My Rules for the Creative Sandbox have been a foundation of my full-color creative life over the past five years. The poster hangs on the wall of my studio, and I refer to it almost daily. My mini-course, Creative Sandbox 101, has helped over 1,000 people get their creative mojo working. [Read more…]
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!
You’re finally ready to start fixing some broken pattern in your life, and it’s as if the Universe says, “Oh, yeah? Are you sure you’re ready? Prove it!”
That’s exactly what happened to me last week.
I’ve been fed up with feeling drained and exhausted and thick-headed so much of the time, and when I discovered that there might be a name for what I was experiencing — adrenal fatigue — and a path back to my fully energetic self, I was finally ready to make some much-needed shifts.
In addition to eliminating foods I’ve tested sensitive to (amaranth, kidney beans, all cruciferous veggies, eggs, wheat, yeast) and kicking my coffee-as-migraine-miracle-drug habit (coffee being a killer on the adrenals), I looked at my rushrushrush, workaholic tendencies, and committed to making the following changes to my lifestyle:
- Getting myself to bed earlier (Even earlier than in my Great Bedtime Experiment! Target: in bed by 10:00pm and on my way toward sleep by 10:30pm)
- Shutting off the computer by 8:00pm
- Slowing down and planning ahead, so I’m not always cramming in “just one more thing”… and then running late and rushing as a result
The first few days were surprisingly easy. It felt great to be treating myself so much better, and I was sleeping better — and feeling more rested from my sleep — than I had in recent memory.
Then the test came.
Weekend after next I’m speaking at Patti Digh’s Design Your Life Camp in Buford, Georgia. As a Spark! Session presenter, I have seven minutes and 28 slides to share my message (title: 10 Rules that Kickstarted My Creativity (with Ukulele)), and the PowerPoint was due at 2:00pm PT last Friday.
I’d asked for an extension, but was denied, so 2:00pm Friday was a hard deadline.
That deadline was just enough to throw off the delicate balance of my filled-to-the-gills workload, and all my good intentions came crashing down.
Shutting down the computer by 8:00pm? Getting to bed by 10:00 — or even 10:00ish? Even 11:00ish? Even 12:00ish??
Um, yeah, not so much.
It was like a second blooming for all my old, workaholic tendencies. Even getting myself to yoga on time was a joke, as I found myself falling into old patterns and racing to the studio in a mad dash.
An Excuse, or an Opportunity?
One of my favorite sayings is:
The most important practice is just getting back on the wagon. (Click to tweet this!)
As it happens, that saying is part of my Spark! Session. As I also say in my presentation:
Self-awareness + self-compassion = the key to everything good. (Click to tweet this!)
So I took a page from my own book, and reminded myself that I’m human. I’m going to stumble. Rewiring new habits is not going to happen overnight.
Rather than flagellating myself, or giving up, or both, I followed my Golden Formula; I gave myself a big hug and climbed back up on the wagon.
It was remarkably easy.
Not that fixing my un-useful habits was easy — that part’s hard. No doubt this is the work of a lifetime.
But climbing back on the wagon, when you treat yourself with love and kindness, feels, well, easy!
No big deal. No need to lament and lambaste. Just take a fresh start.
You always get to take a fresh start.
Try it. You might like it.
PS — Pssst! Know someone who might benefit from seeing this today? Pass it on!