Wow, 2018. In a quiet way, you blew my mind.
I was originally going to write a blog post about all the things I learned in 2018, but there was so much to cover, I decided to curb my ambitions slightly, and instead focus on what I learned about the creative process. Because, let’s face it, it’s a topic close to my heart at the moment, and what better way to round out 2018 with a celebratory list of the most important lessons I garnered across the year? So, without further ado, here are the top 5 things I learned about creativity in 2018 (and 2017):
1. Listen to your heart
It’s speaking to you!
Okay, strictly speaking, I started this particular episode of creative rediscovery in 2017. The story goes… I was feeling dissatisfied, and not really knowing what to do with that, I started the The Morning Pages exercise from The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron. The full journey is a 12 week writing ritual to help you heal and reconnect with your inner artist. I didn’t even finish the full exercise over the time period, but it was enough for me to know what I needed to know. There was a quiet voice inside me saying ‘paint!’, and day after day it let itself be known, on the page in plain sight. I wanted to paint. I wanted to create. I didn’t really know why I wanted to paint but that wasn’t the point; I needed to paint or else I was making myself miserable.
Honestly, this shouldn’t have been a surprise to me. I’ve been hearing this voice in some guise or other my whole life. Not literal voices inside my head, but that feeling that you get inside you - your wise inner self that knows what’s good for you, even if you don’t always choose to pay attention.
And thankfully in 2017 I started listening. It took a bit of coaxing - and I was pretty dumb. I needed it spelled out in front of me repeatedly for months before I decided ‘oh yeah, I should do something about this and act on the voices inside my head’. In 2018 I really leaned into it. It was a pretty big step-up for me. I didn’t quit my job or launch a successful painting career or even get my work into galleries.
Nope, I started.
I believed. I gave myself the space to do the work that I wanted to do. I indulged in my creativity; that old frivolous activity. I allowed myself to follow my interest.
I accepted that I must paint, and so painted I did.
2. Trust the Process
Closely related to the previous point. In fact, all these points are really closely related. It’s almost like I’m talking about a creative process. Listen to your heart and trust that it knows what it’s on about, even if you don’t. What does that look like? It means doing the work, even if you’re not sure what it’s supposed to look like or how it’s going to turn out. It means having blind faith that you’re bettering yourself somehow when you’re battling with paint and chalk dust all over the carpet. It means understanding that you don’t know better but you’re going to learn and you’re going to be humble and accept that you’re not very good at this but you’re going to love it all anyway. It means cutting yourself some slack when you’re rubbish (which, you will be) and giving yourself a hug or picking yourself up off the floor when nothing’s going right. It means a mini temper tantrum now and then and a sobering look in the morning when that piece you thought you were getting the hang of turns out to be a pile of dog’s poo.
For so much of 2018 I wasn’t really sure what I was doing, but I learned to love the creative process anyway. And that’s unusual for me. Normally I’m a bit of a control freak. But for some reason, in 2018 I finally plucked up the courage to let go a bit and trust that my little experiments were for a bigger purpose, and all that playing about would eventually result in something beautiful.
Sometimes we don’t know exactly where we’re going. In fact, I’m pretty sure most of life is like that. So it makes sense to get used to that feeling of not knowing, and trusting that our hearts will lead us to where we need to be.
I learned this throughout 2018 with each mark and brushstroke, each time I tried to create an image, and each time I sat down to write something. Each time there was doubt, resistance and fear; but each time there was also something that told me not to give up. And because I was learning, about my craft, but also about myself, I trusted the process, even if the outcomes varied greatly in quality. Sometimes my work was pretty bad. In fact, often it was bad. Love yourself, and 100% accept the fact that you’re doing what you can. Become attached to the process; not the outcome.
3. Take action. Small steps are fine
In 2018 I finally decided to call myself an artist and make some bloody work. I shared my art online, I actually told people about it, and some people even bought my work! But I wouldn’t be here if I hadn’t listened to that little voice telling me to paint. And I definitely wouldn’t be here if I hadn’t acted on it. So take action. And that doesn’t mean you need to make major gigantic leaps of progress. Your heart can ask for little things too. It’s all important. If your heart is saying it, take notice.
No one expects you to be able to run 5 miles on your first go (that way lies pain and injury; don’t do it!). Your muscles aren’t used to running in the beginning. It’s a-okay to shuffle-walk-run-shuffle. And it’s absolutely normal (and wise) to want to take a rest. You go at the pace you want to go. Go at the pace that feels enjoyable - after all, you want to keep at it!
