As creative types, we usually like to think of ourselves as untethered and spontaneous, full of ideas and free to create whatever we want, whenever we want, wherever we want.
For many of us, this is the ultimate definition of artistic freedom.
But how artistically free is it to not be able to create anything at all because you’re so utterly overwhelmed with all the possible things you could create, all the creative projects you could start?
How artistically free is it to have running battles in your mind about when to create, for how long, and how to possibly fit it in amongst all your other demands and commitments?
How artistically free is it to be so crippled by all these choices on what, when, why and how to create, that the only option you feel you can choose is one of withdrawing from creating anything meaningful at all?
Too much freedom of this kind means that instead of a carefree state of pink, fluffy happiness and running through cornfields with our arms open wide, we feel more like we’re gagged and backed into a dark damp corridor with every exit boarded up, and the roof caving in.
It’s like renting out a DVD of The Sound Of Music, and when you start watching you find it’s Eraserhead.
This artistic freedom – this attitude of “I’m free to create whenever inspiration takes me” – sounds romantic and noble, but in practice it just isn’t very realistic.
To be able to create the art that matters to us, the work that is deeply important and smouldering within us desperate to burst out into the world, we need rituals, and we need routines.
Now, before you run away as fast as you can with your hands over your ears shouting “La la la la I can’t hear you, I must run free!”, give me a chance to explain.
Routine doesn’t mean being boring, repetitive, predictable, and making the same art over and over.
And ritual doesn’t mean having an altar to creativity and offering up prayers, chants and sacrifices daily.
What these two ideas together give us is simply a structure and a framework to become as creatively free and powerful as we can be.
We eat at similar times most days, and we all have basic nutritional needs that if we don’t honour, we fall sick. Eating regularly, and serving these basic human needs doesn’t mean we have to eat exactly the same meals day in day out. There’s a lot of room for flexibility within that basic requirement for food.
Plus we can eat alone, with our families, with friends, at home, at other people’s homes, in restaurants, and so on. Again, a lot of variety is available there around this fundamental routine of keeping our bodies fueled by food and water.
It’s the same story with creating.
You don’t need to create exactly the same art every day, use exactly the same ideas, or create in exactly the same place.
That would be dull and monotonous for any of us.
But by having some basic structures and practices in place – like creating for 20 minutes each and every day – we can go a long way to nurturing this basic need within us that I for one would argue is virtually as important to us as food and water are.
The author W. Somerset Maugham, when asked about how often he was inspired to write, is quoted as saying:
“I write only when inspiration strikes. Fortunately it strikes every morning at nine o’clock sharp.”
He showed up every day at his desk to write. That was his routine and his ritual. And it gave him the freedom to write as much as he did and become one of the most prolific and well known writers of his era.
Running in fear from having a simple routine than frees up your creativity no end just doesn’t make any sense.
Once you’ve already pre-decided you’re going to show up and create at a certain time each day, all that tension, anxiety and guilt, all those struggles in your head about whether to create today, and when to fit it in are bypassed.
Leaving you free to channel your energy into creating whatever you’re most passionate about creating.
You show up, you create for 20 or 30 or 60 or 180 minutes, you finish and move on. Until tomorrow.
In a matter of days you begin to realise you’re creating more freely than you’ve done in years, and can’t wait until your next session.
Maybe you add another session each day.
Maybe each session will be longer.
The more you enjoy it, the more you create, and the more you want to create.
Ritual and routine are your dear faithful friends, your trusted allies, your superhero sidekicks.
How are you going to embrace them and use them to help you be as creative as you know you can be?
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