Unleashing your inner rat

February 17, 2020

How is 2020 going for you? Hope you are sailing into the newish year and the new decade. The year of the rat, according to the Chinese Calendar.

Chinese culture associates the rat with flexibility, opportunity and creativity.  Flexibility and opportunity help us welcome life’s wobbles. Creativity is the fuel that brings new ways of thinking and doing, whether you are problem solving, pitching to clients or even just persuading your kids.

In honour of the year of the rat, I have been experimenting to see if I can create a daily habit around creativity. Rereading James Clear explosive bestseller Atomic habits, over summer inspired me. (Pure author envy for that surname).

Momentum is his central tenet – doing something small every day towards your pursuit. And I thought, why not apply that to creativity? Here is what I discovered with my daily experiment.

Structure vs flow
We often feel that the shackles of structure might choke our creativity. Yet even radical artists use structure–Pollock painted on canvas. When I’m writing a new book, I write 1500 words first thing in the morning every day (Monday to Friday) no matter where in the world I am or what time zone–no concessions for jet lag. It’s hard, I sometimes fight this tooth and nail, but structure helps me produce work and channel creativity. Think of structure as the container you provide to capture your creativity, but never limit or contain it.

Post it note size
Beginning anything can sometimes (depending on your personality) be the hardest part. And imagine having to begin every day, with a creative pursuit. I realised thinking small bite size helped me. Chaz Hutton, a young Australian living in London doing a standard 9–5 job, started doodling bite-sized observations about  everyday life on Post-it notes. He now has a cult following and does this full time for a living. But consider how he started. Momentum in creativity and other pursuits is doing something every day but keeping it small. So, it gets done.

Sampling and Source material
When hip hop emerged out of the dance clubs in the 1980s, it presented a cut up sample heavy aesthetic. Sampling is the reuse of a portion (or sample) of a sound recording in another recording. Sampling allowed hip-hop artists to bring old music to new listeners, while still paying homage to the artists that came before. Cut-up a literary technique. The artist cuts up written text and rearranges it to create a new text.

Popularised by the American writer William S Burroughs who said ‘Life is a cutup. As soon as you walk down the street, your consciousness is being cut up random factors. The cut up is closer to the facts than the perception of linear narrative’.

Sampling widely, practicing cut up and using my senses have been strong allies in my quest. So, what are you reading? What are you listening to? What are you watching? What are you feeling, touching, tasting, experiencing? These fuel the cauldron of your creativity.

Doing Vs waiting
This is unsexy as it gets with something like creativity. Show up every day and do the work.  It’s when doing the work, and when you are taking breaks from doing the work that the muse will strike. I get my best writing ideas when I’m writing (shudder).

It’s like your work preps your brain to receive other creative insights in the shower, when driving etc. Stephen King nails it when he says ‘Your job is to make sure the muse knows where you will be every day from nine ‘til noon. or seven ‘til three. If he knows, I assure you that sooner or later he’ll start showing up’. 

Showing is the new caring
Last Christmas the Instagram world was abuzz. Someone had dared to mess with a classic Australian dessert and iconic even – the pavlova. Shalinin Nestor combined an old favourite–the traditional pav with a new food trend the grazing platter. She created a pavlova grazing board. Her post went viral. It was polarizing, not everyone loved it. But for the world to discover it all Shalini had to have the courage to show and share her creation.

Just like Shalini, at some point you have to show / share your work. Even a rough first version and prepare to iterate. Here is one of my  sketches just from my notebook. This is at my local coffee shop a customer waiting for coffee (a quick doddle, work in progress, be kind  please!). Austin Kleon in Show your work makes a compelling case for why generosity trumps genius. The book states It’s not self-promotion, it’s self-discovery—let others into your process, then let them steal from you.

How are you planning to unleash your inner rat this year?

Please comment. I love hearing from you.

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