Ep. 3 - Getting Back On The Wagon
In this third episode I explore why I haven't been creating much in the past weeks and how I'm getting back to creativity.
Reflection Flow by Doxent Zsigmond (c) copyright 2018 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial (3.0) license. http://dig.ccmixter.org/files/doxent/58328 Ft: Javolenus, Rocavaco, Siobhan Dakay
Books mentioned in this episode:
The Creative Wound: Heal Your Broken Art, by Mark Pierce
Mastery: The Keys to Success and Long-Term Fulfillment, by George Leonard
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Scrum for One, by Dustin Wax
Hello, and welcome to the creative shoofly podcast. I'm Thomas Beutel. This podcast is about my creative process and one thing I've found is that I really get in my way a lot when it comes to making art and being creative. I want to do this podcast because I know it will force me to think more deeply about creativity. I'm hoping that doing this will push me and challenge me to create better art.
Why Creative Shoofly?
When I started this podcast, I was casting about for a title that would represent the idea of getting out of my own way. I mean originally I just was going to call this podcast Thomas Gets Out Of His Own Way. Which was you know I thought that was okay but it didn't have the word creative in it because this is really about my creative endeavor.
One day I was talking with a friend and for some reason that the concept of a shoofly popped in my head and I thought, yes that's it! Creative Shoofly! That's exactly what I want to call the podcast.
I'm using the term shoofly the way railroaders use it. A shoofly track was a track that was built around a problem. Like a maybe there was a washout on the main line, or maybe a tunnel collapsed, or maybe there was a wreck or something like that. And they had to build a temporary track around that problem.
And that temporary track is called a shoofly track and the shoofly track is used just as long as it takes to fix whatever the problem is.
For me a creative shoofly is a way to get around myself sometimes. Sometimes there's something standing in my way and it's usually myself. Something that I'm making up in my mind or or whatever distraction that whatever it may be. And so the idea about the shoofly is to find ways to get around that and get back to creativity.
Getting Back On The Wagon
One of my all time favorite writers on the subject of creativity is author, creativity instigator and friend of mine Melissa Dinwiddie and people often ask Melissa, how do you stay so creative? How do you do it? How do you do this day in and day out?
And as she writes, she says her answer is not very glamorous at all. It's a very simple principle of just getting back on the wagon and she says you're gonna fall off the wagon often. And the idea is not to make a big fuss of it, not to thrash or anything like that. Just go go back on and don't make a big deal of it. Just go back and get back to whatever you're creating.
I really liked this concept and that's what I'm going to be talking about today. It's about getting back on the wagon and finding out a few things along the way about myself.
Off The Wagon
So the first thing I have to say is I feel like I've been off the wagon for a good six to eight weeks. I've just I've been feeling very low energy. I feel like my energy's drained and and I couldn't quite figure out why I was not feeling good about creating. You know, where did the motivation go?
And I know that many people have been dealing with this. There's a lot that's been going on in the world and it all made what I was doing and what I was thinking seem so small and insignificant. And of course all of this was happening during the damn pandemic when we're stuck at home. When we can't go visit our friends, we can't just go where we want to go. It's been very frustrating!
I know it's all a part of it.
However as I mentioned in a previous episode I'm kind of a planner. And I've built these structures around creating that were very helpful to me this past year and I was wondering why aren't they working? What's what's going on here?
Tools I Use
There's a number of tools that I use in my creativity. Prime among them are mind maps and doing a weekly sprint with scrum check-ins. It's a technique that's called scrum-for-one. And I'll put a link in the show notes if you're interested about that.
I'd been doing my weekly sprints in the weekly sprint I basically decide here's something that I want to work on this week and I was going through the motions and I would put down, oh you know, I want to work on whatever it was, maybe tinker with some music or Design an automata or something like that.
And I was going through the motions and yet I was not doing any of it. So you know imagine this checklist with nothing checked. And I was thinking, what's that about? What in the world?
I mean this really hadn't occurred before. I'm usually pretty good about deciding on what I want to do and getting a good portion of it done. So I needed to I needed to really dive into this and try to understand what is it that is getting in the way here - how am I getting in my own way.
And what I found was actually a number of small things. And this is when it's tough, right? It's like when it's not one big glaring thing, you can just look at it and say okay I can work on that.
So the first thing was just basically about the scrum-for-one. And one thing that I had to remind myself about scrum-for-one it isn't the sprint plan.
What's most important about scrum for one is that you actually do the daily check-ins. That's the beauty of the scrum process is that you do these check ins and you can ask yourself what's going on, what do you need, what's blocking you?
Again it's it sounds kind of weird to do it just by yourself but it really does help me. I find it very useful.
So what I was not doing was sitting down every day writing about how I feel and asking myself is there anything in the way. That's the important part of scrum-for-one. It's really important. And it only takes five minutes each day at most to sit down and think about it write about it.
But by asking that question every day it keeps you focused on the project at hand and it also keeps you focused on what may be getting in the way and it's very useful, and I wasn't doing that, so that's one thing that I discovered.
Instagram Algorithm Trap
The other thing that I discovered was this I had fallen into what I call the Instagram algorithm trap. Some of you may know what I'm talking about but the idea is that you post something, and then like 10 minutes later you look and to see if anybody liked it, and then you check again 10 minutes after that.
And the algorithm is designed for that. It's designed to make you post things that will get more likes. So it becomes performative. It you're you're no longer posting the things that you want to do or you want to work on.
You start thinking about, oh you know, if I made this then people will hit the like button. So I was starting to make things and think of ideas and think of things that weren't necessarily sparking joy in me, because I was thinking about how they might spark joy in others.
Wow! What a dangerous path to go down.
