creativity,  relationships

Love Alive and the Little Bright Beads: Creative Work

We are the most alive when we’re in love.

John Updike

the love light

Most of us know what creative flow feels like. We’re contentedly lost in whatever we’re making or doing, time stands soft-eyed and doe-still, or falls away from us like so many little bright beads of “What? Did you say something?”. We’re energized, inspired, and flooded with ideas that spill out sparkling, one after another. Our inner critics are off bowling or something. The river is running and the current is clear. We sail along without having to stop and think or fuss or second guess anything at all.


Being in flow is not unlike being in love! We’re blissed out and hyper-present, and we only have eyes for the object of our affection. But flow, like infatuation or any other state of being, is ephemeral–so to keep the vibe high, we have to have a strong relationship we can count on when the dreamy feeling passes.

As in our relationships with the people in our lives, our connections with our creative work have to be able to withstand the flops, lulls, puzzles, and derailments that will inevitably come. Establishing (and maintaining) a strong creative habit is one way to build more primacy and stability into the relationship, but we also need ways to keep the love-light shining, to stay tuned in and tuned up even when things get tiring or tricky or tense. As with any long-term important relationship, we need to love our creative work, for better or for worse, no matter what.

So how do we fall and stay in love
with our creative work?

We treat it like it’s one of the loves of our lives – because it is.

Here are 3 strategies to keep the living, crystalline hearts of our creative relationships central, polished, and shining!

#1: leave the light on

I’m often asked, “Where do you get your ideas?” The short answer is: everywhere. It’s like asking, “Where do you find the air you breathe?”

Ideas are all around you.    

Twyla Tharp

Ideas are all around us. So how do we live our everyday lives with our creativity humming in the back and foreground, active and in motion, to catch them?

use related activities to charge your creative process.

I have a little post-it by my morning coffee/reading/writing spot that says  “MAKE READING = WRITING”. Reading and writing are two sides of the same coin for me: reading is part of my writing practice, and vice versa. Like everyone, I read for escape and enlightenment, but, as a writer, I also read to inspire and inform my writing. I read with my magic star-catching glasses on. And never without a pencil.

I like to think of this as “Creative Reading” – a kind of reading where the heart and the head are holding hands, where my reading is actively involved in a kind of ongoing improv skit or shimmer my writing. It’s active and creative. There is an ongoing and generous starring of margins. When a lightbulb blinks on over my head, I snatch it out of the air and move over to my notebook or laptop to scribble it down.

invite your creative projects into seemingly unrelated activities.

Inviting your work to tag along with you while you do other things is also a fantastic way to keep the connection alive. I try to bring an awareness of my creative projects with me while I walk, while I wait, while I wander or race around in my day. In this way, we can make our creativity feel welcome everywhere—both when we’re in its familiar territory (such as books, words, stories) and while we’re doing less related things. When we intentionally bring our creativity with us into a variety of settings and activities (even just in our heads!), we tend to sponge up more stuff, widening the net.

Whatever we’re doing, we can try to leave the light on for it.

try this:

Find ways to let more of your daily activities nourish and inform your creative work.

As I’ve said, reading is a big one for me, as it should (and must) be for all writers. But how many unrelated daily activities can we use as opportunities to engage and provoke our writerly imaginations? Or if you’re a musician, can you make an effort to listen to both jazz and traffic with your music in mind? Visual artists may consider the quality and variety of shape, line, and color both at the gallery and the gas station. Both/and!

When we use everyday experiences as opportunities to connect with our creative work, we braid the two together and the relationship is reinforced, allowing all of it to come more interestingly alive.

#2: collect stars

We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.    

Oscar Wilde

Make a practice of capturing the things that spark your creativity so you can use the sparks to illuminate your work.

This is what my practice, “Star in the Margin”, refers to – we have to mark the bright stuff when we snag on it so we can use it to light our way, and the sparks don’t just go fluttering off like embers in the dark. Sort of like collecting fireflies in a jar, then using the jar to see by as you go.

