Although I’ve always been an avid amateur fiction writer and visual artist, my creative practice has suffered in recent years. Most of my energy was consumed by work – paid and unpaid – and time spent on “frivolous” activities – frivolous in the sense that they had no obvious career-developing effect – did not feel like time well spent. After all, I was never going to be the next Picasso or J.K. Rowling. So why bother?
The kind of thinking is, of course, unproductive. Most of us will never become rich or famous doing the things we love most. That’s hardly the point. The point is that these things make life worth living, even if you’re not particularly good at what you’re doing, or if it’s nothing but a mere hobby and you’re happy for it to stay that way.
Having regained some common sense, I decided to bring creativity back into my life. But where to start? I had plenty of half-finished projects and ideas for new ones to choose from. The small amount of work I produced, however, felt boring and uninspired. Or just plain rubbish. Had I lost my mojo?
Luckily an online course and a book came to the rescue. First I discovered Tim Clare’s free eight week-long podcast, via Twitter of all places (proof that social media do occasionally make the world a better place). Crane’s approach is simple: he makes his listeners do ten minutes of writing every day. It doesn’t have to be publishable or particularly good, as long as you sit down with your notebook and write. Exercises range from making a list of possible character traits to ten minutes of unstructured freewriting. I’ve just started with week two, but I’ve already written part of what could become a short story and am beginning to feel confident enough to return to promising work I abandoned earlier because I did not feel like I was a good enough writer to finish it. I call this result.
My second discovery is a birthday present: Matilda Tristram’s My Year in Small Drawings. Again, this book advocates a very simple idea: create at least one very small drawing every day. The book is packed with examples of Tristram’s own work and suggested topics. She sends her readers outside to draw electricity poles and front doors, or urges them to stay inside to study laptop cables or their own feet. Having started last week, I have already drawn an interesting selection of items including a shell I found on the beach, an old tree in the park, and a street corner. Things I might have overlooked previously, considering them not particularly interesting, but which now form the basis of a rapidly expanding portfolio.
The reason these approaches work, at least for me, is that they are simple and quick. I can’t produce a painting every day, as I don’t have the time and the energy and the splatter-proof room, but I can always squeeze in ten minutes of writing or drawing. I think everyone can, no matter how busy your life is (and I imagine some people’s lives are a lot busier than mine). If the result of my efforts is crap, no problem, I can try again next time. Nothing I’ve produced so far will end up in a museum or win the Man Booker Prize, but status and success are not my goals. Personal enjoyment is, and I’m finding it in spades.
Changing your life, it often seems, involves radical leaps of faith. Burning bridges. Abandoning the limited security you have and throwing caution into the wind. Inspiring stories about people who left their job, went on a yoga retreat, moved to the other side of the world to start their own business, are everywhere. If that’s what you want to do, and something you’re able to do, then great. But for the risk averse, it’s more realistic to start with small changes and add a tiny bit of positivity into every day. Who knows where it might take you?
Picture Siva Adithya via Pexels