On Creativity and Productivity
I’m drawn to write now.
What I am asked the most is: how do I make so much work? Here is the short answer: I make time for it. But that’s not a very good answer because, even if that’s essentially true, just making time for creativity doesn’t guarantee anything. And encouraging productivity doesn’t feel good if there’s nothing behind it.
I obsess over imaginary things, stuff like art and music, because they ask for my attention. Creativity is a game, it’s a tool, it’s an art, it’s a science. It’s powers everything we sense around us. It’s about adaptation, control, freedom.
We think our creative blocks happen because we are out of ideas. They actually happen because we’re focused on results. We get addicted to “good ideas” because we feel they are helping us to become either more complete and more stable or more complex and more interesting.
By not focusing on results you get more of them.
When we are focused on a result it can create a couple problems. Not feeling attached to the process for one, losing motivation or energy, rushing, loss of context… Stuff that pushes you away from what you can learn from working with it.
There are always problems in a project. Some of them are concrete problems you can think your way around using your education, intuition, research, material skill, tricks of the trade… Plenty to work with once something is underway.
But what about your sketchbook? How do you find ideas? How do I develop style? How do I look a little deeper into what is in front of me? Is what I’m doing meaningful? Does what I’m working on contribute to some larger vision, either mine or socially?
I really don’t want to be asking myself stuff like that when I’m drawing. I’d like whatever education or material skill I have to help form my ideas, not the other way around. There is a place for every question as long as the question is appropriate to the task at hand then.
I like soberly clear instructions when trying to find new methods to work. Even though I’m a really big romantic at heart, and I think creativity is wonderful and spiritual, I like processes that get my assumptions about how and why it works out of the way when I need it. The things that make me who I am, and the things that make you yourself, will show up in my work regardless. I want to get myself out of the way.*
Because I feel I will inherently appear in my work I don’t need to treat the creative process as something I need to enforce with my personality. It’s more of a cycle that you bring yourself into in the role of a partner or moderator.
The work you make is an impression of your process, how you relate to this continual cyclical process of growth at that time. It’s different from the work that is made. And then what happens to said work.
You are the process, not the work.
So what specific intentions or actions can I bring to myself to help make the process work more smoothly? You can’t run on the same gear all the time. But you can switch them. Certainly there are things in my life that affect my work deeply on an emotional level, that stop the feeling substance in what I’m doing. How to work with, around, and through those periods is part of package.
There are 3 areas needed for the thing to function. Focusing solely on ideation or concept isn’t reliable and will cause burn out. Mostly because of the energy we spend trying to justify the idea itself first. It’s about setting the stage for your work practice so you can ask the right questions and develop new tools.
This graphic has the 3 areas (Body/Emotion, Mind/Intellect and Senses/Interaction) as I see them as well as a rough breakdown of a process. Which areas would be engaged at each stage is highlighted.
(This is just off the top of my head. But the best ideas, the ones that mean the most to me, have a strong foundation in each category. For example it could be technique, research, and intuition that leads to a great result, or it could be through politics, expression and engagement.)
When you split your process it gives you specific things to focus on. That makes it easier to get started and helps you avoid feelings of early discouragement. Also improving area gives benefits to the others; small actions build up faster than large thoughts.
Small actions also help move our judgement out of the way. By breaking things down into smaller pieces we can also break down ourselves a little bit. We all have a manner of expectation in our process. Facing that expectation and frustration is easier when we feel the connections between our actions. And we can do that with intention.
The best work is unpredictably pleasing. Everything serves everything else. You can’t control that reaction in other people. But you can pursue it for yourself. Everything else is outside of your scope anyhow.
Now how do you start to get ideas in the first place? What is the simplest way?
I ask for them. Then I wait three days.
My entire life has been, up to that point, about me setting my intention for the next thing to come along. It’s all about finding the right question.
*what I love about practical tools is that they don’t require much energy to run and give you focus and results. And focused results. This is really important to me as i have panic disorder, it runs in the family. I won’t lie: it’s extremely limiting at times and has cost me a lot. It’s given me a lot too but, as a personal point, my toolbox is full of tools that came from mental illness or are greatly influenced by that fact.
Because of that methods that “get me out of the way” aren’t just practical, they can be necessary. My judgement isn’t always feeling that great and my mood swings can be pretty intense and I don’t necessarily need that reflected back to me with more frequency. That’s why I’m careful not to fetishize my process too much either. It works on either side of the fence, so to speak.
Anxiety emits an immense amount of energy so you can use its searching quality on occasion. However it’s usually overwhelming and takes with everything along with it when it leaves. Like massive flooding in the tributaries. It is exhausting and, if it were up to me alone, little would be done in its wake.
What makes anxiety difficult to treat is that it is a symptom, a physiological state. Not a diagnosis. And there are cognitive, neurological, psychological, psychoanalytical, genealogical, and behavioural studies of anxiety conditions. So though dealing with anxiety attacks is much the same, controlling the physiology, root causes may elude different types of treatment. Especially since we are just starting to understand how different disorders are linked, especially through how our genes regulate the ability to metabolize catecholamines.**
Also recent fMRI imaging is showing us that anxiety disorders cause abnormal reactions to stimulus in the brain. This means that perceptual differences are actually occurring in the brains of people who have anxiety issues. Behaviour modification is based on physiological conditioning, not just psychological ones.
My thoughts have always leaned towards a metabolic disorder of some nature, especially seeing as how strong it runs in the family. The future of support is pointing towards enzymatic personalized medicine rather than in general psychotropic medication.
That’s where I’m headed.
**There are strong links, though no definite answers, to catechol-o-methyl transferase (COMT) and methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR, heh heh) gene expression and aspects of anxiety, depression, OCD, bipolar, schizophrenia and a number of other mental health disorders.
Personally I am interesting in the MTHFR pathways at the moment and have had some (great and terrifying) results with L-5-methyltetrahydrofolate and the methylcobalamin form of B12. This is what I’m trying again, gently, now.