I can't say exactly when I stopped painting, drawing and attempting to write poetry. Somewhere between elementary school and college, life happened, and landing a job that paid the bills quietly snuck in and became priority over any and all creative endeavors.
More than a decade after graduating from college, as I was trolling the art galleries on Royal Street in New Orleans and maxing out my credit card on prints I loved, I realized that by giving up my creativity I had cheated myself out of a vital part of my life. So, I vowed to reclaim the joy of the creative process. My journey is ongoing. I've since done some interesting things in the name of feeding my creativity, and had fun in the process.
Here are some ideas for those of you who long to recapture the spontaneity that creativity brings:
- Downsize your inner critic. We all have an inner critic who can't wait to point out what we got wrong. Our inner critic has his place at weddings, funerals, family reunions and in the office. He's good at censoring us. He'll censor you before you even sign up for that painting class. Kick him out of your head for an hour or so and just do what seems like a good idea.
- Take a walk and really observe your surroundings. Note the architectural features of the buildings you pass. Let your eyes drift. Notice the different plants and birds along your path. Be distracted.
- Get to class. Ever longed to make pottery of your own, or paint a colorful picture on canvas, or write a short story? Surf the web for classes in your area. You'd be surprised at the classes available. Some may be at a local college, at a craft guild, or even in the back of a local business.
- Get what I call some aesthetic exercise. Yoga, dance, adult tumbling classes all use movement to produce something that generates some visual appeal and gives you a new perspective on what your body is capable of doing. Of course, check with your physician prior to engaging in an exercise regimen. I've found that yoga gets me in "the zone" for thinking out of the box and coming up with alternative scenarios for solving problems.
- Draw inspiration from creative people. Cruise the galleries in your area. Pick the owner or docent's brain over the works that catch your eye. Ask about the artist. Are they local? Where do they get their ideas from? Go to flea markets and guild and art shows and strike up a conversation with the people showing their works.
- Switch up your routine. Take an alternative route home. Shop at a different store once in a while. Varying your routine will give you a new perspective. Routines can be good for organizing our time and running our lives efficiently, but we need a break from efficiency now and then in order to recharge our sense of spontaneity.
- Find a project. Those Adirondack chairs in your back yard—the ones with the peeling paint—could use some sprucing up. Get brave and paint them in a color you love. Don't be married to the neutral color palette. Who cares if your neighbor doesn't like your new flamingo pink chairs? She doesn't have to sit in them!
- When the weather allows, plant something colorful. We need plants, and they need us. If your back patio or porch is overlooking nothing but green grass, give yourself something to look at. I love climbing plants, like climbing roses and jasmine. They produce beautiful flowers, add interest to architectural structures, and give me a space to think and contemplate.
- Have a TV sabbath. Set aside a day to hide that remote. TV can be a distraction. Find other things to do. There are other things to do. I promise.
- Get an instruction manual. Nobody's a lost cause. "The Artist's Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity" by Julia Cameron (Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam, member Penguin Putnam, Inc., 1992, $16.95) is a great teaching tool for those of us who lost touch with their creative side when life happened.
- Don't be afraid to screw up on your first endeavor. An important component of learning is making mistakes. In our society, we frown on mistakes. But we've gotten that wrong. Some of my best learning experiences were born out of the mistakes I've made. So, go screw something up and give yourself space to learn.
We have to give ourselves room to act on that inspiration without harshly judging the product of that inspiration. Returning to our creative selves is a process. It's not about reaching the summit. It's about the ascent.
The Artist's Way
If anyone can bring out your creativity, it's Julia Cameron. Her three main tools:
- Do longhand morning pages every day. Three pages, no more or less. Move the garbage out of your head so you get move forward.
- Schedule an artist's date alone each week for at least half an hour. Do anything from browsing a museum to taking mixed martial-arts classes, just something you don't normally do.
- Go for meditative walks and really notice your surroundings. Breathe deeply as you go.