This is Part Two in this series. Read Part One here.
Before we get into bringing a specific desire of yours through the creative process, we need to clear away some misconceptions about what it is to be creative. No word in the English language is more misunderstood.
The best way I can do that is by telling you how this series came to be. It was born in a dentist’s waiting room. As I sat awaiting my turn, trying not to notice the drilling sound from the next room, I picked up a magazine and read the following sentence from one of the world’s best-known psychologists, Abraham Maslow.
“The key question isn’t, ‘What fosters creativity?’ Rather it is, ‘Why in God’s name isn’t everyone creative? Where was this human potential lost? How was it crippled’?”
I’d often pondered the same question. As a novelist and poet, I’d consciously worked with the creative process for years. I’d come to know it, that it had mystery at its heart.
It seemed capricious but somewhere along the way, I’d begun to realize it was me who let it down, not the other way round.
The Creative Process
By the time of my dental visit, I’d identified and named its seven stages — intention, incubation, investigation, formation, elaboration, clarification and completion — grouped into three phases: the vision phase; the making phase, the success phase.
I’d come to understand that the process I brought to making books was also what I drew on to create and run my writing and publishing business, and non-profit association for writers.
More radically, to understand that the same process made my marriage, made my house a home, made everything from the life-transforming (my children) to the everyday (my dinner).
It made me and through me, everything I experienced in my life.
When I tapped it, consciously or subconsciously, it tapped me into a process that works in the furthest flung corners of the cosmos and in the deepest depths of the atomic sub-structures within my own cells.
I’d begun to consciously harness the process with more intent in my life, and experience its joys and challenges. And I’d begun to teach the process, not just to writers but to people in many varied circumstances. Through this teaching, I’d seen first-hand how it liberated and expanded their lives, just as it had mine.
And so, like the great Dr Maslow, I’d begun to wonder: why had we not been taught about this process that was so universal and so fundamental to our achievement and happiness?
Who had crippled us — and why?
That day, it felt as if the father of positive psychology, the man who’d popularized the very concept of self-actualization, was talking directly to me. I travelled straight from the dentist’s drill to where you had to go, back in those dark, pre-Internet days, to answer such questions: the bookshop and library. Since that day, I’ve investigated creative questions in every possible way.
Beginning with Mr Maslow and his hierarchy of needs, I moved on to other psychologists; then philosophers; then yogis and saints, then feminists and queer theorists and creative thinkers and facilitators. And, of course, the creatives themselves, the writers and artists and performers and innovators and inventors.
All the while, I was writing novels and poems and teaching creative skills in a great variety of contexts.
The more I read and wrote, taught and learned, and the more I used the tools of conscious creation in my private life, the more important it seemed to be.
The Creative Way
When human beings are cut off from their true wants and their creative powers, they first become discouraged, then disappointed, then disillusioned, then despairing.
The consequent symptoms — depression or anger, entropy or panic attacks, addiction or obesity — may force them to engage with what’s happening inside them. If they seek help, they’ll be told they have a psychological problem. By then, that may well be true.
If we enter the cycle earlier, what we have is an educational problem.
People aren’t taught how to consciously create what they want.
Sometimes, they manage to do it anyway. Sometimes not. If not, they have no way of knowing what went wrong. They put it down to luck or fate but as human beings, we overwhelmingly create our own luck and our own fate
So if you have unfulfilled longings drifting inside you, left untended or maybe even shunned; if you’ve made efforts to create something in the past, only to see your dreams dashed; if you’ve been setting resolutions or goals, or producing productivity charts, or chanting affirmations, yet continually failing to materialize the thing or experience you’re most longing for, know that it’s not your fault.
Since you were very young, you’ve been taught how to suppress your desires, or label them shameful. You’ve been through schools where practical, rational and analytical skills were favored and creativity is confined to art, music and literature class. Your workplace too, will be denying your creative intelligence, or at best controlling and containing it. And probably your loved ones too.
You’re likely to have gone through your whole life, so far, with far too few people — maybe no-one ever — saying to you: “Actually, no, you are creative. Actually, you can make what you want to make. Actually, you already do.”
You have been, as Maslow put it, “crippled” by a world that insists on conventional, conditioned ways of thinking and being. You have taken these messages and made them your own, so that your mind feeds you the same messages. And you are not alone.
In 2010, market researchers Opinion Research Corp ran a poll that found 92% of people fail to create what they most want. Whether the desire was physical (as, in their survey, 38% of the desires); or emotional (31%), or financial (34%) or, interestingly the biggest category in their sample, a self-improvement goal like writing a book, doing a degree or getting a better job (47%), people weren’t managing to make it.
We all know this. We make jokes each January about our failed resolutions, wincing at our lack of willpower, and then when we’re alone, inside our own heads, beating ourselves up for our weakness, hating ourselves for our powerlessness.
In answer, there are those who will tell you that conscious creation is as easy as asking, believing and receiving. Or a matter of following a formula. Or putting in a cosmic order. Or doing some spells to magic it up.
The Go Creative! series won’t do that.
Yes, you will be given steps to follow, but they are far from formulaic.Yes, you will need belief, but in yourself and in the process, not some force outside yourself. And yes, you will harness the mysterious and invisible creative energy that wizards and witches call magic, that science describes through quantum mechanics, that saints and sages name God, that artists and writers label inspiration. But you won’t need to call or describe, name or label it.
You’ll just employ it and enjoy it.
More accurately, enjoy being it.
To help ignite your creative spark, purchase my guide to being more creative in daily life …