With every year that passes on my author journey, I realize more and more the importance of routine and consistent practice in order to create in a healthy and sustainable manner.
In today's article, Maxima Kahn goes into more detail on the importance of creative process and routine.
Begin again. These are words to live by. As creators, we are continually beginning again—a new project, a new line of a poem, chapter of a book, a new essay, a new day.
We remake ourselves.
As an artist, you need to know how to begin again and again.
Beginning again invites you to beginner’s mind—openness, curiosity, wonder, exploration.
This approach gives you a simple way back to your creative process. When you have been away from it, due to travel, holidays, illness, overwork, or feel stuck, uninspired, lost, you can simply invite yourself to begin again.
Having rituals of beginning again will help you to grease the creative wheels and get the creative engine moving, even if you feel tired or uninspired or disconnected from yourself and your creative spark.
Whether you are beginning or beginning again, there are 5 key conditions that will help you to have a thriving creative life.
1. Regular Creative Time
My creative time happens on the same days and at the same times. I guard and protect these times because creating is my lifeblood. I have four times a week for two hours a day in the late morning for writing and writing-related activities. When I have more time, I spend more time.
If at all possible, choose a time of day that is a good creative time for you, and a length of time that also works for you.
- Do you work best in short bursts daily or a single long stretch of 4-5 hours?
- What times can you carve out of your life on a regular basis?
Keep it reasonable, so you stick with it. You can always add more later.
For me, late morning is a time when I’m no longer sleepy and foggy but not yet full of the concerns and distractions of the day. I have had time to connect with Spirit through prayer/meditation. I have cleared whatever gunk might get in the way of good creativity and re-connected with myself in my journal. And I have gotten energy flowing through exercise.
For some writers, starting your day first thing with writing, before anything else, is best. For many, this means getting up before anyone in the house is up to have a couple of precious hours to themselves.
For others, weekends may be the only time you have. Or on the subway on the way to work. Or when the baby is napping. If a half hour on your lunch break is what you have, make the most of it.
What matters is to know when that time is going to be each week and protect it from anything that would come in the way. Don’t schedule anything else during that time, and don’t let yourself get distracted by other activities or concerns.
Make this time a top priority. Your body, your mind and your muse will come to expect to be creative at this time.
Action step: Establish a schedule of times to create. Adapt this to what works with your life. Even two hours a week is powerful, if it happens regularly.
2. A Simple Ritual of Beginning
Having a simple ritual to begin your creative time helps mark the transition from the mundane world into a creative state. It signals to you to let go of all other concerns and invites your muse to enter.
If you write at a desk that you also use for work or paying bills, part of your ritual might be to begin by clearing off or stacking in piles anything on the desk not related to creative work. Make an open space that is all about creativity and is free of distractions.
Be sure to include items on your desk or on the wall that inspire your creativity. More on that below.
The most important and powerful part of my ritual of beginning is closing the door to my studio. I breathe a deep “ahhhh” as I enter the sanctuary of studio time. I clear my desk, light a candle, say a short prayer and ring a bell.
Your ritual need not be elaborate and, most of all, it needs to feel good to you and to your muse. Your muse is your creative spirit. You want to pay attention to what sparks it, invites it to come out and play.
The lives of famous writers are filled with stories about the sometimes bizarre rituals they use to signal to their muse that it’s time to create.
Action step: What simple ritual would help you to transition from the “ordinary” world to your creative state? For some artists, it’s as simple as making a strong cup of black coffee or putting on a special article of clothing.
3. An Easy, Inviting Way to Begin
One of the things that is most helpful to overcoming resistance to creating is to have an easy, inviting way to begin.
For many novelists, this is re-reading the last day’s work.
I generally begin by reading some poems by other poets. This helps me shift from the more prosaic use of language we engage in throughout the day to a creative way of expressing with words. It gets me inspired, gives me new possibilities gleaned from other poets, and also keeps me expanding my knowledge of the poetry of others.
Then I often do a 20-minute freewrite either from a prompt, or more often, leaping off from a phrase or topic that strikes me in the moment.
Freewriting is a practice I recommend to all writers to help break through writer’s block, get the words flowing and cultivate your authentic voice.
The practice involves having a time (or page) limit and a prompt to start from. Then, you keep the pen moving without pausing to think or edit. You let the writing go wherever it takes you. And you grant yourself permission to write the worst junk in the world.
Those are the basic guidelines. (To learn more about the practice, I highly recommend Natalie Goldberg’s excellent book Writing Down the Bones.)
You don’t have to always start with your “onramp” if something else is calling to you creatively, but you will always have this way to begin to fall back on, especially when resistance is strong.
Getting started is the hardest part of creating. Once you have gotten going by using an easy way to begin, you can dive into the real creative work of the day, or you may likely find it happening by itself out of whatever you started with.