The Creative Wound
In this process of reflecting I re-read a book called The Creative Wound by Mark Pierce and it was actually quite illuminating. The first time I read it I did it to sort of get some ideas for being more creative.
But now I was reading it from the point of view of being stuck and being drained and I think it actually spoke to me more effectively. The main things that I got out of it was, one, to spend more time daydreaming and, two, to commit to a project, full stop.
I want to talk a little bit about daydreaming and why it was so nice to get it reinforced when I was rereading the Creative Wound book.
I have something that I call a daily dream practice. The purpose of the daily dream practice is to set aside a small amount of time and empty my mind and come up with new ideas and new inspirations for being creative and for making art.
And here's the thing I was only giving myself five minutes to do it. What I would do is I would do a 10 minute breathing meditation. And then right after I would say, okay now I have five minutes to come up with an idea or two, and most often I would come up with one or two ideas and then I would write them down in my bullet journal.
But Mark Pierce in his book made a pretty good argument for why we are not giving ourselves enough time for this free and open creative time away from distractions. And in his idea it's absolutely necessary to make space to daydream.
And of course I immediately recognize this as my dream practice. I wasn't calling it a daydream practice, I was just calling it the dream practice. But it's really the same thing. It's letting my mind just go wherever it wants to go. s
So what I'm doing different now is that I'm giving myself 25 minutes for daydreaming. I certainly could give myself longer but I'm finding that 25 minutes is a good expansive amount of time. And in that time I usually come up with anywhere from five to sometimes 10 ideas that I then I'm write down in my bullet journal.
The only thing now is as I have to I have to commit to to actually doing it every day. I've been sort of I've been falling off the wagon again in terms of doing the daydream practice, because sometimes I wake up in the morning and say I don't have 25 minutes to do this. I gotta do this other thing.
Well just like everything, you have to make choices about where to put your time. But I really do think it's important too, to set aside that time to daydream to come up with new ideas. I do listen to a little bit of music in the background sometimes, you know, usually it's instrumental but it needs to be distraction-free.
And it needs to be a gift that I give to myself in lieu of say surfing the web or whatever.
So I've recommitted to myself to have a longer daydream practice.
Mark Pierce makes an effective argument for fully committing to your project. Seeing it from beginning to end.
Hoo boy, there's one that I find difficult! I'm the type of person that likes to start lots of projects but not necessarily finish them. I know this is something that I need to work on and I'm still exploring why that is. Why is it that I get excited about so many new ideas and start many of them but not necessarily finish them? I'm still working on that.
I think there's a part of me that is fundamentally curious and likes to find new things. And there's also a part of me that likes to be distracted or allows myself to be distracted. I don't know.
But I've now restructured my weekly sprint plan to commit to a specific new project. One of the things that was happening with my sprint plans was that I had five or six things going on. And you know what was nice about that, is that I could at any one time I could look and say, Oh yeah I'm going to work on this one here. And then I'm going to work on that and whatnot.
So now what I'm doing is, my sprint plan is about one specific project instead of being a major project and five minor projects. I'm looking forward to seeing how this works out. I have a pretty good feeling about it though. I think it will really help me stay focused and it will help me to finish a project.
Comparing myself to my past self
The last thing that I wanted to mention that I found out through all of this reflection was to remind myself that even though I feel like I'm stuck and I'm just on a plateau, that's not true. I'm actually growing quite a bit right now. I had to remind myself to avoid comparing my current self to where I was last year and early this year.
So last year I had the good fortune to put on an art show and to be artist-in-residence at a local art gallery. And what I tell people is this like you know it's like winning your own personal Superbowl. It's just it's an amazing experience. You get so much validation, you meet so many cool people and cool artists and it's really out of this world.
And then once it's over you think of yourself as like hitting this peak. And then there's nowhere else to go but down.
Of course it's not really true, right? You haven't hit a peak. What you've really done is you just hit the next plateau and I'll talk about that in little bit. But it was important for me to realize to stop comparing my current self with that previous self.
It's not entirely fair to do that. What I was doing is I was comparing how productive and how much art I was making last year in the run up to the art show, compared to what I was doing now which was feeling very aimless and just not finding something that I could sink my teeth into.
As I thought about this I came to realize that I am still growing. I'm still creating. After all, I started not only my own podcast, but I was asked to collaborate with another podcast called the HSP World Podcast. And I've been busy collaborating on Coffee and Creatives.
So even though I felt like I reached a pinnacle with my my art show, the truth is that I had simply reached a plateau and then almost immediately started climbing again. I wasn't giving myself any credit for the work and the growth that I was doing.
I use this metaphor of climbing a mountain a lot when I speak about the work that I do in computer programming and also in my creative life. It really does feel like I'm climbing mountains when I am learning something new, when I'm doing something that I haven't done before.
And that reminds me a lot of a book that I read many many years ago by George Leonard called Mastery. In it he talks about martial arts and aikito. And he basically points out how important practice is and how you will feel like you're not making much progress for a long long time as you do practice.
He likens it to climbing up the mountain and then being on a plateau for a long time before you are climbing. Your progress is a sort of a series of spurts where you climb a little bit and you're on a plateau for a long time. And then you climb a little bit again and then you're on another plateau.
And this series of plateaus is in his mind where you want to be, right? You want to be on that plateau doing the practice because that's what's going to eventually get you to the next level, the next plateau.
So as you can see I think I covered a lot of ground during this time that I was off the wagon. I now feel much better having done this reflection. And again, this is one of the reasons that I love doing this podcast is I get to think out loud and I get to figure out where those shooflies are that let me get back on the wagon.
So that's it for this episode.
If there's something that you liked or, or didn't like, or want more of, let me know, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know what you think. I'm really curious get your feedback and I do appreciate it.
Thank you so much. And thanks for listening. Stay well and stay creative.
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