i am on a reading/writing retreat/advance in mexico, and it is so precious and delicious. i have been reflecting on what makes it so good, and realizing that the majority of elements are ones i conjure up to advance my creative work any time, any place.
the word retreat is familiar, but really it’s an advance – taking the time to move forward intentionally in my life’s work.
so, partially to remind myself, partially to spark creative time for you, here goes.
set aside time to get lost in the work. this might be an hour, a day, three weeks, a couple of months. obviously more time is better, though some people thrive in the small window. you know what you need. but don’t postpone until you get the biggest chunk of time. think of every moment as time you are intentionally feeding your creativity. when you are hungry, you don’t say, ‘well this meal isn’t big enough, better wait for the feast’. you nourish yourself (on local grassfed organic gluten free sugar free foods, but if that’s not there, pizza or goat curry also works, feel me?). small also opens the door to large. when you use an hour well, your system starts rearranging your circumstances, wanting more.
creating with others may work well for you, again, know thyself. be wary of work dates, be honest about who you can actually create next to or with. don’t cocrastinate, it will only grow resentment in all directions.
say no during this time, to plans, lunch dates, phone calls. scheduled things with others can disrupt the flow. tell beloveds you will see them on the other side. let people root for your creator self by giving you time.
the exception to this is if toni morrison, or toshi reagon, or kiese laymon, or beyonce, or bjork calls you to go out and talk about creating things. otherwise, it can wait.
time is the first way to nourish your creativity.
the whole internet with it’s crises and food porn and subtweets and azealia banks will be there when you’ve finished creating something. the texts and emails are generally not as urgent as they seem – be as responsive to your creativity as you are to the projected world.
airplane mode is a gift from the gods-of-getting-your-life-together. disconnecting will deepen your sleep, sharpen your awareness of the actual place and moment you are in, and give your mind a little room from the words of others to actually hear yourself. turn the outer world back on only after you have completed something.
it’s not even disconnecting really, it’s giving yourself the space to connect to your creative self. prioritize that connection which buzzfeed cannot capture.
make a list of all of the artists, writers, musicians and other creators who inspire you, who are better than you, who are part of your field. ask for recommendations from people who are familiar with your work. spend part of your time inhaling, devouring, analysing, being humbled by and filling up on the work of other artists.
i like to juxtapose creative things, listening to jay-z while reading toni cade bambara. but do it how you like. you might need to take things in on their own. but take in the intentional arts of your possible peers.
don’t only take in art that is in your field either. poetry and essays are essential ingredients of great fiction. the natural world can teach you how to describe love. genius teaches in many ways, be open to unexpected inspiration.
4) options. give yourself multiple outlets through which your creations can flow.
i am here primarily to write, but i have a sketchbook, a small notebook for ideas, a journal for personal reflection and clearing, magazines to collage, a recording app if songs come, and the device i am writing on now for actual story writing and editing.
even if you just have a sketchbook and a journal, you’ve widened the options. stories can come as sketches, charts, character drawings, jumbles of many faces, photography, poetry, freedom songs. the main thing is to have a way to grab it when the genius comes.
i think of prepping for a creation advance like prepping for a sport. i need water! i need food that is quick to prepare and meets the nutritional needs of my body. i love to cook beautiful meals for myself, basic delicious stuff i can prepare on the front end to heat and eat – brown rice stir fry, quinoa and veggies, frittata, etc.
give yourself as few escapes as possible – needing to go get food can be a procrastination move.
i also need all the creation options mentioned in point 4. chargers, pens, paper, ritual items (see 6). have it all ready to go on the front end.
the inputs – a stack of books, real ones and kindle downloads. also amazing playlists that make you want to put out.
and i think we all need what i think of as the valve, or pleasure, supplies – i want my body to feel good throughout the work. wine, whiskey, weed, sex toys – ways to celebrate a good day’s work. bookend the retreat/advance with body treats, have a massage booked, or go to a sauna. the body is the creative tool, treat it well.
creating is the work of god(s), so set the sacred space. i create an altar for my work, pull tarot cards about what i should be open to, and start my writing days with journaling, yoga, meditation and somatic practices. i brush my teeth, i like to smell good for my creativity.
i also tidy the space where i am going to create – dishes, bed made. basic stuff, as cleaning can become a procrastination too. but clear space leaves more room for the new things.
your ritual might be coffee, a prayer, a long run, a mantra (i think i can, i dream i do, i breathe brilliance) or sitting mindfully in your studio. it can change as you go too, it’s the spirit of ritualizing your creative life that matters. creating a practice ground, where anything can happen.
mind body earth and spirit create, it’s not just your brain and fingers. i am thrilled here to be able to swim in the ocean each day, read in the sun, write in my hammock. i know that i write more under these conditions, so i have started keeping a fund for this purpose, going someplace warm, near the ocean, in the winter. but this is rare, and i don’t want my creating to be rare. at home i put on music, turn the heat up so i can wear tropical attire, light incense, and do the ritual, noticing my outer and inner worlds before i drop in.
everything up until now is setting the conditions. this is the fire pit, the dry ready wood, the abundant kindling, the paper, the air, the longing for warmth. now the spark might come at any time.
i often ritual, journal, read, draw, and then the spark comes, but sometimes it comes as i am drifting to sleep, or first thing when i wake up, or as i am biking past a tree. sometimes one spark will come while i am pursuing another – good problems!
the spark receives the highest honor, everything else is secondary. i stop whatever i am doing – reading, cooking, biking, dreaming – to blow on the spark, cultivate it, welcome it.
that spark is why we are here.