The Creative Action Figure: Put Your Muse to Work (and Play)

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Forget for now the image of Buddha crouched still beneath the boddhi tree or the image of DaVinci standing still and gazing upon a blank wall until he “sees” inspiration.

In fact, forget waiting for inspiration
altogether.

Granted, I’m a fan of being idle and blessed, and when
tracking wonder I get my share of sitting still and gazing. But creative people who contribute something substantial to this world also act. Here are some thoughts and tips to inspire you to act smartly on behalf of your creativity.

Dance in a Ring of Fire.

Shiva is all about creative action. The famous image of Shiva
dancing contrasts vividly with that of sitting Buddha. This image in part represents the moment that Shiva stopped becoming a dreamer with dreadlocks and started becoming a creator with fiery action. As some stories have it, he created the physical world of the 10,000 things.

But this image also suggests that when
we’re at our best, our body’s dynamic energy propels us to dance creatively in this world – even when a Johnny Cash ring of fire surrounds us. We each possess that fire of creative action.

Consider the word natar,
a Sanskrit word that figures prominently in a long-living Yoga philosophy. Natar refers to this Shiva image. It means “true self,” but it also translates to “dancer” and “actor.”

When we’re creative, we act with clear intention and call upon the tools to manifest that intention.

View yourself as an actor – and not only as a dreamer and thinker.

Rituals Work.

John Grisham sweated in construction and sold shoes before
he became a lawyer-turned-writer. When he first started recognizing the demands of writing (“the hardest job I’ve ever had”), he had “these little rituals that

were silly and brutal but very important.” He was still a lawyer and had just discovered the fodder for a potentially regaling story – what would become A Time to Kill. No one at the time knew John Grisham as a writer. Up by 5 am, he’d shower, go to his office down the street, and be at his desk, with cup of coffee and legal pad nearby, and write the first word by 5:30 am. This he did relentlessly for five days a week.

“I have a glass of water or a cup of tea,” says Stephen King about his rituals for writing. “There’s a certain time I sit down, from 8:00 to 8:30, somewhere within that half hour every morning,” he explained. “I have my vitamin pill and my music, sit in the same seat, and the papers are all arranged in the same places. The cumulative purpose of doing these things the same way every day seems to be a way of saying to the mind, you’re going to be dreaming soon.”

These stories are reprinted from interviews and biographies on Mason Currey’s fabulous website Daily Routines. A writer and editor, Currey was curious how other writers’ routines affected their focus. He’s amassed some fantastic examples. From Simon DeBeauvoir to Alice Munro, you’ll find examples of how writers create their own rituals.

Scott Belsky knows all about action. The founder and CEO of the creative professional network Behance, Belsky tracked the habits of creative designers and heads of creative businesses. His findings? The successful ones, the ones who make significant contributions to our culture, have their morning and weekly routines. He documents some of them in his book Making Ideas Happen: Overcoming the Obstacles Between Vision & Reality (Penguin Portfolio 2010).

Breast cancer and chemo-theraphy didn’t stop one of my
clients. She developed a clear daily regimen that included walking, yoga, writing, and then chemotherapy. She called the phase her “radiation writer’s retreat.” It worked. She worked. She wrote and rewrote the next sections of her novel.

Why rituals?
They center their mind and center their body. Religious leaders have used them for
centuries to shift congregants’ minds toward the spirit and away from the daily flotsam of worry and competition and jealousy and all that inner heckler jazz.

(Really, there are mounds of theories about “why ritual” – but I’m focusing here on creative ritual.)

[from images of life]

Biologically, we respond to rhythm, and repetition is part of rhythm. Babies respond to repetition to help them get to sleep or learn to play an instrument or learn a language. We creative adults have the freedom to retrain our muse in ways that bring us delight and productivity.


The Creative Person
Takes the Body With Him
.

Our bodies crave rhythm and repetition. Start to act on behalf of your creativity for ten, fifteen minutes a day, and your creative mind will love you.

Writing “has an athletic quality to me,” Jonathan Lethem
said in a conversation with Paul Aster (again reprinted on Daily Routines). Aster agreed. Here’s what he said:

Writing is physical for me. I always have the sense that the words are coming out of my body, not just my mind. I write in longhand, and the pen is scratching the words onto the page. I can even hear the words being written. So much of the effort that goes into writing prose for me is about making sentences that capture the music that I’m hearing in my head. It takes a lot of work, writing, writing, and rewriting to get the music exactly the way you want it to be. That music is a physical force. Not only do you write books physically, but you read books physically as well. There’s something about the rhythms of language that correspond to the rhythms of our own bodies. An attentive reader is finding meanings in the book that can’t be articulated, finding them in his or her body.

