I was just settling into savasana—that restful pose at the end of yoga class during which I try desperately not to fall asleep and snore too loudly. My mind, which was supposed to let go of all thoughts, was instead busy making connections between my yoga teacher’s encouragement to bring greater awareness to my yoga practice and the newsletter I’d recently written about creativity and practice.
Anyhow, I spent my 10 minutes of savasana wondering: How do we develop and bring greater awareness to a creative practice? And what, exactly, is a creative practice? My thoughts first turned to Natalie Goldberg, author of Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within, who encourages aspiring writers to develop a writing practice. Certainly, this would be considered a creative practice. Goldberg describes writing as “the act of discovery” and tells those who want to write to “keep your hand moving.” It’s a fast-paced book filled with wonderful anecdotes, practical exercises and, yes, good writing.
Similarly, Julia Cameron urges a daily writing practice that she refers to as morning pages in The Artist’s Way. Only the goal of this practice isn’t to become a better writer. It’s more about tapping your thoughts, ideas and creative energy. This kind of writing is good for anyone who wants to develop a creative practice. I write regularly in a creative journal—only not early in the morning, as she suggests. I’m usually doing good just to remember how to make my daily cup of coffee. Some days I forget the coffee; other days, the water. Or I return the milk to the pantry instead of the refrigerator.
But back to savasana and creative practice. My thoughts wandered next to choreographer Twyla Tharp, who wrote The Creative Habit: Learn it and Use it For Life, one of my favorite books on creativity. Tharp believes that “creativity is a habit, and the best creativity is the result of good work habits.” She shares many of her own habits and notes that “a lot of habitually creative people have preparation rituals linked to the setting in which they choose to start their day.” Hmmm, it’s that morning thing again.
For writers, visual artists, performing artists, architects, designers and all sorts of creative professionals, the work itself is a creative practice. But anyone can have a creative practice. Perhaps it is something you enjoy when you’re not working, something you are working toward or something you’d like to learn. When we are serious about a creative practice, I believe there are elements we bring to the practice and things we can do when we practice. Many of those things we do depend greatly upon our area of interest. Songwriters and garden designers, for instance, likely have very different routines and practices. And yet, there are underlying ingredients of a creative practice we all have in common. The first two are passion and skill, which Tharp explained this way:
“Without passion, all the skill in the world won’t lift you above craft. Without skill, all the passion in the world will leave you eager but floundering.”
The third ingredient is creativity. If it is truly a creative practice, versus, say, an artistic practice in which we simply learn techniques, we must be open not only to developing our skills, but also to experimenting, playing around and doing things differently. We must learn to spot opportunities for improvement and ask, “How might I…?” We must develop our sense of curiosity and ask, “What if…?”
Passion. Skill. Creativity. These are the three ingredients I believe are necessary for any creative practice. (They also happen to be the elements identified by creativity researchers as essential for talent development.) Isn’t it amazing how the mind wanders when it’s not supposed to be thinking at all?
Let your mind wander a bit. What does the phrase “creative practice” mean to you? How would you describe your own creative practice?