Finding Joy in Constraint: 3 Tips for Flourishing Creatively Amidst a Busy Life
If I hadn't already experienced the benefits of constraint in my practices of writing and art-making, I would have still had to confront the necessity of constraints in creative practice as a parent. Constraints of time and ability to do certain things are a given as a new parent. You have someone (or several someones) who needs you around the clock and they don't follow any rhythm but theirs. They communicate sheer need in a language all their own and you only option is to respond.
It can be easy to lose your sense of self as you're adjusting to something new and no day looks the same and your landscape of daily living has none of the landmarks you counted on to navigate from before. Maybe for you it's a demanding job in a field unrelated to your passion, or moving to a new place where you don't know anyone. You do what you must; you become flexible.
So you give yourself over to the chaos and the surprising moments, the joy mixed with the snotty noses and unfiltered laughter of the toddler and inexplicable cries of the one month old and you just exist for awhile in this alien land. Until finally you find your new normal, whatever that is. You are the person you were before but you are changed too. You've lived so many things but noted them only in passing, in your mind, without the luxury of a moment to write it down. For awhile, this is living. For awhile, just get swept along. But when you notice here and there you have a little more room to breathe, a little more room to reflect it may be time to shift.
I'm here in a pregnant pause. Though I haven't been reporting back on this blog, I've kept incredibly busy since my son was born in August; making final changes on galley proofs from the recovery suite after labor & delivery, sketching out ideas for new websites from bed between newborn naps and marathon nursing sessions. As we started to find more regular routine to our days, my workload increased as well. It was good to know I could still do these things. But sometimes it was tiring, and sometimes there wasn't room for much else. I remembered this with my first, I knew sometimes existing was enough. And slowly, slowly finding a little space for my own creative practice. And it started with, of all things, a social media challenge.
I happened upon Caroline Kelso's #BetterLetteringCourse daily lettering challenge on Instagram. The samples she shared were simple exercises. More importantly, I had just spent a couple days with a dear friend returning to my sketchbook, reminding myself how to coordinate the hand and the eye, how to see for the joy of seeing again. (My friend who sketched with me, Kristin, is participating too! Follow along here.) I was filled with creative energy and I wanted to continue; the challenge found me at the right time. Creating a hand lettered word or phrase for a month seemed doable. Some days I could indulge and really explore the possibilities. Some days I might really only have five minutes. But each day it meant creating something for the fun (and challenge) of it. A return to creation, to my other self who had been there all along, just quiet.
For the last month, I've intentionally slowed down on client work. I've been reviewing my business processes, and I'm working on updating my website to better reflect my services. Thinking about how to do it all with intention. Letting my mind wander, mulling things over, letting other things go. So the time was ripe for a bit of creative exploration as well. Tomorrow I'll begin #the100dayproject in an attempt to expand both my artistic and design practices through simple mark-making. (You can follow along here.) I imagine I'll start broadly with various ways to make marks through tools and materials, digital marks with line and type, found marks, abstractions, wherever the mood takes. Maybe I'll narrow down as I go along, focus on a newly discovered obsession. Or maybe I'll keep it broad just to continue the joy of discovery and following my creative impulses. But I look forward to seeing where I find myself at the end of it. And to continuing a daily practice as regular habit outside the project. Read on below for a few tips I've found useful in returning to a regular creative practice.
3 Tips for Flourishing Creatively Amidst Life's Constraints
- Start Simple | You don't have to tackle an overly ambitious project if you're newly discovering room in your life for creativity. You can pick something that just takes a few moments a day, something easily replicated with room for discovery. An online friend turned me onto this podcast interview with Mary Jo Hoffman about the impetus for her daily project that started over five years ago and continues to flourish. Perhaps for you, finding time or space to list 10 words you'd like to work with in a future poem is enough right now. Before long those words will call so loudly you'll probably feel compelled to do something with them. Or maybe it's finding a few minutes a day to practice mindfulness, or to read a page or two of a book you've been meaning to get to forever. Creativity is not limited to one discipline and it's up to you to determine how it manifests in your life at any given time. It's okay if for you it manifests in the way you approach daily chores rather than something more traditionally considered creative. It just needs to be gratifying for you.
- Don't Aim for Perfection | The point of a daily (or regular) practice is just that: it's practice. If you're out of the habit of creating regularly, it can be easy to get lost in all the beautiful work that's out there and find yourself coming up short. You don't need to create a perfect anything right now. The daily practice will naturally lead to a clearer voice and greater skills but for now smarting small is fine. It's much easier to refine when you have more material to work with. You can't perfect what you haven't created. Just start and turn your censor off as best you can.
- Share. | Creating can be lonely work, but finding a community to work along side you (even from afar) or to share what you're up to can help keep you going. Accountability is another form of constraint. This is not to say you should share with anyone you'll feel judged by. Maybe for you sharing just means texting your best friend a picture of what you made each day. Wherever you find like-minded people who are encouraging is a good audience. If you're someone who finds energy from sharing, then do it. I love the community that can be found on Instagram and the ability to follow along with other creatives so I share regularly there. But I always keep in mind that spaces like these are curated and only show snippets of other people's lives, who probably are messy and imperfect at least some of the time, just like I am.
As with anything, constraints like these are valuable only when they are pushing you toward something positive. We all face self doubt, create things we don't like, fail at an attempt to do something new. But with daily practice we have the chance to start anew each day. And our mistakes inform our successes. Be gentle; treat yourself like you would a loved one.
I'm looking forward to continued daily practice, however that evolves and whatever form that takes. I'll probably be quiet on this blog apart from sharing some updates from my challenge for a little while as I plan my website updates. But once that is done I plan to be here regularly, sharing my own creative practices, client work, my life as a parent and small business owner, design tips for small presses and creatives, and hopefully conversations with other creative professionals about their own journeys. I'd love to know what you'd like to read about or learn here. Thanks for following along!