For years I’ve searched for better ways to harness the muse and make better music. I’ve read countless articles and books on creativity and time management but very few offer real solutions. Why are some days full of creative obstacles, but others flow freely? How do we tap into this crucial force? How do other people tackle the issue of creativity, achieving real results on regular basis without the well running dry?
If you are a creative professional, your job relies upon regular access to the muse. You don’t have the luxury of skipping work or just waiting around until the muse decides to work it’s magic. Books like “The War of Art” underline the importance of showing up for work, no matter what, fighting “resistance,” and the crucial stage of starting the work to break the creative inertia. So let’s examine some concrete ways to achieve a better creative flow.
In Mason Currey’s “Daily Rituals“ – he profiles 161 creative thinkers from Benjamin Franklin to Pablo Picasso, picking apart their entire workday. Rather than compare them, he simply presents them as they are.. but if you look closely – patterns start to emerge. Patterns of rituals, incubation, movement, consciousness, and detachment
1. Rituals: Most successful artists followed a daily ritual – a work process that allowed regularity, reflection through journals, and a period of time away from work. Everyone had their own routine, but they built an automated system that worked for them. Some thinkers were night owls, others were morning people. These systems provided structure to produce creative work on a regular basis. Tim Ferriss recommends automating and reducing variables and low priority decisions from your workday (what to eat for breakfast, what to wear), so you can devote more energy for important items.
2. Incubation: Most creative works need a period of incubation – the work would often be left alone, and re-approached later in the day or the next morning. Many of the thinkers outlined in Currey’s book felt there were a limited number of workable creative hours in day. A common approach for many was three hours in the morning, three in the evening. It’s not clear if this shows a pattern with workday hours, but I would guess it’s tied to circadian rhythms. I find that the best creative hours of the day are mornings and evenings, with the mid-day being a black hole best reserved for non-creative work. Mid-day is also the loudest and brightest part of the day, in addition to the logic brain being fully awake.
Nearly 2/3 of the the daily rituals involved kinetic movement – taking a break from creative work for a long walk, a run, or a shower/bath. These repetitive motions would coax out ideas and revelations bottled up after a long day of creative dilemmas. Perhaps the logic brain needs to be occupied for the creative brain to flourish. For me, I have distinctly clearer conversations on the phone when I’m pacing around the room, and I often absorb information better while running to podcasts.
Many artists choose to attack their work in the mornings and evenings, when the logic brain is weak. Your inner critic is slow to criticize as it’s waking up or falling asleep. This can make an enormous difference in your creative flow. One idea will lead more rapidly to the next. Quincy Jones would often lie down in the studio to put his brain into an “alpha state” where he was more relaxed and more receptive to the muse. Hemmingway would leave unfinished sentences before bed and complete them the next morning. Find out what parts of the day work best for you, and make it part of your ritual.
5. Detachment – Many creative types use a form of detachment to distance themselves from the muse and soften the blow on and burdens on their ego. Many claim their muse comes “from above,” or via “the ghost” but whatever its origin, it’s an important part of the creative process. Watch this inspiring TED Talk by Elizabeth Gilbert to learn more:
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