Groundwork

Everyone loves an Acronym

Note: this page is part of the Cliffjump! Manifesto. If you’ve arrived from an external link, and haven’t read the previous parts of the book, you might want to start at the beginning

everyone loves

photo credit: liako *

There are two main sections that form the core of this little book. The first will be (as promised) an exploration of the psychological roadblocks that I have found get in the way of Fearless Creativity; the second will spell out a kind of program for building something new and, hopefully, better in place of them. As a kind of framework for all of this, to make it a bit more user-friendly as it were, I have used a familiar format…

From simple mnemonics to help us remember a set of ideas, to software platforms with clever recursively self-referential names, our pattern-hungry brains never seem to tire of the timeless acronym.

Of course, acronyms are arbitrary and contrived, but they do provide a framework around which ideas can crystallize, and they are a common feature of books like this one.

This page will spell things out and provide a kind of bird’s-eye-view of where we’re headed, and then we’ll get into the nitty-gritty. Bear with me, we’re almost there!

First, we’ll start with the bad news: to get to the bottom of this, we’re going to have to do some digging in the dirt, and this will mean confronting some negative and often deeply ingrained creative blocks… this is what we are leaving behind, jumping away from (though really, as we’ll see, we can’t leave them behind in any permanent sense, so the best we can do is to keep watch for them in ourselves and try to nip them in the bud whenever they appear).

These are not progressive, but are simply an investigation of the major destructive habits of thought I’ve observed in myself and others, specifically those that tend to conflict with the model of Fearless Creativity we’ll focus on in part Two. It should also be noted that this list is not intended to be taken as exhaustive – I’m sure I’ve missed a few doozers, but they didn’t fit into the acronym…

Finally, we’ll get to the good stuff: for each of the nine negative psychological patterns outlined in the first section, we’ll introduce a positive step towards creative action. Taken together, these form a kind of program for positive, organic creative flow – what we are ‘jumping’ towards:

Unlike the previous section, the tenets of creativity I’ll be exploring here are progressive and cumulative, like stages in a process that leads from preparation through completion of an individual creative work, and on towards what I believe to be a healthier, more integrated approach to creative work and life.

Continue with Control


* used (with much appreciation!) according to a Creative Commons license:
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0

How is Creativity like jumping off a cliff?

Note: this page is part of the Cliffjump! Manifesto. If you’ve arrived from an external link, and haven’t read the previous parts of the book, you might want to start at the beginning

groundwork

photo credit: Daniel Flower *

I suppose I should start by offering a definition of creativity, since it’s a word which doubtless means different things to different people. My definition is simply this: finding the ‘Pattern that Connects’ (in Gregory Bateson‘s memorable phrase), and expressing it in a new form. Coaxing order and meaning out of chaos. When you find yourself in the middle of this process, it is more thrilling than any amusement park ride. It’s a rush.

It seems to be a fundamental human drive, and certainly evidence of human creativity is nearly as old as evidence of humans – from cave paintings to early instruments, simple tools and elegant, innovative solutions to what were clearly pressing problems and concerns.

However, this is not just a book about creativity; it’s also about fearlessness. It’s about the moments in life when we have to confront fear, rise above it, move beyond it; when we take the risk, brave the consequences, and in the process learn something about ourselves, our limits, and our ability to surprise ourselves.

The most profound and transformative moments in my life have been those that combined these experiences: Fearless Creativity. This manifesto represents my ‘formula’ for making more of these moments…

So no, this is not going to be about physically jumping off of cliffs, though it’s a handy metaphor and might come up from time to time. This is about jumping into life and into our innate creativity, conquering hesitation and self-doubt and uncertainty. It’s about taking a leap of faith into the unknown, into possibility.

Creativity, to me, is about facing our internal fears and blocks, seeing them for what they are, setting them aside for a while and doing something amazing despite them. It is about getting the better of the part of our brains that wants to avoid risk, play it safe, be cautious and conservative and not draw too much attention to ourselves.

