Centered and spacious: How to build your own creative practice as a busy, full-time professional
As someone who works a nine-to-five job, I know how it feels to try and hold it all together outside work. Cooking, cleaning, and social obligations quickly add up to a full schedule that often feels overwhelming or downright monotonous.
But I promise it doesn’t have to be this way.
By building your own creative practice, you can make small changes in your routine that will bring more inspiration, joy, and meaning to your day-to-day — even if you work full-time!
What is a creative practice? #
Anything you do on a regular basis that exercises your creative muscles and grounds you in a creative mindset.
Here are some components of my personal creative practice:
- Cutting out magazine clippings
- Feeding quarters into toy vending machines
- Reading books about birds and permaculture
Learn how to manage your creative energy #
You probably have an idea of when you are most productive. Maybe it’s early in the morning or late at night, or somewhere in between.
But picking just one optimal time to do creative work never worked for me. I know that I think most clearly and focus from 10 AM-2 PM, but I’m at my nine-to-five job during that time!
Instead, I cobbled together a creative practice composed of three distinct parts that correspond to my energy levels — high energy, medium energy, and low energy. I call this three-component approach the Creative Practice Garden.
In this article you’ll learn about how to build your own creative practice by growing and nurturing the three components of your Creative Practice Garden.
The three elements of your Creative Practice Garden #
- Sunshine and water (high energy): This is the foundation of your creative practice, the activity that grounds you and sustains you creatively. For me, it is writing. For you it may be storyboarding, sketching, or practicing improv comedy.
- The pollinators (medium energy): These are the inspiration-gathering activities that nurture your inner artist. Going for a nature walk or visiting an art supply store fit into the category of creative pollinator.
- The composters (low energy): Activities for keeping your hands busy when your creative energy is low. Such as baking or crafting.
Now, let’s dig deeper into the first element of the Creative Practice Garden, the sunshine and water.
Sunshine and water: For when your creative energy is at its highest #
Plants simply cannot grow without sunshine and water, and you cannot have a creative practice without a core foundational activity.
In the book The Artist’s Way, author Julia Cameron suggests that the foundational centering activity for every creative person is Morning Pages.
Morning Pages are three pages of longhand, stream of consciousness writing, done first thing in the morning. There is no wrong way to do Morning Pages–they are not high art. They are not even “writing.” They are about anything and everything that crosses your mind– and they are for your eyes only. Morning Pages provoke, clarify, comfort, cajole, prioritize and synchronize the day at hand. Do not over-think Morning Pages: just put three pages of anything on the page...and then do three more pages tomorrow.
When you are active in this part of our creative practice, you are centered, grounded, and actively working toward the creative life of your dreams.
This part of your creative practice usually requires the most creative energy, so it is important to prioritize it and make sure it happens at least a couple times each week. I try to write every morning, but lately it only happens on weekends. Two days are better than nothing!
One thing to remember about this part of your creative practice, is that it’s all part of the process, so don’t put too much pressure on yourself to make something great, or even good, during this part of your practice.
When you write, don’t say “I’m going to write a poem.” That attitude will freeze you right away. Sit down with the least expectation of yourself; say “I am free to write the worst junk in the world.” You have to give yourself the space to write a lot without a destination. I’ve had students who said they decided they were going to write the great American novel and haven’t written a line since. If every time you sat down, you expected something great, writing would always be a great disappointment. Plus that expectation would also keep you from writing.
— Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within
How to figure out when your creative energy is at its peak #
Write down the last time you felt like you were in a “flow state” while working on something.
In positive psychology, a flow state, also known colloquially as being in the zone, is the mental state in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity.
For me, the flow state is when I am completely immersed in the work and lose track of time.
Now, write down as much detail about that time as you possibly can. What were you wearing? How much did you sleep the night before? What time of day was it? Were you at home or somewhere else?
If you’re unsure, take note of your natural rhythms over the next few weeks. These are the clues for creating your own creative practice.
The pollinators: For when you need inspiration #
The second element of your creative practice are for when your creative energy is neither high nor low, but you have a moment to fill your creative well with inspiration.
In The Artist’s Way, the pollinating activity for artists is called an Artist Date.
The Artist Date is a once-weekly, festive, solo expedition to explore something that interests you. The Artist Date need not be overtly “artistic” — think mischief more than mastery. Artist Dates fire up the imagination. They spark whimsy. They encourage play. Since art is about the play of ideas, they feed our creative work by replenishing our inner well of images and inspiration. When choosing an Artist Date, it is good to ask yourself, “what sounds fun?” — and then allow yourself to try it.
Here’s a short list of some pollinating activities:
- Go for a nature walk and look for birds
- Go to the library and spend an hour immersed in a new topic
- Go to a thrift store. Give yourself $5 to spend and find something really great that you can do something creative with.
- Take yourself out for dinner and a movie
- Try a new dance or exercise class
- Fly a kite
- Go fishing
- Make yourself tea using your nicest dishes
- Walk around a cemetery
- Write a love letter
- Watch a documentary about one of your favorite artists
- Go to a garage sale or an estate sale
- Play on the swing set at a park
- Go to a free museum
- Visit a plant nursery
The composters: For when your creative energy is low #
Our bodies are garbage heaps: we collect experience, and from the decomposition of the thrown-out eggshells, spinach leaves, coffee grinds and old steak bones of our minds come nitrogen, heat and very fertile soil. Out of this fertile soil bloom our poems and stories.
— Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within
I find that certain daily activities encourage the decomposition of ideas. I use my “composting” activities to replace “bad habits,” which for me includes watching eight hours of The Good Place on Sunday evenings while simultaneously switching between scrolling Instagram and Twitter.
How about while watching Netflix for eight hours, I also try that new cinnamon rolls recipe? Baking is one of my favorite low-energy creative activities that I call a composter, an essential component of a healthy Creative Practice Garden.
Low-energy composting activities keep my hands practicing when my mind is no longer able to do so. And as a person who works full-time, I often find myself doing these creative composting activities after work. These activities keep me from becoming blocked or overwhelmed by the comparison monster of social media.
When it comes to low-energy activities, multitasking is encouraged. Listening to an hour-long podcast while doing something with your hands can be the perfect form of creative self-care.
Here’s a list of composting activities to add to your Creative Practice Garden:
- Clipping images out of magazines
- Mending clothes
- Embroidery, knitting, crocheting
- Baking or cooking
- Decluttering & rearranging your workspace
Build your own Creative Practice Garden #
Your creative practice is unique to you. Have fun experimenting with the three components until you've laid the foundation for your own healthy and nourished Creative Practice Garden.
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