Action step: What easy, inviting way can you begin your creative time each time? What is a good way to entice yourself into that state gently, something that is enjoyable and simple so you don’t resist it?
4. A Welcoming Creative Space
A physical space that is welcoming to your muse, to whatever sparks your creativity, is very helpful. Each muse is different in what it likes and is inspired by. You may like a zen-like austerity or to be surrounded by fossils and bones.
For me, a welcoming creative space includes a room with a window looking out on something beautiful, a comfy place to sit, a pile of inspiring books near me. Also dictionaries, thesauruses, notebooks, jars of pens.
My studio also includes beautiful images and objects that inspire, evoke or touch something of value in me. Colors, flowers, fabric, things that make my space lively and beautiful and stir my imagination. I want my studio to feel like a creative space, a playground, not an office.
You don’t need to have a whole room devoted to your writing. Your favorite writing spot may be a comfy chair in the living room, a special little table, or writing in nature, perhaps your own backyard or front porch.
Get curious about what actually inspires your muse, what physical environment sparks your creativity.
- Do you like white noise, silence, soft music?
- Do you prefer to be at a desk or in a comfy chair?
- Do you like to be indoors or outdoors?
- Around people or completely alone?
Be willing to experiment.
One thing I strongly recommend to all creatives is to permanently turn off all notifications, beeps and boops on the computer and turn off your phone completely during creative time or have it in another room.
These frequent interruptions are deadly to creativity and to concentration at any time. And, of course, do not check email or Facebook or surf the internet (except for relevant research) during studio time.
Action Step: What makes the ideal creative space for you? It might be outdoors or in a shared environment with others, a collective studio space or a café, or perhaps it’s just a special nook in your home.
How might you decorate it to be more pleasing and inspiring, so it feels like a creative space and not just about “work”? Experiment and explore.
The Ideal Conditions for Creativity
With these four elements above, you can create the ideal outer conditions for your creativity to thrive.
The conditions matter.
“Environment is stronger than willpower,” Paramhansa Yogananda said.
Create the right conditions and creativity flourishes. Neglect the conditions, and it is like asking a child to thrive in a garbage dump.
5. The Core Inner State to Inspire Creativity
The inner conditions matter too, at least as much as the outer.
The core inner state to cultivate creativity is permission. You must grant yourself permission to create badly, if you wish to create well.
Make an agreement with yourself at the start of each creative session to suspend judgment, criticism, self-doubt. Invite play, experimentation, openness, relaxed readiness. Don’t expect miracles or masterpieces daily. Don’t expect anything in particular to happen.
What matters, all that matters is that you are creating. You are showing up.
You just need to keep showing up, and your work will develop.
You don’t need to create great work on any given day. You don’t even need to create work that you will choose to keep.
Good days and bad days happen in any creative life, and often we don’t know which was which until much later. On another day, you can see if there’s something to work with and refine, or if you have made something finished and wonderful.
Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way says, “Make an agreement: Great Creator, You take care of the quality, I’ll take care of the quantity.”
What matters is putting in the time. In the moment, focus on creating. Let yourself be a beginner. Begin again.
Small, persistent steps add up, almost imperceptibly, to finished projects and realized dreams.
The Great Wall of China was built stone by stone.
I know I am happiest when doing what I love to do. My life feels best when I’m being creative. It’s more about process than product, despite the great care I take with my work.
I set the bar high over the long haul, but in the short run, I am just stacking brick on brick. And grateful to do so.
Action Step: At the start of your creative time, each time, consciously make an agreement with yourself to suspend judgment of what happens creatively that day.
Your job is to do the work, not judge the work.
Grant yourself permission to play, experiment, make mistakes, go slow, create bad work. If you do this, pretty soon you will find yourself creating wonderful things, even things that astonish you.
What Will You Create?
- What might you begin again today, letting go of judgment and perfectionism and inviting yourself to just create?
- How will you put the 5 conditions above into play in your life now to support your inspired creativity?
- What creative passion or project could you pick up today with an open, beginner’s mind, regardless of where you are in the process?
Claim some time, even just 15 minutes, and do it today. Begin again.
What conditions help you to thrive creatively? Please leave your thoughts below and join the conversation.
Maxima Kahn is a writer of poetry, essays and fiction. Her writing has been featured in numerous literary journals and online publications, and she has taught creative writing at the University of California, Davis extension as well as through her own website BrilliantPlayground.com.
She works with heart-centered artists and dreamers, helping them to unleash their creative brilliance and create lives of passion, purpose and deep play.
She blogs and teaches about the creative life, writing, and artful, soulful living at BrilliantPlayground.com. You can click here to download her e-book, The 6 Essential Ingredients of a Thriving Creative Life: For Artists and Creative Dreamers of All Kinds.
Top image: Laptop, Unsplash by Fabien Grohs