Coaching Creativity - 7 Lessons from Artists
Copyright 2006 Suzanne Falter-Barns Three years ago, I was a frustrated, fed-up writer, sitting in a Starbucks in Times Square in tears. I'd gotten 27 rejections on my book - ironically enough, it was about how to live your dreams - and I was sure my own dream of being a successful author was dead. At that moment, a little voice whispered in my ear that I would only become a writer when, and if, I chose it. Like really chose it - deep in that secret place we all have in our gut. So I chose it, simply because there didn't seem to be anything else I could do at the time. I decided to walk out of Starbucks a writer, absurd as it seemed.
Two days later, I got fired from my temp job, giving me more time to write. Ten days later, I spontaneously got two assignments from a major magazine I'd never even considered writing for. Three weeks later, I finally got a publishing deal on the selfhelp book. Another month later, Hollywood called seeking film rights on a novel I'd published 8 years earlier that had died in the marketplace. 75,000 copies later, my self-help book, How Much Joy Can You Stand? (Ballantine Wellspring) is a creativity classic, a major star is making a movie of my novel, and I am a successful writer.
But more than a writer, I am a coach. Through this process, I have found myself on a one-woman mission to move people to express themselves. I've discovered that the reason more people don't express themselves is not because they can't - but because they don't realize how universal their fears are, and how necessary their work is in the world. In short, they suffer from a lack of information. It's the very same information all of us writers, artists, entrepreneurs, and other dreamers uncover as we return to our dreams, day after day, month after month, year after year. So, in order to expedite that learning curve, I thought I'd share some of these hard won lessons with you, in hopes that you can pass them on to your own clients. 1. Go with the flow (or without it.) If you're going to create anything in life, pray for flow but don't count on it. 'Flow' is a much bandied-about buzz word that describes creating at max.
You concentrate intensely on what you're doing, the words/images/ideas/thoughts tumble straight from your mind into your hands, the telephone rings unnoticed, and you look up three hours later, convinced only minutes have passed. Creating in a state of flow can convince you that you are, indeed, on the right track. Yet, the converse can be true, too. If flow is missing for too long, an artist will start to feel blocked and miserable, like a constipated fish out of water. And yet . no artist experiences flow all the time or even very often. I had to break this news once to a client I'll call Amy, who was angrily insisting that her speaking career should just fall in her lap, in a great sweep of synchronicity. Sorry, Amy, I had to say - there are good days and there are bad days, just like with anything else. The illusion is that if we're really doing our dream, the whole darned thing should flow. Yet, some days are downright tedious, just as some days are miraculous.
Professional artists know that flow cannot be counted on, so they learn to create without it -- putting their work together every single day, whether or not they're 'in the mood.' 2. You have to get it wrong before you can get it right. Out there in the rational, logical world, many people strive to get things right the first time. In an artist's studio, however, it's the mistakes that really count. In the book, Mastery; Interviews with 30 Remarkable People, juggler and performance artist Michael Moschen says, "My process works very well when I have time to try it and fail, try it and fail, try it and fail. Sometimes I'll try a piece for three months and get rid of it. Then I'll go back to it again and leave it several more times, because I have to fail a lot to find out all about what the piece wants and really needs. Once it clicks and I start succeeding, you can't stop me." Or, as Miles Davis said, "Do not fear mistakes; there are none.
" 3. Not every work of art is actually art. Over time artists become adept at sorting out which of their creations are true 'keepers' and which are mediocre 'also-rans'. This distinction comes from no place other than your gut, and can only be learned by experience. These gut distinctions can be subtle at times, and take time to learn. After all, who really wants to admit the dark truth that the screenplay they've been writing for the past three months is actually a bore. Better to let the marketplace tell you this truth . and it will. Yet, you may also create something that you just know is a keeper -- and the marketplace won't give it a break.
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