Sunday, January 11, 2015


I’ve read a lot about how to foster creativity and found that common themes include protecting the time that you have to practice your craft and showing up to do the work. One of the writers on this topic who really speaks to me is Clarissa Pinkola Estés (CPE) who devotes chapter 10 (Clear Water: Nourishing the Creative Life) of Women Who Run with the Wolves to just that. I very much like the metaphor of creativity as a river that can get dammed up or polluted. It is our job to remove the logjams and clean up the river. CPE gives us nine steps to “take back the river”.

1. Receive nurturance ~ Accomplishing this first step is as simple as accepting compliments about your craft, savor them and fight the negative talk we have with ourselves about not being good enough. Practice just saying “Thank you!” when you receive a compliment. It's surprisingly difficult to do!

There’s another form of nurturance that Julia Cameron mentions in The Artist’s Way. She refers to it as “filling the well” (again, the water metaphor, which I think is so apt). Cameron suggests blocking out time every week to go on “artist dates” to refresh the soul. This can be as simple as going for a walk or taking a bubble bath, or could be a trip to a craft fair or museum. The point is that this is your time, alone.

2. Respond ~ “Creativity is the ability to respond to all that goes on around us”

3. Be wild ~ For the river of creativity to flow we must “…allow our ideational lives to be let loose, to stream, letting anything come, initially censoring nothing.” 

      In his online lecture on creativity, John Cleese also highlights the importance of humor, noting that it’s essential to spontaneity and playfulness, and that laughter leads to relaxation, which results in creativity (see April 10, 2012 posting in this blog).

      4. Begin ~ Just do it! If fear of failure is what’s keeping you back, then “Let your fear leap out and bite you so you can get it over with and go on.” 

      Steven Pressfield also looks at the issue of fear in The War of Art: Winning the Inner Creative Battle, and says that fear and resistance are indicators of the importance of our endeavor to the growth of our soul. 

      John Cleese notes that fear of making mistakes stops creativity; we must know that whatever the outcome, nothing is wrong!

     5. Protect your time ~ Do not allow interruptions during your precious creative time. Put up a sign if necessary: “Artist at work. Do not disturb.”  In his lecture on creativity, John Cleese also underlines the importance of undisturbed time.

6. Stay with it ~ This simply means to keep showing up and, if necessary, tie yourself to the pottery wheel. This is a way of saying to all the negative thoughts and excuses we make for not being creative that we will not cooperate with them. Sometimes we go into the studio and it becomes quite easy to start doing trivial things, rather than the deep creative work. For this reason, it’s important to carve out enough time to be able to get past this initial busyness.

7.  Protect your creative life ~ Again, just show up to do the work… practice every day.

8.  Craft your real work ~ “Insist on a balance between pedestrian responsibility and rapture.” In other words, make your art a priority.

9.  Lay out nourishment for the creative life ~ According to CPE there are four basic food groups to nourish the creative soul: time, belonging, passion, and sovereignty.

Other really good books on this topic are:

  • Carla Needleman: The Work of Craft: An Inquiry into the Nature of Crafts and Craftsmanship
  • Robert Piepenburg: Treasures of the Creative Spirit: An Artist's Understanding of Human Creativity
  •  M.C. Richards: Centering in Pottery, Poetry, and the Person
  • Julia Cameron: The Vein of Gold

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