This ‘lizard brain’, as some have called it (Maria Nemeth, in her wonderful book ‘Mastering Life’s Energies‘, prefers to call it the ‘Monkey Mind’), wants us to do that because it’s a good strategy for not getting yourself killed by a hungry predator, which was very important for much of our evolution as a species – when that was an important aspect of survival.

Unfortunately it’s also a good formula for an unfulfilled, unfulfilling life, and since surviving on a day-to-day basis is less about avoiding hungry predators than it once was, there’s no good reason for living that way any more. We can afford to risk being more. In fact, we can’t afford not to.

Creativity is curiosity, and even though curiosity can get you into trouble (apparently it can even kill you, at least if you’re a cat…) it might also be your best shot at finding your way out of it again. This applies on a global scale as well – it’s arguable that human curiosity is responsible for many of the dire threats facing our world, but I think it may also be our only real chance at averting disaster.

Creativity is about taking risks that might quite possibly not pay off, but might also lead us beyond ourselves, let us solve seemingly impossible problems, make something beautiful and transformative, and maybe even change the world for the better. It’s happened before, after all.

Creativity is starting with something small and ending up with something amazing. It can be simple and quiet, but it can also be utterly exhilarating: like standing at the edge of the cliff, feeling the vertigo and the rush of air and the tingle of anticipation, completely and utterly in the moment… and then stepping off into air (with, hopefully at least, some deep water at the bottom!)

Creativity, finally and most importantly, is about what happens after that – about the change that takes place in you, as a result of the utterly transformative experience that I like to call The Creative Moment – the electricity and spark of something new emerging out of nothing.

This manifesto is inspired by that moment, that feeling, that experience. I want to convey the excitement of it, and to offer a glimpse of what might happen if more people could taste that thrill… And I want to offer a kind of formula for cultivating the mindset that makes it possible, avoiding the most common pitfalls along the way, and developing a deeper sense of creative connection with the world around us, into the bargain.

The Cliffjump! Manifesto is intended for anyone interested in digging deeper into the creative process – not just professional artists, although that is my own background and will inform my approach. I believe these precepts can be applied productively in any field where creativity and innovation are needed, including but not limited to the fine and performing arts, literature, design, technology, business, marketing, science, engineering…

groundwork 2

photo credit: Mike Babiarz *

So what exactly qualifies me to talk about all of this?

I’m a musician, composer, and writer. I’ve been absorbed with creative work, and with thinking about creativity, all my life. I was also somehow along the line blessed and/or cursed with an inability, once I become curious about something, to stop thinking about it until I feel I’ve sorted it out to my satisfaction. This can take rather a long time when the subject is large, and creativity is definitely one of the largest subjects I know of.

Cliffjump! distills this lifetime of experience and investigation into a powerful set of guidelines for creative endeavour. It presents a model of the creative process that is both practical and philosophical, but above all empowering. It digs deep into the psychology of creativity as I’ve experienced and observed it, and offers a roadmap that gets us to the good stuff – while trying to avoid the many pitfalls and blind alleys along the way. It’s not intended to be an exhaustive, definitive statement; more of a “here’s what I’ve got so far, what do you think?”

Perhaps the purest and most complete expression of the principles of Fearless Creativity in my own life has been my solo piano work, specifically the ‘continuum‘ concert series. These are completely improvised: I walk onstage with literally no idea at all what I’m going to play, sit down at the piano and look for a friendly-looking note (or chord, or pattern). The first thing that comes out, whatever it might be, becomes the theme. I play with it, see where it wants to go. The resulting journeys invariably take me to places I could not have predicted; sometimes challenging, sometimes painful, sometimes uplifting, but always unexpected.

