“Do you do anything creative in your spare time?”

It was an innocent enough question but I felt paralysed by it. Perplexed. Undignified too. I’m always creative, I tell myself, and it’s literally my job. Do I have the spare time and the energy outside of what I do to be that self indulgent?

I think I gave the best vague answer I could with a question delivered at no notice- ‘Well, I guess I’m always creative. It’s what I do everyday as a job. I also garden, I cook and I try to live a creative life.’

I racked my brain for proof that yes, indeed I created external from work. A few things came to mind: hand lettering (haven’t picked that up for a good 6 months); drawing (God, that would have been back in Uni); photography that wasn’t commercial (yeah, I do a self initiated portrait once a month, but the project isn’t about being creative, rather capturing my changing state as I age).

I’ve been working on client work for the last 8+years, but was it satisfying my creative bend? That desire to create, to add meaning to my life and to bring joy and questioning to others. To do the quirky, fun things I liked to do. To be silly and explore creative outcomes without the pressure of budgets and deadlines constantly knocking on the door to make their presence known.

No. Ouch.

While the truth is always harder to swallow, it lead to the realisation I needed to be accountable to investing time in keeping that creative fire alive and healthy, rather than let it be smothered with external expectations, communicated value and adherence to best business practices.

I recall a conversation with my old uni lecturer (Hi, Padraig!) who spoke about how elite athletes always ’warmed up’ before training and big games, and that analogy has stuck with me. What could I do each and every day that would force me to be creative outside of my paid jobs?

In the last 2 years I’ve been doing monthly challenges to push my habits outside of my normal, such as giving up alcohol (Dry July), forgoing meat (meat-free March), sticking to a budget of $20 per day (Frugal February). These experiments have lead me to some interesting self-awareness and habit changes, but I’m also given an out should I find the experiment incompatible with my lifestyle.

Enter ’More Creative May’.

Neuroscientist Dr David Eagleman lists 3 key principles essential to creativity in his documentary, The Creative Brain (creativebrainmovie.com):
1. Try something new
2. Push boundaries
3. Don’t be afraid of failure

So I set about developing a syllabus, of sorts; a list of daily activities designed to be 15-30 mins in length that would help me to get into a more creative way of thinking. These included:
• Brainstorm some unlikely combinations and how they would work
• Learn something new: find a tutorial and learn a new skill
• 15 circles – 1 min each to sketch in each one.
• Practise a ‘creative meditation’

These weren’t designed to have a glorious outcome/finalised and polished end product, it was more a way of looking at things differently, giving myself permission to be creative without the pressure of anyone seeing the final result, because, as most creatives would understand, sharing a half baked designs or work in progress is not something we are comfortable with. If it’s not perfect, no-one sees it!

I’m sharing some of my outcomes here as my perfectionist mindset is something else I need to challenge. 

What I noticed was that if I didn’t dedicate time to this task first thing in the morning it was unlikely that I would get do it in the afternoon after I had finished client work. There were days when I just didn’t do the activities because of this. I tried not to be too hard on myself on those days, but again, as a perfectionist, this is very difficult. ‘Do it once, do it properly’ means that I have set myself a very high, non-negotiable bar.

But a fascinating by-product to this experiment was a drive to actually do more things that made me creative. I wanted to draw one weekend, so I did. I don’t recall the last time I had that urge. I also noticed that a few outcomes I created really lit my fire, one such being the food stop motion animation I put together. I was genuinely proud of how that came together and that glow is still there in my chest.

They don’t call design a discipline and practise for nothing, it genuinely is both.

So what are you doing to keep that creative fire alive?

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