When I started sporadic journalling in 2017 I didn’t recognise what a major step that was. It’s only with hindsight that we see the big but little steps we took, which end up triggering a chain of events that have a big impact on our lives. Back in 2017, I couldn’t possibly know that writing out my thoughts or picking up a paintbrush would lead to such glorious things.
That’s why it’s important that you keep going, even if you don’t always know the end in mind. Because good things will happen if you keep listening and keep trusting and keep the momentum, no matter how small you think your steps are. You’re doing it, and that’s something to be celebrated big time.
4. Believe in yourself. Take your work seriously
This is the year I really listened to that voice inside my head saying ‘paint, paint!’, and I finally took her seriously. What did this look like? It looked like making work for sale, writing blog posts, starting a newsletter, getting my voice out into the world and daring to call myself an artist.
What’s interesting to me, is that I really could have started this process earlier. You see, I work for a creative agency four days a week, and Fridays to Sundays are when I any other work that is gloriously mine. In 2017, when I tentatively started out painting, I was ostensibly already working a four day office week. However, because I didn’t take my creative work seriously, I would often find myself working in the office on a Friday. I like my office work, so I certainly didn’t feel like I was being cajoled into it! But it was still a sad indictment of how little worth I gave to my own work. I pushed it to the bottom of the priority pile and let it lie there for far too long.
That was, until late 2017 when I decided something needed to change, and I made a commitment to taking my artwork more seriously. As part of this commitment, I decided that in 2018 I would reduce my office working hours, to make more room for my artwork. However, a colleague left, and I had to take on part of her duties, and we definitely couldn’t afford to reduce my hours any more than what I was working. So in the end, I kept the same hours that I had previously. However, I was now committed to making my work happen. With no more time available to me, I actually took my work seriously, and set aside the time to do the work. I prioritised myself and my work and I made it happen. Whatever you’re thinking about in your life, is it a priority? Are you committed to making it happen?
5. Creativity isn’t either/or
When I’m talking about my amazing year of creative healing and rediscovery, I’m not saying I quit my job to become a full time artist. No, I’m saying I learned to make room for my art in my life again. I recognised that creativity is an integral part of who I am, and that I therefore needed to treat it (and myself) with the respect that deserves.
You don’t have to be a full time ceramicist. You don’t have to leave your job to write your book. If you want to, by all means, go ahead if that’s what you know you must do. But you don’t have to be a ‘full-time creative’ making the majority of your income from your art, for you to qualify as being creative. You can make beautiful table decorations as a hobby, and you know it’s your hobby and you’re proud of the work you create. You can arrange craft mornings with local mums and bask in the knowledge that you’re bringing people together to make things in a supportive, encouraging environment. It doesn’t need to be your full time gig. It’s still your work and if it brings you joy do more of it and do it well. Don’t ever let you or anyone else tell you it’s not worth it; that it’s silly, or frivolous, or not important. It’s your life; it’s your creativity. Make it look like however you want it.
Finally, if I can offer you a heartfelt message, it is this:
Please, please listen to that voice inside your heart. Do not ignore her, lest ye suffer the consequences of a broken heart. For although I sound dramatic, I truly believe that I was walking around with a mild case of injured cardiac muscle. Not literally; but figuratively. I’d given up on myself. I’d given up on a dream. It makes me sad just to write those words, and think back to how I felt - telling myself ‘Oh, I’ll maybe paint in my spare time. But actually, I won’t, because what’s the point? Yes, I went to uni to learn illustration, but that totally sucked - I can’t make it as a creative. Maybe it’s not meant to be. Maybe I’ll just quietly shelve all that and… WTF, what else am I supposed to do?’
That bit in bold, that’s my heart speaking. It was like ‘woah, hold on a second; I thought we were doing this creative thing?! You’ve like, literally done it your whole life - why are we giving up on it now?’
And it’s only now that I can see what it was trying to tell me! It’s only when I ruddy listened to it, and took the time to write down what I was feeling, that I realised there was a gaping hole in my life where I’d sat down my dreams and left them to shrivel up and die.
Don’t worry if you don’t know where your curiosity is taking you. Listen to your heart. Trust in the process. Take action. Small steps can lead to great things. Believe in yourself. Believe in your work. Take your work seriously. Remember to allow it to breathe. You deserve it.