Similarly, my electronic/ambient composition project ‘Sound Fascination‘ involves rapid, from-the-hip simultaneous composition/production, with the starting point being a sound (whether it’s a previously prepared patch, a preset created by someone else, or something put together on the spot). I play something on that, whatever my first idea is, then start looking for another sound or effect that seems to add something interesting to the first one… and so on.

Now, not all of my work involves this kind of freefall; some involves meticulous planning and extensive editing and revision; but the fundamental mindset is often the same and it has informed and defined my whole creative life. It’s very much the spirit that underlies the Cliffjump! Manifesto. 

continue with Everyone loves an Acronym


* used (with much appreciation!) according to a Creative Commons license:
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0

Introduction

Note: this page is part of the Cliffjump! Manifesto. If you’ve arrived from an external link, and haven’t read the previous parts of the book, you might want to start at the beginning

introduction

photo credit: Powderruns *

Creativity fascinates me. It is the focus of my life, the thread of my narrative.

Creative people are a profound mystery to me, despite the fact that I have been told all my life that I am one. On good days I suppose I am (at least, on good days I manage to get some creative work done, which is not exactly the same thing), but this doesn’t diminish the magic of it one bit. Creativity is a small miracle that happens every day, all over the world, and this document aims to help you get in on the fun – or do so in a deeper, more empowered manner.

I have spent my life in pursuit of creativity, and I’ve also spent a lot of time around other people who are on the same quest. I’ve watched myself and others wrestle with the process, frustrated by its unpredictability and with the futility of trying to control it. I don’t believe it has to be this way. I think we can do better.

This is not just about getting you creatively ‘unstuck’, though that is a noble goal and hopefully, a positive side-effect. This is not just about presenting techniques or tricks to get the creative juices flowing, though we’ll certainly look into a few of those along the way. This is not even ‘just’ about digging deep into our fears and creative blocks and finding ways to transcend them, though we’ll be doing a lot of that too…

I want to offer you what I believe to be a set of keys (not necessarily the only set) to a better way of creating: a healthier, more empowering model of what creativity is; a more fulfilling and joyous, less angst-ridden and self-destructive way to create. A way with soul and purpose that can be applied in every aspect of your life – not just your creative work, whatever that may be. In fact, as you go down this path it will gradually make less and less sense to try to separate the two. Your innate creative energy will be deeply embedded in every aspect of your life, inextricably entwined with every decision, every act.

Fair warning: this is likely to involve some potentially uncomfortable and possibly even painful self-examination; certainly it has for me, but the results have made it more than worthwhile. Remember the old saying about making an omelette and breaking eggs – nothing good comes without some sacrifice.

Will this make you more money? Probably not, at least not directly… although we will be investigating some of the psychology that inhibits creative people from successfully marketing or promoting their work, and pointing the way towards a healthier mindset about it. But that’s not my main goal here; others have covered that ground, and I’ll link to some of their work in the Resources section later on.

Will it make you happier? Well, I can only speak for myself – the model of creativity I am presenting here has made my creative life more satisfying and enriching than I ever thought possible. It lets me truly enjoy my own creative work, and the work of others, without jealousy and cruel self-judgment. It has given me the tools to tame self-doubt, silence the inner critic that sabotages our creative work before we’ve even finished it (or even worse, before we begin).

Completely? Permanently? No. I am human, I slip, I lose focus like everyone else and old habits creep back in. I do not promise that the model I propose here is infallible, or that it will in and of itself permanently erase these tendencies that are so much a part of our human condition.

However, the method offers a structure to fall back on, a way to reset and get started again when the wheels get stuck in the mud. It provides a framework for seeing these doubts and fears for what they are, for assessing the case made by the voices of self-criticism against a more encouraging, supportive set of messages, so we can choose the course that seems most promising. I know which one that has generally been for me.

