I’ve been reading a lot of novels lately… and have come across some darned good ones… but the thing I’ve noticed the most is that a story only really gets interesting when someone majorly screws up.
If the protagonist falls in love with the wrong person, if the best friend tells a lie to protect her buddy, if the 13 year old kid steals the car keys so that he can take off to go and confront the bad guy ….. that’s when I start to cringe.
And if I find myself internally talking to the character and saying things like “No, no NO…. don’t do THAT … don’t go THERE …. don’t be such an idiot….” then I can’t put the book down.
I’m hooked because now I am emotionally involved. I need to find out what happens. I keep turning the pages to see how this craziness gets resolved.
Even though I truly want the happy ending, if the characters are all mature and well adjusted and balanced and full of love and light throughout the book it doesn’t make for very compelling reading.
I may not like a lot of drama in my life, but “whoo boy” I must say that I LOVE drama in my art.
I love the drama inherent in a good story written by someone else and I love the drama and passion that comes when I am in the middle of a creative undertaking. And drama is definitely related to the underbelly of my psyche. All those squirmy, messy disturbing parts of myself are where a lot of my creative juiciness lives.
One of the things I’ve learned about the creative process is that things are much more engrossing and compelling when I’m willing to not be so well behaved.
And it’s when we allow ourselves to get in trouble that we start to feel more awake and alive.
So what exactly does it mean to “get into trouble” creatively?
Well the first thing it means is letting go of perfectionism. Because being perfect means always doing the right thing. The first time. No mistakes are allowed and goddess forbid that we ever venture into the land of not knowing what the heck we are doing.
Perfectionism assumes that there IS a right way. It whispers in our ear that if we are very meticulous and conscientious and deliberate we will be rewarded. If we are constantly attentive and on guard and following the rules we will eventually end up with something that is flawless and beautiful and beyond reproach.
Perfectionism is so darned careful. Perfectionism never EVER wants you to get in trouble. That’s kind of the point.
Of course always trying to be perfect comes with a price tag. It means that we won’t be enjoying ourselves very much as we create. It means that mostly we will be feeling tight and earnest, anxious and controlled.
Ultimately being perfect all the time will bore us RIGHT OUT OF OUR EVERLOVING MINDS!!
So what does it look like to let yourself get into trouble creatively?
I know it’s different for everyone but here are a few universal things that I have seen in myself and with my students as they paint. All of these suggestions will bring you up against your need to do things perfectly. Because if you follow these recommendations you will have one heck of a time maintaining anything remotely resembling perfection.
And of course you can use these ideas for ANY creative medium.
1.) Don’t have a plan to start out with.
It doesn’t mean that you can’t have an idea. Maybe you get excited about the vision of painting a tree or a self portrait. That’s fine. But don’t think that you have to have it all figured out ahead of time or know what the end product is going to be.
The trouble you can expect: You might start out with a tree and end up with a tiger. Or a space ship. Or a tiger IN a space ship. Or something else that you had no idea was going to make it’s way into your painting. Things might look a little weird and not make a whole lot of sense. OK, OK… things will DEFINITELY look weird and not make a whole lot of sense.
WARNING: Don’t show these paintings to your shrink unless you want a whole new set of diagnoses.
2.) Allow yourself to do something even if you’ve never done it before.
This is a place where many people stop themselves from being creative because they are convinced that they should already be good at something that they have zero experience with. And since you’re clearly NOT going to be any good at this thing, you shouldn’t even try.
Which is really pretty crazy when you think about it. But that’s just how that old judging mind works. It’s long on opinions and comes up very short around anything that resembles reality.
What kind of trouble to expect: If you’ve never painted something representational before your giraffe or car or house might end up being a little funny or crooked. It might look like it was done by a four year old.
It most certainly won’t be mistaken for something done by Michelangelo or that it belongs on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. That really is OK. It will be uniquely yours. It will definitely be original. Which makes it something that is TRULY creative.
3.) Be willing to have things be messy and chaotic. Allow yourself to be lost and out of control.
Most people are usually pretty intimidated by the whole idea of making any kind of mess. And chaos is considered to always be a bad thing. There’s a lot of shame associated with not being in control because we associate lack of control with powerlessness. And feeling powerless is scary.
But being swept up in the creative vortex teaches you that control is merely our favorite illusion. And anyway, the TRULY important things in life are always messy.
Birth. Death. Love. Sex. Eating. Popcorn.
The trouble you can expect: You will find out how much fun it is to be messy and you won’t want to stop. Messy is WAY easier than being neat and tidy all the time. Your love affair with messy will probably go on for a lot longer than you will deem rational or reasonable.
4.) Be bold. Take some risks.
This can look like painting really big or using lots of bright colors. Boldness and risk taking are associated with NOT looking before you leap. Just leaping. It’s having the attitude of “Why not?” and “What the hell? What’s the worst thing that can happen?”
It’s learning that the worst thing might not be so bad after all and even if it is you can deal with it. You also need to remember that the risks you are taking are in the creative realm. It’s important to not take the whole thing too seriously.
In the words of a famous jazz musician (can’t remember who) : “Hey man, it’s only music. It’s not like someone is going to lose an arm.”
The trouble you can expect: As you get bolder in your creative life you might start getting bolder in your REAL life. Maybe you’ll find yourself WEARING some of those bright and risky colors. Or get a hankering to try a little intuitive process painting on your actual walls… in your house.
5.) Be spontaneous. Trust the brush.
True spontaneity requires a great deal of courage and the willingness to let go. It’s about having the capacity to surrender to something larger than our day to day familiar sense of self. Being spontaneous gets us in touch with the fact there is more to us than we think. We start to recognize that there is an intelligence operating within us that is connected to our core, our essence, our intuition.
And what is THAT connected to?
That, my dears, is the age old 64 million dollar question.
The trouble you can expect: Your paintings will start to talk to you and prove themselves to be a rich source of wisdom and guidance. You will no longer be content to live your life based on gaining approval or living it on someone else’s terms.
You will start to have your own opinions and ideas and desires. You will speak up, become visible and perhaps upset a few apple carts in your life. You will feel more confident because you are more in tune with whatever you experience as spirit. Your life will gain more purpose and meaning.
And THAT is the best kind of trouble I can even begin to imagine.