Friday, December 14, 2007

Getting it Done - a brief guide to how I get creative now instead of later

Being creative is like a hurricane. Sometimes the hurricane is on the outside and sometimes it is on the inside. When it is on the outside your materials are flying and you are in physical action, possessed by the thought of "getting it done". But to get to this stage you have to channel your energy from the inside, and your inner self may not be so easily disciplined.

I spend a lot of time with my inner hurricane. This might look like doing nothing, but I am actually hard at work processing ideas and working them out. At least half of my creative time is with this inner world. And yes, even I have trouble just getting started on things sometimes. But the key is, well, just do it! Even it if is hard, or slow, or a little rocky. That beginning is the hardest part but the most necessary. I've found that when a creative urge isn't channeled it either disappears forever or turns into confusion and frustration.

People often think it is a dream to be their own boss. Well, sometimes it is not so dreamy - it is downright hard. Self discipline, critical thinking and problem solving, and the ability to take action when needed are all incredibly important traits. Not everyone has these traits, or is ready to use them if they do. With noone to tell me what to do every day I could easily just stay in bed. (Alright, so I have a 3 1/2 year old so I couldn't actually stay in bed, but I could certainly be a lot more lazy.) With no boss and no set schedule many people can lose their direction. I am frequently asked how I do everything I do. My first (and true) answer is: Sleep deprivation! But there is a lot more to it.

1. Brains need feeding!
In order to maintain a creative flow I find I need to spend time doing a lot of different things. Doing one thing too much stagnates your energy, and ideas need fresh input. I am voracious about consuming information, images, sounds, and input - everything I can expose myself to that will spark ideas. Alternating exposure with quiet time is important to being able to process all that new material. I try to choose quality sources of information. After all, junk in equals junk out. Um, I hope this doesn't rock anyone's world, but tabloids may not be the best reading material if you are hoping to achieve brilliance. Surrounding oneself with quality people and quality work will spur you on to do more and better things yourself. Open yourself up to even things that will shock you initially. Getting out of your own head and into someone else's can be a great thing to prompt new thinking.

2. Lack of experience is not an excuse.
I taught ceramics for several years and it was always fun to see new students begin to throw their first pots on the wheel. Like many other activities it looks so easy when done by someone experienced...but then - whoops! Their lump of clay would be flying of the wheel and onto the floor. Not so easy if you don't have skills with the materials.

Everyone starts at nothing, so failing initially is just part of the process. I've had some pretty fantastic failures in my career, in fact I'm pretty sure I learn best when I screw up. When making my first few batches of soap I did OK on the first one or 2, but I think it was the third that really got me. The lye and water didn't get mixed properly and when I added it to the oils everything just curdled and turned into this lumpy mess that looked like pink, oily, cottage cheese. Yum! That batch went straight into the trash can. And that is just one on the list of sculptures that exploded, shirts that didn't fit, and facial creams that wouldn't stay mixed. In fact, I'm happy to say that I truly believe that if you aren't failing at your endeavors a significant percentage of the time then you are really not pushing the envelope at all. Growth requires some screwing up, and am I ever good at screwing up!

If you can ignore your outcome, you'll go far - at least as far as learning is concerned. While you can't disregard your product indefinitely, practicing with an open mind allows you to become familiar with materials, and familiar with yourself. No goal other than practice is even really necessary. Everyone starts somewhere, and you can't get anywhere if you never start. Experimentation and knowledge of your materials will go a long way to help you know which of your ideas is possible, and which is not.

Everyone practices in a different way. I've often heard it said that writers are supposed to sit down and write every single day, even if they think they don't have any ideas. I was forced to keep a sketchbook in art school - something I honestly never really liked doing. I understand the purpose, but it just wasn't my thing. I like to draw, and actually have several sketchbooks but I tend to draw with purpose rather than just for the sake of drawing. I do much better when I am "sketching" with my actual materials. This, I think, is fine too. Anything that keeps you active is good. The idea is to make creative observation and activity part of your everyday life. So this step and your brain food actually are intertwined.