Of course, it is perfectly possible to be creative when motivated by fear, by competition, by the desire for attention, fame or fortune or by the drive to make one’s mark on the world before we die. Indeed, there have been countless highly creative people through the ages who were and are motivated by these things…

However, I believe that over the long term, they tend to make us unhappy and unfulfilled – always chasing impossible goals, never satisfied with what we’ve accomplished. I know that way quite well, and my experience has been that it’s really not all it’s cracked up to be.

And at the end of the day, I believe there is a better way, a way more joyful, more rewarding, more ‘spiritual’ if you will… I believe this, or rather I know it, because I have followed this path for years. Like many things in life, it gets easier, and better, with practice. This book, and the larger discussion and community I hope it fosters, is my way of sharing it with you.

continue with How is Creativity like jumping off a cliff?


* used (with much appreciation!) according to a Creative Commons license:
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0

Prologue

Welcome to the Cliffjump! Manifesto… I know there are a lot of things you could have chosen to read today, so the fact that you’re reading this really means a lot to me, and I want to do everything I can to make it worth your while. To that end, let’s quickly go over what you can expect, and why I think you should stick around…

The purpose of this humble little project is to explore the creative process from three perspectives: psychological, practical, and philosophical*, and to offer a guide to a way of approaching creative work that has been remarkably fulfilling and empowering for me.

On a psychological level, I’ll be exploring some of the fears that I feel hold us back from our innate creativity, and looking at some novel ways to work around them. I’ll examine five specific negative habits of thinking that I believe interrupt and stifle creative flow. And I’ll try to provide some guidance on how to avoid them as much as possible, though I personally feel we can never fully or permanently ‘cure’ ourselves of them.

On a practical level, I’ll distill the lessons I’ve learned over a lifetime of creative work into a simple and reliable framework on which to build a rewarding and fulfilling creative habit. In the place of the five negative patterns mentioned above, I’ll be proposing five elements of a healthier, more positive approach to creative work.

Finally, on a philosophical level, I’ll take a deeper look at the essence of the creative life. I’ll show how, for me at least, it fits into a larger worldview – and how this way of seeing and approaching creativity might bring more meaning, purpose and empowerment into our lives and our societies. (Note: the full-length, paid version of the book goes into much more detail on this level…)

It is my belief that, far more than a pleasant diversion, creativity is the most important tool we have in facing an uncertain and difficult future. We need creativity more than ever. We need Fearless Creativity.

Drawing as it does on the the vast existing literature (both classic and contemporary) on the subject, but rather more on my own experience and perspective, I hope – more importantly – that this work will help foster and contribute to positive and constructive discussion on the subject.

I realize that’s a lot for a project like this (by someone you’ve most likely never heard of) to promise, and while I’ve put a lot into it I don’t want to trivialize this enormous and fascinating subject, or to give the impression that I think this represents any kind of ‘last word’ on it – as if that were even possible!

In fact, I do realize that the creative process is often a good deal messier than the rather idealized picture I’ll be presenting here might suggest. I have to admit that my own process does not often follow a succinct linear path, and I expect that this is the case for most creative people.

So while I will be presenting a framework for the creative process, it is really not intended to be an authoritative list of the stages of creativity, nor a prescription for it. I don’t mean to suggest that if you simply follow these simple steps in this order, creativity will result; nor am I saying that if you don’t follow these steps, your work is not really creative.

Still, I think there is some value in taking things apart and having a closer look at what makes them tick, so that’s what I’ve done. Doubtless others would break it down differently, and come up with different observations and conclusions; this is what it looks like to me, at least on a good day…

Regardless, I do hope it resonates with you, and that you’ll leave your thoughts and reactions in the discussion area at the end of each section. With a little luck, this little book will be the beginning of a much larger conversation.

Continue with the Introduction


* I should point out here that I am not a trained or licensed psychologist, nor do I have any formal education in philosophy; so these terms are used colloquially. The ideas I’ll be working with here are based on my own observations and my particular creative journey, with all its successes and failures; conversations with creative thinkers from my own and various other disciplines; and finally, on my own independent reading and research.