Sir Ken Robinson interviewed numerous people who love doing what they do. In his book The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything, he interviews Aaron Sorkin – author of the two Broadway plays A Few Good Men and The Farnsworth Invention. Like Lethem and Aster, Sorkin also says that writing is physical: “I’m playing all the parts. I’m getting up and down from my desk, I’m walking around. When it’s going well, in fact, I’ll find that I’ve been doing laps around my house, way out in front of where I type. Then I have to go back to where I am on the page and make sure I actually type what I just did.”

One of my clients, a renowned fiction writer, walks. And walks. And walks. Something like six miles she walks to get her mind into “that other space,” what she calls her creative zone.

This is precisely why I draft and rewrite with my body in movement on a rubber rectangle called a yoga mat. This is why I harness my breath while my fingers peck my laptop keyboard. The body moves the mind. In fact, I’d argue that the body makes up or influences close to 95% of what we call mind.

Fail, Baby, Fail.

We can’t let the fear of a few boos and bad reviews stop us. We human beings have a biological force and urge to create. It’s up to us – not our spouses or partners, not our bosses or children, and certainly not “the world” or Fate or Fortune – to fulfill that urge.

“Write crap.” That was among the best advice I received from poet Gerald Burns when I was a puppy dog poet. I’ve written enough bad poetry to fill our town’s landfill. I’ve been rejected more times than Stephen King’s

Carrie – both the character and the novel before Bantam wisely bought it.

Ship relentlessly. Marketing magnate Seth Godin says he has
so many successful ideas because he’s had so many failures. He says he just keeps shipping. By “shipping,” he means that you send out a poem to a journal’s editor or seek representation from a gallery owner or display your artwork in an exhibit. (See Belsky’s book for more about this idea.)

Madeline L’Engle’s young adult novel A Wrinkle in Time received rejection slips from almost every major
publisher. It came out in 1962 and remains a best-seller. She didn’t budge. And she doesn’t budge from stating potential controversial views. Here’s what she told Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in his book Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Flow (Harper Perrenial 1996):

Human beings are the only creatures who are allowed to fail. If an ant fails, it’s dead. But we’re allowed to learn

from our mistakes and from our failures. And that’s how I learn, by falling flat on my face and picking myself up and starting all over again. If I’m not free to fail, I will never start another book, I’ll never start a new thing.

Get your work out there. And do so regardless of success or
failure. “If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never do anything original.” That’s an adage from Sir Ken Robinson again.

Ideas for Creative Action

Keep a
ritual simple
. If you create complicated routines that take an hour to perform, your muse will be bored and fatigued. Light a candle (like Isabelle Allende) or stick of incense. Bow. Center on your breath for three cycles.

Engage
the body
. A simple Yoga As Muse sequence or a bike ride or walk around the block might help. But even lighting a candle with awareness can be supremely physical.

Act
regularly without rigidity
. Most embodied muses respond well to acting at regular times of day. Most embodied muses like a few simple repeated steps.

Start
short
. Create for fifteen to thirty minutes a day at first. Just enough time to shift patterns and whet the muse’s appetite for more.

Don’t
binge
. If you do not create regularly now, refrain from pulling a creative “all-nighter” or writing or painting for 8 hours one Saturday. You’ll exhaust the muse. If you haven’t run regularly for several years, would

you put on your running shoes and run for six miles? Then why do that to your muse? Hold out for 15 days. Even if you write or create crap, keep creating with your regular habits of action.

[from Mike R. Baker]

Be a creative warrior. To create new habits, you might have to be severe with your muse at first and insist upon some creative action. Shiva had Virabhadra. Virabhadra was a warrior who fought on behalf of Shiva’s dignity and integrity. (Hence, the well-known “warrior poses” in yoga are called “virabhadrasana.”) There is a biological default in our human make-up that will want to take the seemingly easy way out and – when thirty minutes or an hour seems free – retreat to the sofa with a bag of peanut butter pretzels and an episode of The Daily Show. So at first, give creative action its due diligence. Pull out your sword and fight on behalf of your creative dignity and integrity. Laraine Herring offers some fresh guidance in her new book The Writing Warrior: Discovering the Courage to Free Your True Voice (Shambhala Press 2010). Then, at the end of the fifteenth day, grab those pretzels and indulge Jon Stewart his playful punditry.

* * *

Share your thoughts and rituals here. If you want my free monthly messages – that include more thoughts, tips, and announcements for creative professionals and aspiring creatives – then send me an email message: jeffdavis at centertopage.com with “newsletter” in the message or visit centertopage.com, and fill in the information there.

Jeffrey Davis is a writer, creativity consultant, teacher, and speaker. He is author of The Journey from the Center to the Page: Yoga Philosophies and Practices as Muse for Authentic Writing and the Tracking Wonder blog for Psychology Today. His poetry, essays, articles, and fiction have appeared widely in journals and magazines. He is founder and director of Center To Page, LLC, an organization that offers full mentoring and editing services for writers – from best-sellers to aspirants. He coaches individuals & organizations and leads workshops & seminars around the world. He also serves as Tiferet‘s Fiction Editor.

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