3. Don't think about it too much.
Now you're saying, "What?? She just said to think about it a lot!" Well, the other side to this is that you can't overthink your project or you'll end up psyching yourself out. Thinking too much can make things seem bigger than they really are. I know there are plenty of people out there that just can't get started on something because it seems like too much to handle. Turn off those voices in your head. They are just plain evil, and they will prevent you from doing amazing things.

4. Eat your Fear for breakfast.
We all need to squash whatever is stopping us from going after our dreams, and quickly. The start of every day is the perfect time. Decide what brave, adventuresome thing you want to do and then find some way to start working on it.
Usually when I am afraid of something I find that the reason I'm afraid is because I'm inexperienced, or not knowledgeable in that field or activity. So I take that and flip it around to action. If I'm afraid, that is when I know I need to dive right in! I don't want to be afraid of anything in my life.

There is a big difference between fear, and logically deciding something is not a good idea. I am usually afraid of meeting new people (suprise!) and yet I know for sure this is a good idea. I have the same insecurities as everyone else about how I am perceived, and get terribly nervous about public appearances or sales engagements at trade shows. I am lucky that I get to work with a population in the Natural Products community that is unusually friendly, welcoming, and warm. And I still get afraid! I would never be cut out for "The Apprentice" or any normal business environment - I'd be eaten alive and I know it. I am certainly not your average businessperson. But I make myself get out there and try. I remind myself that I can't run a business in a vacuum, and that gee, people might actually like me. (I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and, gosh darnit, people like me!) Not everyone will, but some. I've found through working on my anxieties I've gotten much better at presenting. I just try to play up my strength - my passion for my materials and products!

I use this same "get over it" attitude with my creative endeavors. Just running my business and being responsible for other people's well being is a pretty scary thing - after all, if I tank they go down with me. But if I do nothing we'll tank for sure. Don't let yourself fear action.

5. The "just one more thing" mentality
I frequently tell people that if I had known just how hard it was going to be to start my own business I am pretty sure I might not have done it. In this case, ignorance may have been my best asset. I was too inexperienced to know the thrashing I was in for. Fortunately I've got a head full of rocks and noone is going to tell me I'm going to fail if I decide otherwise. Stubborn or stupid? Maybe a little of both...

It is a big job to launch an idea. So big that it can seem pretty intimidating. My personal method for attacking big projects is an alternative to the "baby steps" method. First I find little ways to get started. If you have been practicing and working regularly on your creative activities then finding something little to do shouldn't seem too hard. One of my rituals before a big sewing project was to clean up everything in my sewing area that related to previous projects. It seems like procrastination, but really it is an integral part of my process. I can't think about a new project with remnants of the old still sitting there. Then I'd pull out all the materials for the new project. Often this would be all I would do on the first day, just set the stage. Then when I returned the next day I was mentally and environmentally prepared to jump in, and it seemed that much easier.

Once started I look for pieces of the project that I know I can do. Then I can tell myself confidently, "Well, at least I can do that!". Then when I'm done with that piece the voice in me says, "That wasn't so bad. Maybe I could just do one more thing..."
I continue to say that after every little step I finish. Before I know it the project is half done, and by then I'm excited about it! It seems to be a great way to trick myself into getting something done, even when I may have initially been dragging my feet. It seems a lot easier to think about doing just "one more thing" for another 20 minutes than to think about working for another 8 hours.
*Caution - this method works so well, in fact, that you may end up working straight through important events, your dinnertime, and losing a good bit of sleep because you've stayed up 4 hours past your bedtime without even realizing it. If you miss your child's graduation or husband's award dinner because you said "just one more thing" to yourself a few too many times I'm officially not responsible. Use wisely!*So this is pretty much how things work for me. Let's review, and take heart, dear reader, in knowing that:
- I'm scared sometimes.

- It's hard for everyone, not just you.
- I screw up a lot. (no really, a LOT)

And somehow I still have managed to get up every day and work towards keeping my dreams alive. Nearly 5 years in on running Blissoma and while the finances could be prettier I'm pretty pleased with the rest of our progress...Quite frankly I don't know what else I'd be doing.

Now, go do something great!