As musicians, the creative process is vital to us. It’s key to our performance, our writing, and even who we are as people. But what is it? What are the building blocks of the creative process? Can we encourage creativity or shape it? How do we get back in the groove if we don’t feel creative?
There’s a great nationally-syndicated radio show called “Art of the Song” which asks songwriters these questions every week. I asked hosts John and Viv what they’ve learned.
“Creativity is a response to inspiration,” they said. “It’s what happens when you put yourself in a quiet place and take the creative process seriously. Creativity is when you do the work of letting your subconscious shape ideas into something tangible.”
Both of them were clear that bringing abstract ideas into form – as songs, for example – is an art that requires practice. “Skill,” they said, “is an important building block that comes with practice.”
So if you want to be a songwriter but don’t play an instrument, you’ve got some work to do, learning how songs are structured and played. Likewise, those of us who play instruments and write songs regularly still need to hone our craft.
John and Viv were clear that creativity doesn’t happen as an accident. “Everyone has the potential to be creative,” they said. Even the seasoned artists they’ve interviewed have mentioned needing to keep creativity fresh.
Many of our guests have said that they recharge the creative batteries by going for a hike in nature – or going someplace that inspires them, someplace they’ve never been.” “You could challenge yourself to pick up a new instrument, or try writing in a completely different style.”
“Go for a walk around town, visit art galleries, visit music festivals, anything.”
The hard part is trusting the process when we don’t feel creative.
“Even when you feel you’re doing nothing, creativity is still cooking,” they said. “We feel bad if we’re not creating, but it’s okay not to be doing all the time. Sometimes you have to just receive. Exploration is all about allowing yourself to look beyond, to reach farther.”
For folks in a rut, they suggested getting together with other creative types and bouncing around ideas. Songwriter groups, book clubs, local art classes would all fit that bill nicely. Or try a workshop.
Recently, I taught vocal expression sessions at a creativity workshop and found it very helpful to my own creative process. Dr. Sallie Smith is a holistic neurologist based in Boulder, Colorado. She’s started the Journey to Self™ workshop series to help people tap in to their creative selves.
“The creative process begins with inspiration,” she said, “which poets and artists have for a long time personified as ‘the muse.’ Some call an external source the muse, i.e. a romantic interest or a drug, but it is really within us. Alcohol and drugs turn off the mind, but so does meditation, being quiet, slowing down, and following our heart.”
Dr. Smith agreed with John and Viv that creativity can be nurtured: “like a plant,” she said. But she also pointed to deeper roots: “By valuing ourselves, we value our own vision. This means we are able to take the leap of faith to begin our creative journey, and we are not easily derailed from our process by snide criticism or subjective opinion.
“Valuing ourselves enhances our resolve and thus strengthens our ability to reach the creative act’s completion. However, equally important is the humility to listen to constructive criticism and to learn from our mistakes.”