writing

How I Increased My Creative Output

Summer is quickly approaching and here in Central Texas that means months of long, hot, dry days. Temperatures regularly soar above 100 degrees and by late July the Earth will crack right open, begging to be quenched.  

Relief comes, eventually, and usually in the form of a torrential downpour. Without warning that well-prayed-for rain can turn into a fast moving wall of water with no regard for anything in its path. Newcomers, certain tales of flooding are just that, Texas-sized tales, quickly learn why this region is known as Flash Flood Alley.

For a long time I thought the creative process was like those long Texas summers. You endure the dry spells, waiting for inspiration to sweep you up in a flood of creative genius. Oh, it sounds so artistic and mysterious and kind of sexy. As a Creative you’re this chosen being walking the Earth waiting for the gods to bestow greatness upon you. (Conveniently, it also means we don’t have to take any responsibility for your own creative output.)

I was certainly not one of the chosen and I assumed I was destined to remain firmly rooted in my left brain world. Then on the pages of Turning Pro by Steven Pressfield I met the liberating truth: The muse rewards those who do the work.

So…

I didn’t need to be chosen?

I didn’t need to be labeled creative?

I simply needed to do the work and trust the rain would come?

It was the permission I didn’t know I needed. Permission to expand, to push the boundaries of my self-imposed limits, to rethink what I thought it meant to be creative.

The secret, as Pressfiled points out, is in the momentum of doing. (Inconveniently, it also means we have to take full responsibility for your own creative output.)

Start.

Then keep starting.

You’re likely to produce some real rubbish. That’s ok. It’s the movement that matters. The good stuff will come.

Seeding Creativity

In my own practice of doing I discovered I could improve my odds of getting to the good stuff more quickly by engaging in the activities that feed and free my mind.

My formula, in no particular order    

One part, Aspiring Novice. Because expertise is too limiting. I’m curious about so many things, most of which have no direct connection to my everyday work. Books, stories, speeches, great interviews – I can’t get enough.

One part, Dirt Therapy. The garden is the one place I completely lose track of time and my body pushes through long after it’s tired.   

One part, Pen and Paper. I must get the scraps of ideas out of my head and give them room to breathe. I prefer to go analogue with a Post-It Easel Pad and a pack of chisel point Expo markers.     

One part, Where the water meets the trees. A river bank, a mountain stream, a quiet pond. Worries fade. My mind slows way down. Clarity reigns. 

One part, Sleep + Exercise. I’m useless when I’m tired. I sleep better when I exercise.

Mix with equal parts Start, Do the Work and Keep Starting.

Apply regularly.

How To Find Your Own Secret Sauce

I’m certain, you too, have your own unique formula for priming your creativity. Start noticing…

Where do you unexpectedly find interesting ideas?  (Go here regularly.)

Where do you lose track of time? What’s the thing you can do for hours but it feels like minutes? (Do this often. Your brain needs to rest.)

Is there a place or activity that immediately releases the tension from your body and mind? (More of this please.)

When are you the least productive? Most irritable? (Can you eliminate? Mitigate?)

What’s your go-to tool for moving a spark of inspiration from concept to a concrete idea? (Use it!) Don’t have one? Experiment!

It’s Not A Silver Bullet

Imagine being able to set yourself up for creativity, setting favorable conditions for inspiration. And imagine the fun you’ll have discovering your secret formula.

But it’s not magic. It’s a tool to give you a head start, to aid you when you’re feeling stuck or when the anxiety rises or when you have too many ideas competing for your attention.  

All the tips, tricks, quieting your mind and moving your body is for nothing unless you sit and do the work.

Only in the doing, drop by drop, will the muse unleash the flood of your best work.   

The Revolutionary Act of Hitting Send

When the folks at Do Lectures made a call for contributing writers back in the Fall of 2016 I was an immediate yes, followed by a heaping dose of doubt. I wrote my submission piece then went to work on my introductory letter. And struggled. Who the hell was I? A complete unknown. I had no writing pedigree. I had no social standing and my then business was tiny and often struggling.

That letter got the best of me. I abandoned the whole thing at least a dozen times. Then on 17 November 2016 my desire grew bigger than my fears. I wrote the following intro letter and hit send.

Hello Dear Doers,

Your call for submissions went out and I was an immediate yes (followed by a lot of doubt). I have such respect for the goodness you continue to put out in the world! It’s hard to imagine the possibility of being part of Do.

I’m not famous. I don’t have a social media following. I pick my kids up from school every day, cook dinner for my family every night and I love on my friends and neighbors the best I know how. In the precious hours of 8am-3pm I run a photography business.

Conventional sales strategy says this is where I should talk about how I meet your needs, solve your problem, ease your pain points. But this isn’t a sales pitch. It’s a letter, from me to you. When I listen to a Do talk or read one of your blog post what I feel most is intent and heart. It seems I owe you the same in return — my heart and my reason for showing up in your inbox.

Creating a business is hard and rewarding and it stretches you to places you didn’t know you could go. Before setting out on my own, I spent 10 years in the trenches at three enterprise software start-ups. The transition from corporate B2B to building a creative consumer facing business has not been easy. I’ve learned things (so many things) and I have things I want/need to share about this experience, things that might be of service to others.

So, here I am, taking a seriously scary step. Maybe this will be my place to land. Maybe not. Either way I’ll remember how it feels to hit the send button and I’ll crave more of that high. I’ll remember that somewhere there’s a yes waiting on the other end of send and the whole point is to keep searching for that yes.

Thank you for the invitation.

Sincerely,

Denise Cornell

I was sure the lesson from this experience was to learn to take more chances, to hit the send button more often, especially when I didn’t feel ready. When the Yes from Do arrived in my inbox I was so certain there’d been a mistake I told no one for 48 hours.

It’s been over a year now and I still feel a pang of nervousness every month when I submit my writing. But I’m still here — trying to be a little better than last time. I am grateful for every word I get to share with this corner of the world, grateful the good folks at Do saw past my lack of pedigree.

It’s easy to see that major life events can reveal our true character. I’m starting to realize it’s in the smaller moments that our character gets shaped and new paths get launched. So, I’ve been paying more attention to the small moments.

Lessons Learned (from my small moment)

Choose Truth Over Strategy.

Lead with your heart, not your fears.

Hitting the send button can be a revolutionary act of courage.

Lessons Applied

Life has taken a few unexpected turns since November 2016. My path looks different now. New beginnings are on the horizon and I have the perfect formula for every new thing that comes my way:

Truth Over Strategy + Lead With My Heart + Keep Hitting Send = Possibilities