I took time off from working on my manuscript to prepare a short paper and present at a conference. As I shift my focus back to book writing, I feel the weightiness of a large, creative project, along with the need to regain momentum that I typically face after a break.
A friend once described a book he was writing as a massive 3-D puzzle, spinning on an axis, while accelerating away from him. He saw himself as constantly trying to catch glimpses of the book’s many aspects while chasing it. I feel that way now.
Such is the nature of ongoing creative projects. We chase them. They weigh us down. We need motivation and momentum as much as we need breaks.
And it is especially hard to stay committed to a project over the long haul, amidst all the distractions that pull us away.
To stay the course, we need to focus as much on the creative process as on the actual project.
Below are notes on the creative process from Denise Shekerjian’s Uncommon Genius in which she shares from her interviews with 40 MacArthur “Genius” Prize Recipients. I use some of their responses as guidelines as well as motivation. I hope you find them useful too.
From Part One:
- Be productive
- Look for connections
- Stay at it for a LONG time within a specific context
- Explore multiple, interlocking projects that are variations of a theme
- Take risks
- Look for your talent in the things you do well but take for granted
- Conquer fear
- Foster integrity
- Learn to tolerate long periods of uncertainty
- Make your work accessible
- Learn by doing
From Part Two:
- Dedicate yourself to an ideal
- Embrace the world as it is while simultaneously rejecting it for an alternative view
- Rely on metaphors to generate new ideas
- Cultivate the practice of shifting frames of reference
- Visualize success
- Travel — creative thinking requires breaks from habit
- Never underestimate will power
- Pay attention to your night dreams
- Pay attention to detail
- Be curious
- Trust your instincts
- Don’t judge your work too soon
- Think about your efforts as a work in progress
And here’s my favorite quote from theater director and producer Ellen Stewart:
“Here you are wantin’ to know about cree-a-tivity. Lemme tell you somethin’, baby. Carin’ is where it’s at. Trust me now because I know what I’m talkin’ ’bout — you got a love for what you’re doin’ and everythin’ else, all the rest of this cree-a-tivity stuff your wonderin’ ’bout, baby, it just comes.”
Shekerjian, Denise. 1991. Uncommon Genius: How Great Ideas are Born. New York: Penguin Books.
Written By Laura K Kerr, Ph.D