Two weeks ago, at Patti Digh’s Design Your Life Camp, I had the great fortune of taking a 90-minute writing workshop with ninja poet and writing teacher, Maya Stein. What a treat!
My biggest takeaway from those way-too-short 90 minutes was the humble index card as creative practice.
Let me explain.
If you’re familiar with my 10 Rules for the Creative Sandbox, you may remember that Creative Sandbox rule #4 is think tiny and daily. For my visual art practice that means a couple of things:
1) Tiny time goals
In other words, do a little bit every day, even if it’s just for a few minutes.
Back in 2011, my original commitment was fifteen minutes a day, but lately I’ve been using the model that Laureen, one of my Academy members, shared in the Academy forums: for her creative practice, “any amount counts.”
You might be amazed at how even just a few minutes keeps your toe in the creative stream. For me, a tiny bit of time every day keeps my creative spirit happier and better nourished than a big chunk of time once a week.
(Plus the reality is that those big-chunk-of-time commitments rarely happen in my life unless I’ve paid money to go to a retreat somewhere that isn’t my own home. Those are great, and we need them periodically — it’s why I’m so passionate about hosting retreats and workshops myself! — but who has the time and money resources to do that every week?)
2) Tiny size goals
I confess I love to work BIG — full-body brush strokes on wall-sized canvases. But the fact is, the bigger the art, the more time and energy invested in creating it.
That creates a lot of pressure!
Even if I remind myself that there is no wrong (Creative Sandbox rule #1), and aim to stay focused on process, not product (Creative Sandbox rule #2), I still like the feeling of completing something and moving on to the next thing. Thinking quantity, not quality (Creative Sandbox rule #3) makes me feel wonderfully prolific, which pleases me no end.
So after years of making a living creating largish artworks that require a time investment of dozens, even hundreds of hours, I started working small in my creative practice. My biggest ArtSparks are no bigger than about 8×10″, and some are as small as 1×1″.
What this has to do with index cards
Tiny time goals and tiny size goals are easy to apply to my visual art, but until my workshop with Maya, it didn’t occur to me how tiny size goals might also work with writing.
Enter the 3×5 index card.
When Maya passed us each an index card, and gave us two minutes to write to a prompt, the proverbial lightbulb over my head went wild.
Here it was — exactly the container I needed to apply think tiny and daily to my writing life!
Since the day after I came back from Design Your Life Camp I’ve started each morning scribbling words on a 3×5 card. This past week I’ve started posting the cards on my Facebook page. And today I’m trying out posting them here, on the blog.
This is my new creative practice!
Dealing with Side Effects
All of this is great, but not without some not-so-great consequences. For example, I’m noticing already that knowing the cards will be shared makes me a whole lot more critical and less free while I’m writing them.
But perfection is not the point! Impressing you is not the point!
The point is to write. To commit to a writing practice that I can sustain.
And sometimes side effects have their own positive consequences. For example, noticing that I’m becoming more critical and less free is helping me tackle those particular problems.
The point is to write, and the point is also to practice allowing myself to make crappy stuff.
I figure if I force myself to post whatever comes out in my tiny and daily morning 3×5 write, I will desensitize myself to the fear of judgment for putting stuff out in the world that is less than brilliant.
And I also figure that if I maintain a daily practice, over time what comes out will probably get better.
And, since my story about myself is that I’m a creator and builder, not a maintainer, I also figure that setting a ridiculously achievable goal — like a creative practice of a daily two-minute write on an index card — may help me change that story.
Remember the Golden Formula
My goal, then (and I can feel myself bust out in a cold sweat as I type this), is to fill a 3×5 index card every day for a year.
(Oh my god, did I just say that?)
I’m pretty scared that I’ll stumble. A whole year? Even with a ridiculously achievable goal, stumbling is very possible. Maybe even probable.
But if I do stumble, I commit to practicing my Golden Formula:
Self-awareness + self-compassion = the key to everything good
In other words, I get to notice if I stumble, notice how it feels, remind myself that I’m human, and treat myself with lovingkindness, just as I would a good friend.
I also commit to keeping in mind that the most important practice is just getting back on the wagon. Which is why it’s a very good thing to make it a very short wagon.
Like two minutes a day. Like a 3×5 index card. Like “any amount counts.”
Here we go!
PS — Pssst! Know someone who might benefit from seeing this today? Pass it on!
Sue Ann Gleason says
Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhh, fun! I love the “container”! Here’s to nourishing practices and getting messy. Quantity over quality would be HUGE leap for me and oh how I wish I could scribble. xxxooo
Melissa Dinwiddie says
Haha! The grass is always greener… The calligrapher in me looks your tidy handwriting and wishes I had such a beautiful hand. My impatience always wins out, though. So I save the careful lettering for my calligraphy, and my handwriting is a scrawl! 😉
I love this idea. I also love all the other thousand little “daily” practices I want to adopt. I think for me, the challenge is doing “something” everyday. Maybe a start will be picking something different, out of a hat each day and do that. I could write up a hundred daily practices, put them in a goldfish bowl (no fish, of course) and set aside a small bit of time each day, pull one out of the bowl and do it!
Melissa Dinwiddie says
Your goldfish bowl idea is a great one, Randi. We passion pluralites want to do ALL of our practices all the time, but alas, that is, of course, not possible. My goal for myself is generally to do “something” that feeds my creative spirit every day. I have no idea if the 3×5 card writing plan will continue to feed me for a full 365 days, but hey, it’s all an experiment, right? If you do the bowl idea, let me know how it goes! 🙂
Sue Stergo says
Thank you Melissa, and to Randi for your idea.
This is such a wonderful idea and encouragement, to ourselves and each other.
I look forward to hearing the sense and feelings of outcome. How the little steps and practices can actually build bigger, deeper and broader things.
Just to be able to travel with your thoughts Mellisa is an encouragement to me, and I look forward to making those steps from your example.
Melissa Dinwiddie says
It really is the little steps and practices that build bigger, deeper, and broader things, Sue — I think we all need to be reminded of that from time to time (I certainly do! :)) I’m so glad that this little practice is an encouragement to you. That makes me very happy!! 🙂