Creativity is not linear. This is the biggest truth about creativity. If you can get this one thing your creative output will grow exponentially. In volume and quality. To create means to grow. Not to make. Growth? Growth is not linear. It’s magical and mysterious. It comes in spurts and stalls. There are spirals and shrinkages. Growth requires cutting back. Growth is complex and interesting. Not plodding and plotted.
We tend to think that life unfolds in a line. We imagine that we are born on a certain day and then in some number of days later, some number of steps later we die. In between the birthdate and the death date on the tombstone or the electronic equivalent of it, we see a dash. A line. We went from here to there. One day after another.
But that is not how it works really as you know every time you have a deja vu. And what about your dream life? And your past lives which may be future lives. What about how things you have done continue to have resonance and effects long after they were completed. This is a bug metaphysical discussion and not my area of expertise except that I know my life is at the very least a serial. I come back to home plate but at a new energetic level. Time and time again. Sunday after Sunday I circle around. But for guidance on this seek other gurus.
A LINEAR APPROACH CAN CRUSH YOUR CREATIVE LIFE
What I can really help you with is understanding how a linear approach is crushing you creatively. The illusion that things will unfold in a logical order as planned. For some reason, though we are creatives, we expect that our work will unfold like compound interest. One thing mathematically leading to the next obvious and bigger thing.
But the creative experience is not like banking. You can count on things. And you can even count on accumulation. But the way to think of that is ‘body of work’. In the end that is what you are creating. When Robert Altman, the innovative and genius filmmaker was awarded his lifetime achievement Oscar he said ‘it’s all one movie’. That gives me chills. Separation is our most persistent and destructive illusion. So the idea that we move from one project to the next means that they are separate projects. And they are. Of course. But they also are not. At all.
CREATIVITY IS NOT LINEAR AND IT IS ALSO SUBTLE
My own breakthrough on linear thinking came when I was thinking about my relationship to happiness while I was working on my one woman show 100% Happy 88% of the Time.
I realized that I was operating under the belief that it went like this: unhappy then fine then happy. But that if I took the two ends of the line, one in each hand, like two end of a hula hoop that had been severed, and I brought those ends back together, happiness and unhappiness were very close together. And I could jump back and forth between them. Of course that meant I had to be wiling to be unhappy. But that’s the topic of another blog. What I saw was that happiness and unhappiness were close together and fine? Fine was all the way at the bottom, so far from happiness. And required a big gravity fighting effort to get away from. A shlep up a big concave hill. A skateboard would help. But still.
Life is not linear. Emotions are not linear. Love is not linear. Nature is not linear. Creativity is not linear.
But we act as if they are.
My Vedic meditation teacher is always telling us to ‘follow our charm’. I love that idea. Charm is certainly not linear. My friend Michael Patrick King of Sex & The City once gave me advise me to ‘follow the green lights’. These are all ways of saying: life is not linear. Creativity is not linear.
Go where the love is. That’s one way I say it.
HOW DO WE LIVE THE IDEA THAT CREATIVITY IS NOT LINEAR?
We go the next step not knowing where it will take us. We hit walls and go backwards which is sometimes the only direction available. Or we break down walls and then are exhausted and sleep. We doodle the answer while thinking about something else. We write a script hoping to produce it but fail at that and learn something and someone reads it who has a different idea for us and we end up on that job and that job leads to another idea and that’s the idea that makes our career. For now. Who knows about the first script.
Or a student will come into one of my classes trying to write one liners and end up revealing one of the most interesting origin stories I’ve ever heard. Or we move cites for a project, fall in love and then that love takes our work in a whole other direction. Or a client comes to me not even sure why, beyond being attracted to what she perceives as my wisdom and her readiness for something new. She wants to talk about a one woman show but is tentative, gets distracted telling me about her reality show idea, and I can see the reality show holds the key to unlock her one woman show.
Or a project is stalled for years. And suddenly the answer blooms like a desert flower. Out of nowhere. Dreams deferred arrive like thunderstorms after a drought. A tiny spark of an idea lights up the kindling of your dry spell. Your dance class ignites your novel. Your mother’s death invigorates your painting. A chance meeting of an old fan reminds you of a thread you had lost.
Creativity is waves and loops and spirals and triangles. It’s rushing and standing still. It’s question marks. ? Those curves and a dot. And even exclamation points! A long line a breath and a dots. It’s not a series of dashes.
EVERY NOW AND THEN CREATIVITY LOOKS LINAR FROM THE OUTSIDE
Jerry Seinfeld. He had that famous calendar. And he wrote every day. He didn’t want to break the chain of writing. That looks linear. And then he went on stage and did the jokes and got the sit com and made millions. Looks like a straight line. And even the new Netflix special, (which I loved, despite not loving his stand up, warm intimate, stories) gives the impression that it was a straight line. But in my interview with exec producer Larry Charles (Borat, The Tick) Larry said that it took them a long time to actually ‘crack the code’ of Seinfeld. That it was a on walk up in the Hollywood Hills one day when they came upon the idea that the show was a lot of little scenes. That walk in the hills was where it came together. When the show was already on the air! Wo knows what made that walk happen that day. Maybe a problem with editing.
Moving helps solve creative problems. And movement itself is organic, watch someone walk in slow motion. It’s a roller coaster.
SOME WAYS TO USE THE NON LINEAR NATURE OF CREATIVITY
- Go back to old work and see what you feel
- Don’t fret over interruptions
- Let your projects speak to each other
- Be less controlling and more curious
- Write from your heart
- Be consistent and rigorous without being pedantic
- Be growing. Are you growing? If you are growing you are creating
- Accept there are no clear straight lines you can walk to creative success
I’m very experienced in guiding creatives through the twists and turns. Don’t try to do it alone. It’s more fun to twist and turn with others, less of an obstacle course, more of a dance.
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