just your fear talking to you. That voice wants to tell you that ‘Everyone else can do it but I can’t, because….’. It’s true that not everybody’s circumstances allow them to make extended songwriting trips to faraway countries, or to own a fancy home studio! Much too often though, we focus on these kinds of ‘outside things’ first. Then, concluding that we don’t have the money, possibilities etc. etc. to buy a certain item, or to take a big block of time and dedicate it on our creative process, we end up doing nothing at all. Does that sound familiar to you?
The fearful voice wants to create the perfect circumstances first. Why? Because if you’re busy trying to create the perfect circumstances, you actually don’t have the time to really get your hands dirty on your creative project, dream or idea! Getting your hands dirty, or actually just getting started (even if it’s just a baby step) can be very scary. So it feels safer to look for reasons why other people can do it and you cannot, than to actually get started.
Creating the (minimum amount of) time and space that allows you to create, in your daily life as it is here and now, comes first. The bigger things (like for example an extended songwriting trip to some faraway destination, or some new gear, and so on) can happen later.
3. Small chunks of time matter more than the big ones.
If I take myself as an example, I used to think of ‘creative time’ as big amounts of time. Preferably I would have a week, or a month, time to just focus on one creative idea or project. Drop everything else and just have time for me, myself and my ideas. This constant ‘looking for a big amount of time’ became like a block for me. I have learned that instead of looking for a big amount of time, I need to block a certain amount of time every day (or week, if every day is not possible) for my creative projects.
I have also learned (and I am still learning) that I really need to guard that time. Otherwise I tend to deal out my time to everyone else, and find out that I left myself with the smallest bit (or in the worst case: no time at all).
As a freelancer, it can sometimes be tricky to ‘guard your time’, because very often there can be a fear that ‘if I now say no I will end up losing this (possible) client / contact’. But as some wise person once said, sometimes we have to say no to other people in order to say yes to ourselves. Because if we don’t say yes to ourselves, how can we expect our own dreams or creative ideas to grow at all? Find out what the minimum amount of time that you need for yourself is, and then learn to block that time in your weekly schedule. Think: “What is the 1 action I could do for my project today?”. One. That’s all it takes.
4. Your ‘inner artist’ needs to be fed with whatever s/he loves and finds beautiful or inspiring. (Even if some of it might seem a bit silly to the outside).
Julia Cameron refers in her book The Artist’s Way to your ‘inner artist’ as a child that we need to take care of. We need to feed that inner artist with inspiration. Watching Imogen Heap in the DVD and in her video blogs, I get reminded of how true this is. The whole renovation of her house is based on making it an inspiring working environment. Here again, remember the baby steps. You don’t have to rebuild your whole house in order to be able to create! But try to surround yourself with objects – or taking the time to visit places – that you find beautiful and inspiring. It can mean small things, like having flowers in a vase. Or a silly little object that inspires you or reminds you of something.
I bought a completely unnecessary thing last summer at the airport in Helsinki. A snowball. It’s a rubber ball filled with some crunchy material. You can shape it, and it feels and sounds like snow in your hands. This silly little thing made me think of building snowmen, and winters in Finland, and other things that make me happy and inspired. Places that I like to visit for inspiration include the beach and the bookstore. Or sitting in a café drinking a good cup of coffee and observing people (I don’t mean that in a creepy way 😉 ) I found long train rides to be inspiring too, provided that I have a window seat and can look at the places that I drive through. Anything related to traveling inspires me, really. Airports. Walking through the streets of a town I’ve never visited before. Going on a little adventure, and “getting a little bit lost” – even if it means visiting a place nearby, and not knowing in advance exactly where to eat, what to do, and so on. Going to the theater or an art exhibition. Doing something in your own town or country that usually only tourists do. These are just some of the things on my inspiration list.
5. In every creative process, there comes a point when you doubt everything.
This happens to Imogen too during the making of her album. This part of the movie is actually one of my favorites, because it’s so honest. It’s good to remember that it’s part of the process and that it happens to everyone!
6. Every artist needs a network of people who supports them and believes in them.
You cannot do it just by yourself. Because remember those doubts will get to you at some point. Your support network should consist of people that bring out the best in you. It doesn’t have to consist of a big amount of people. It might consist of family members, but it doesn’t have to. Sometimes family members (although they love you and believe in you and support you) are not the right people to brainstorm your creative ideas or share your creative doubts and fears with. You might find support in a mentor, a coach, a colleague, or a friend. Just make sure you have a supportive team cheering for you during all the steps of the process!
What are your experiences with creating time and space for your creative projects? What works for you and what doesn’t? What kind of things are on your inspiration list? I’d love to hear from you!