On Creativity

-Justin Mainous, Contributing Writer

American poet Ruth Stone once described her creative process like this: she’d be working in the fields and she’d hear a poem coming. It’d come roaring over the landscape from somewhere beyond like a rushing wind, just barreling down on her and shaking the earth underneath her feet. She would then, in her own words, “run like hell” to pen and paper with this poem at her heels and then it would thunder through her. Sometimes, she’d miss it, and it’d keep going across the fields looking for another poet. Other times, she’d almost miss it and grab it by its tail, and it’d come out on the page backwards.

It doesn’t happen like that for most of us. Most of us are just waiting for a chance to encounter that thing. We wake up at the same time every day, gather our pens, paintbrushes, or whatever the tool of the trade is, and go on the hunt for it. We barrel through the woods of creativity with a painful awkwardness, scratching our ankles in briars and tripping over the underbrush. In Julia Cameron’s words, we “fall upon the thorns of prose and bleed.” Sometimes, if we’re lucky, we catch a glimpse of that thing and it’s as if something begins feeding us inspiration.

This process can be a grueling one and leaves many artists disheveled. This has led thousands of aspiring artists to simply give up the hunt or give rise to the idea of the “suffering artist” who is driven crazy by the pain of creating. I’m here to tell you that there’s a better way. My hunt is far from being over and I believe that the details of the creative process are different for everyone, but my aim in this article is to help you catch its scent and begin the hunt.

How do we catch that scent? By getting rid of the stench of judgment that lingers in most of our creative nostrils. An artist’s attempts at being creative need to be acknowledged and fostered, but most times we are given a critic who deals a crippling judgment instead. These judgments tend to create in us an inner critic that scares us away from the hunt before we ever even begin. Remember, that in order to become a great artist, you must first give yourself permission to be a bad artist. So, accumulate pages, sculptures, canvases, whatever your medium for creation might be and kick your judgment to the side. You’ll pick up our quarry’s scent soon enough.

What do we do once we gain the scent of that thing? Jack London once wrote, “You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club,” so let’s gather up our clubs and begin the hunt. In her book The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron gives two tools that I’ve found to be indispensable to my personal hunt: the morning pages and the artist’s date. Simply put, the morning pages are just three front-and-back pages on which you write, but on a deeper level the pages are a safe place for you to drain everything that stands between you and your quarry. Fill those three pages with everything that keeps you from creating, whether it’s petty or important—get it out. I personally try to do morning pages every single morning before I start writing.

The artist’s date is a set amount of time every week that you spend nurturing your inner artist. I’ve gone to the zoo with a camera, went on a hike, explored abandoned buildings, all kinds of things; what’s most important is that you do this alone. It’s on these dates that creativity rears its head and begins to flow through you.

Remember, artist, don’t you dare be daunted by the hunt. Go after creativity with no fear. Whatever your medium of creativity is, just create and eventually you’ll find that you weren’t hunting for creativity, creativity was hunting for you. I suppose it’s like Piet Mondrian once said, “The position of the artist is a humble one. He is essentially a channel.”

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