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Visit the active LitNet platform at www.litnet.co.za


 
Menings | Opinion > SeminaarKamer | Seminar Room > English > Mini-seminars

Big Book Chain Chat #12: Sustaining creativity


Helen Brain - 2010-09-30

For most creative people there is a tension between doing what we love and the need to earn money. A few people have reached a place where these two things mesh, and some lucky people have a patron, but for most creatives it’s hard to find a balance between expressing creativeness and making a living.

So if you’re engaged in an everyday job that isn’t very satisfying, how do you keep your creativity fresh? Here are some of the ways I’ve learned to keep the creative spring bubbling.

  • Don’t watch it or worry about it. The less attention you pay to it, the happier it is.
  • When it dries up, it’s often due to anxiety. Face the anxiety – talk it over with a therapist, or trick it; if the idea of writing 1 000 words a day is too daunting, set the limit very low, at something you can easily achieve, like 300 words a day. Another good trick when you’re stuck is to try and do it as badly as possible. Write the purplest prose. Draw the most indulgent picture, and once you’ve confronted the worst mess you can make, the fear usually unblocks.
  • You have to feed the spring, and I do it through daydreaming and playing. I particularly like spending time with children, because they’re so engaged in what is happening right now.
  • Interact with other people. I get some of my best ideas messing around with other creative people on Facebook.
  • I have everything I need. If I’m always longing for something bigger and better, I’m pushing aside, and rejecting what I have now. And it’s in what I have now that my riches lie. I would prefer to live a small life very richly, rather than skim over the surface of an extravagant life.
  • Don’t be afraid of failure. Accept that it has a cycle, that what you make will vary between not very good and fantastic, and that there is a place for both of them. Let the cycle work itself out. The good times will inevitably get less good, and the crappy times will improve, no matter what you do, so don’t worry about it.
  • I’ve learned never to talk about my writing while it’s in progress, or to show people my half-made pictures or projects. You get only a certain amount of energy for a project, and if you talk it all away, there’s much less left to do the actual creating.
  • Giving back feeds you with energy, as long as you maintain boundaries and don’t get drawn in and manipulated. Fundraising, advertising, writing copy or checking websites for charities or people who need a hand up seem to open you up in ways you wouldn’t have imagined sitting in your work cocoon.
  • There is no wrong. Don’t be afraid of making a mistake. It’s just a new path to follow. I imagine each project like a trail with hot spots – like a treasure hunt. I find a clue and move forward towards the next hot spot in the trail. When I make a “mistake” I take it as a variation on what I had intended, and full of possibilities.
  • Routine. I don’t like having a routine, but I don’t like chaos either. I have to find a balance between the two, and I’m discovering that having some elements of my life – the practical stuff, mainly – in a routine relieves anxiety and frustration, and helps me to be more creative.
  • Keep a balanced life. I do it by having four imaginary people in my head (a team of advisers) who are in charge of the four areas – a wise woman who is a healer and in charge of my psyche, a creative woman who writes my books and draws my pictures, a man who fixes things and keeps them running smoothly, and an older man who cooks and grows vegetables and cares about my health and routine. I consult them when I have a problem, and see what solutions they come up with. My unconscious mind is far cleverer than my conscious mind, and my team of people are a way for me to access my subconscious and make decisions that I think are wiser than ones I could make using only the conscious part of my brain.
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    What happens when the creative spring dries up completely?

    When my husband became very ill, I lost the will to create. The last thing I helped create was a beautiful coffin, which artist friends painted with Ethiopian angels, and which we lined with buchu and pelargoniums and kooigoed. It was burned with him.

    And then, in the awful days after his death I wanted to destroy things. I nearly bashed down my bathroom, painstakingly mosaicked with toys and broken china, but one of my friends persuaded me not to. Instead I hacked the garden, at night, in the dark, cutting down hedges, ripping out creepers, getting it to a state that echoed the deadness inside me. I chopped alien trees, and the act of chopping and destroying purged my rage that this beautiful man could have been destroyed in the prime of his life.

    I didn’t panic, because I knew I’d come out the other side – that one day I would create again. What mattered was that I had a surfeit of emotional energy that I had to utilise in a way that allowed me to keep going with my everyday life and not be destructive to myself or my children.

    Before he died he made me a rose-bed in the middle of his carefully created indigenous garden – a real act of love on his part. We chose the most fragrant roses. At one point a fungus attacked them, their leaves fell off and I thought they were all going to die.

    But today, 14 months after he died, the garden I hacked down has come alive again. And the rose bushes are thick with fat, crimson flowers, smelling of Turkish Delight.