I was recently asked to reflect on my creative process in an exercise called a “scratching” (a la Twyla Tharp’s recommendation in The Creative Habit). My take on scratching, and not the type requiring vinyl and Technics is: what you to do clear your mind so interesting ideas fill the void. Something you fall back on when you’re forced to be creative, need to be creative.
Somewhat elusive, I find setting the stage for “spontaneous creativity” results from several processes in succession. First, the tried and true, I clear my head. A more inviting mind provides the mental space to start part II, behaviors that fire me up to feel creative. Lastly, I get started with the making. A great mass of inertia from the weight of our daily lives requires much energy and focus to overcome, so the process of movement takes dedication. What these actions look like,of course, will be different for everyone.
As part of the first step I need to set a disciplined slot of free time. Disciplined and free, under normal human circumstances, don’t belong together, but in juggling work, grad school, babies,.and kittens, scheduled free time is part of the creative package, or it rarely happens. I’ll say to myself, “No matter what comes up you will not miss that dance class on Tuesday.” And this leads me to the activity that clears my head the most…
Movement. Jogging works a little, as does yoga, but what works the best by far is dance. (I’m suddenly remembering the iconic line from Dazed and Confused while writing this) Give me a salsa class, an uncomfortable improv where I’m forced to stare someone in the eye for five minutes while dancing Riverdance, african, pole dancing (haven’t tried it yet, but want to), or hip hop class–any movement where I feel simultaneously old and spinally-liberated and my mind will clear. I’m way too busy trying to move 175 lbs. of flesh weighted down by Pho and IPAs to care about anything else in the world for 90 minutes.
Lately I’ve been dancing at Velocity Dance Center, a studio in Seattle upon which I can’t heap enough praises. Their instructors are phenomenal, and their classes strike a perfect balance between challenging and emancipating. As part of this scratching exercise, I went to Velocity’s Bottom Heavy Funk class last Tuesday where I tried to dance like one of Beyonce’s back up dancers to Partition, a bass heavy track off of her December digital release. I pray no one actually recorded me, but the video of the talented Yanis Marshall and his crew teaching a class in the Ukraine sums up my intention:
This usually leaves me feeling pretty (and?) creative.
The next step I take to encourage visual thinking is not nearly as eventful, but just as insightful. I browse photography and graphic design magazines at bookstores and look at the minute details of a piece or technique that catch my eye. Also, browsing Asian grocery stores tends to leave the same graphic impression: with cute seaweed, taro bun, and soy milk packages abound, I’m ready to go home and create something round and happy.
Like most people, I’m assuming, the part that most often holds me up is the actual act of starting a project. The lesson that has been long in the making, the one I still need to remind myself of often is: just start. It seems simple, but it’s rather profound. Stop thinking and start working. If you’re working on a writing project, sit down and start writing or typing, even if it’s I can’t think of anything to say right now. If it’s a portfolio, start placing a few of your favorite images into a spread. For a video, shoot something outside of your apartment. Start with some concept, or a basic building block, no matter how silly it might seem, as your project will quickly evolve.
More than anything, I find the most inspiration and excitement in the moments above, or others, when I’m not judging myself, allowing ridiculousness and lightheartedness to take over, even if just for a moment. This is difficult practice. And that’s where I see these types of activities to be most effective. Go scratch yourself some Beyonce in your bedroom, paint a still life, put on that bright kitty print shirt on a grey day, or emulate your favorite graf stencil with a can of spray paint out on the sidewalk (on a piece of paper, of course…outside for the fresh air). Just be more fearless with your badass self. Let the creativity follow.
How do you feel inspired on a time crunch?