Friday, January 4, 2013

The Creative Process: The Purpose of Pauses

In a "previous life" of about a dozen years or so ago I was a painter. Not a house painter but an artist painting in oils. Had a show and was experiencing a let down afterward so called a woman who was a cracker jack painter of long standing whom I respected to no end. Mary listened to me whine for a tolerable amount of time and then said simply, "Even the fields go fallow." Yeah, give it a rest.

Mary was wise in the ways of nature and looked there for direction on solving many of life's problem. I thought and thought about the fields going fallow and how it was nature's way to rest and get all systems ready for the work that would follow, like the spring and summer follow the resting time of winter. Before our conversation ended she said: now go be useful to yourself, rest, and then when you're ready, clean something.

My friend Mary intended that I take a well deserved rest after my show and then start the whole creative cycle all over again by cleaning my studio. I still follow that work pattern to this day. I'll chug along on a project, mostly genealogy stuff, and conclude the work, then take a short break. When I come back the first thing I do is get organized, make notes in the clear light of a new dawn, and outline what to do next. I clean as I go:)

In my last post I mentioned Eric Maisel's book, Fearless Creating, which I like very much as well as the other of his book about the creative process on my bookshelf, A Life in the Arts. They have both been helpful in my coming to a greater understanding of how things work. One of the most useful concepts for me is the concept, and a chapter title, "Hushing and Holding". In a nutshell Maisel gives direction that at the start of a new cycle or project it is helpful to simply hold the concept of the project within, not talk or write about it for a bit, and hold that thought. In the pause the concept will form itself. The mind will continue to work and resolve conflict, organize purpose, and solidify the squishy without too much effort on our part... while we go clean something.

He's a link to Maisel's book list in case you're interested:

Hushing and Holding has been part of my work habit since I first read Maisel's words. It really works well for me even though it feels awkward not to dive in, make lists and email at least five people;) Sometimes it's hard for me to resist the urge to jump into action and "get 'er done".

I once chatted about this way of approaching the work with a renown artists I know well and he said, "Oh I never talk about my projects until they are started and the first brush strokes down on canvas. It erodes the energy to talk about it too early. Keep yourself to yourself."

This is very true of the creative process, I've found. There will be time once I have the project firmly in my mind for bouncing ideas off others and researching various strategies, but only after the real concept is so solid that I can write it down in a short paragraph.

It's the start of the new year and a good time to take stock of my genealogy projects... and clean up the stacks of papers gathering at my ankles. May we all be just a bit better and happier in our ancestral pursuits this time around!

Photo of the day from the Archive:
Rose Hill, the lands of my Porter ancestors
located in Western Maryland not far from the town of Frostburg.
A good place to sit, hush and hold.

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  1. Nature offers so many insights. A woman once suggested being like a rabbit: it runs for a while, then stops and rests while it looks around at its environment, making sure it can safely move again. Not exactly the same thing as fields lying fallow but not too far off. I need to do a clean-up....

  2. Thanks, Nancy for the rabbit tale;) Good luck with the clean up! Diane

  3. Wow - this post spoke to me. I have been a bit out of sorts since Christmas. This post was like the sun rising on a clear morning after a rain. I need to clean some stuff on multiple fronts of my life. I got started with my house this weekend to get ready for my daughter to go back to school. Today I am going to focus on cleaning some genealogy papers up. Thank you for helping to me see how to get back in gear after all holiday projects.

  4. Hi Sierra- Glad I could help:) It was fun to write... and then hopefully make a plan to take my own advice! I'm still working on cleaning up! This could take a while. Let me know how it goes.