In addition to inspiring our work, star collection can helps us in a few other ways:

spark detector

Capturing what interests us turns on our radars for these little bright moments, making us more mindful of where, when, and by what we feel inspired and activated. Remember radar detectors? Think of these like. . . SPARK DETECTORS! The more we know about our sparks, the better we can work with them—and maybe even start setting traps to catch them!

diving board

As we make a habit of noticing these bright snags, we move through the world in a richer way because it becomes creatively charged with little diving boards and bulbs twinkling on everywhere. The more the merrier, and the more interesting, exciting, and buzzing with possibility our seemingly ordinary lives and experiences become. Win/win!

magic portal

Creative life becomes just – life. There’s less of a separation between them. When your creative life is more lovingly integrated into your day-to-day life, it becomes easier and more automatic to slip from one side to the other and back again. Think of it like someone propping the magic portal open so you can flow more easily between them. Pretty great, right?

try this:

Start a collection of starry-stuff.

Start it anywhere that’s interesting to you. In a journal. In a jar. In a shoebox. In your pocket, to empty out later. Just start collecting.

When I lived in the city, I kept a little plastic basket in my kitchen drawer where I’d collect weird things I’d hear on NPR and scribble on scraps while cooking. They said things like, “SPACE JUNK” and “the disappearance of Amelia Earhart” and “the moons of Jupiter (79!!!)”  Of course I saved them all, and now they live in my art desk in a tupperware container labeled “magic scraps”.

Use the stars as jumping off points, like diving boards, into your own work. Let yourself be inspired by any/all you find. Scatter them into the mix and use their light to see something new, to brighten and bedazzle your creative process.

#3: experiment & play

If there’s no joy in it, it’s just no good.

Stephen King

Enjoy it!

You do this because you like doing it, right? Why else are you doing it? If our relationships aren’t fun, well – they don’t last. Or they do, but we resist them, or they make us miserable, and eventually we start throwing our shoes at them and they fall apart, or we do. Let’s not!

Just like in our other relationships, we can be loving toward our creativity by doing things fun things together, and by keeping the things interesting. Instead of trying to make your creativity sit still in the same hard chair and keep its head down “working”, for example, try inviting it out for a conceptual skinny-dip, a space picnic, a magic show, an adventure. Notice how it behaves differently when you let its hair down.

My own personal creative mantra, especially when I feel lost, stale, or stuck, is:

Start wild. follow the weird. Experiment and play.
And think – but not too hard, not too much, and not for too long at once.

Playing creative games is a fantastic way to breathe some new light and life into your projects and processes. If we don’t stay open and follow the weird, we never end up somewhere new or interesting. (Everything new is a little weird at first!) Just like in our other important relationships, we have to remember to enjoy our creativity, to stay open, and to have fun together. Otherwise it might just wander off and find someone more interesting to play with. (Maybe even—gasp—your old meanie inner critic! And could you blame it?)

try this:

Make up a game or trick to play with your creative project or process.

Try creating something using found words, sounds, or materials, like artist Truong Tran (click pictured piece!) does. Play a game with your work by employing “chance operations” to create something new and unpredictable–or shine some sponteneity into an existing project. Trick your project into some random form or structure. Find a way to explode it, then repair it–with only half its pieces. I often bring a bag of scissors to class and ask my writing students to chop their printed writings up, then rearrange the snips. I once prompted a class of poets to write a poem as “a wishing well.” And they did! And all our wishes got to pickle and preen and run poetically amok.

Here is one fun list of ideas to get you started. A quick internet search will yield many more. Remember you can translate these into any medium and do exactly whatever you want – you’re playing! That’s the point. Combine weird things. Think like an adventurer. Make it a game. Start wild.

When danger approaches, sing to it.

Arab proverb

the truth

The truth is that loving relationships–whether with ourselves, our creative work, or the world—are critical to our health and happiness. We can cultivate loving relationships with all sorts of things. No matter what you make or why, from fictions to fugues to flower arrangements, finding ways to connect lovingly, wholeheartedly, and cooperatively with our creativity is essential for finding flow more easily and often, and for living happily as the charmed, curious, wondering, wandering wizards we are.

In the following idea, what if we changed someONE to someTHING, and that THING was our creativity? Humble thanks to its writer—artist, minister, and teacher Robert Fulghum–for letting us co-opt it and make the necessary [adjustments]. And by thanks I mean sorry , we have our own places to go, but have stopped to draw little stars around the heart of it.

We’re all a little weird. And life is a little weird. And when we find some[thing] whose weirdness is compatible with ours, we join up with [it] and fall into mutually satisfying weirdness — and call it love — true love.      

True love.

Breathe, love, be well, and stay tuned for more! xo, ali

Want to learn more? Let’s connect! I offer complimentary consultations and would love to explore working together.

I'm a writer, artist, bookseller, educator, and certified Positive Psychology coach based in Burlington, Vermont.

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