Creativity, Discipline, and the Gospel

I’ve been reminded over the last couple of months how true it is that creativity is a discipline. It’s something that is never more clear to me than when I struggle to regularly spend time being creative. It can seem like a thousand things are more important than the practice of creativity. Aren’t art, poetry, and writing just hobbies after all?

But a discipline is only a discipline if it is something that one does as a matter of routine, whether one feels like it or not. To call something a discipline is to say that, rain or shine, it is essential. It’s not just a hobby; it must be done.

This makes the discipline of creativity problematic.

Creativity is by nature driven by impulsivity and whim.

A creator can’t just force inspiration to happen. Every writer knows the dread of staring a blank page. Creators have to wait for inspiration; they must coax it out.

The muse is fickle.

Practicing creativity can sometimes make me feel like I’m Steve Irwin. I hide behind some brush, making sure I’m very still and quiet, waiting for a rare interaction with inspiration like it’s an exotic bird. I have to be careful not to spook it.

My personality causes me particular issues with the discipline of creativity. On one hand, I’m very left-brained–a task-oriented, checklist-making, achievement-driven perfectionist.

But I have one of these personalities that is equally as right-brained as it is left-brained. I’m a romantic, an artist, a creative. I sit, and I wonder.

It’s a somewhat strange dual-nature. My house is almost always clean, except that pile of papers and junk that forever invades my desk. I have a strict bed time, but I’m almost never able to keep it. I keep a to-do list every single day, but I often lose focus on it because I would rather be day dreaming.

My problem is that the right-brained part of my personality thrives on freedom. I cannot create without space to wander, time to explore, free from timelines and limits. I need to have space and time to wait for inspiration, that exotic bird, to appear.

But the left-brained side of my personality loves to squash the creativity out of my right-brained side. In my left-brained desire for efficiency and achievement, I put too many constraints and demands on my right brain.

For my left brain, rough drafts are unacceptable. An idea must be perfectly formed before it is ever produced on paper. Everything that my hands and my mind produce must be absolutely perfect on the first try, because any imperfect work will just stand as a reminder of my own inadequacy.

My left brain wants to tell my right brain to stop being so impulsive, stop jumping from project to project. Just sit down and finish something already! Don’t follow your instincts! After all, this isn’t about having fun! It’s about producing good work!

And my child-like right brain immediately shuts down. My creativity dries up. My muse shrivels.

In some seasons, it feels easier to ignore my sketchbook than to use it. I say I’m too busy, and I focus on completing tasks rather than making beautiful things. This is an easy excuse to make because it appeals to my results-driven left brain. Isn’t it better to get the house clean than to do something creative? Isn’t laundry and cooking dinner more important?

 

What remains is how to allow my left brain to keep its checklists and schedules without scaring away creative inspiration. This is a problem that has always plagued creatives.

I’m solving it by making my left brain discipline itself.

That side of my personality is great for creating boundaries and for forcing me to make time for creativity. It is not great, however, at actual creativity. I can use this aspect of my personality to get myself in front of the computer or sketch pad and fence off a few hours of my time. In that time, however, my right brain is free to follow every whim and meander down any path. The left brain is strictly forbidden from interference, because perfectionism and strict expectations will crush creativity every time.

As creatives, we must discipline our thoughts. Resist the urge to edit your stream of consciousness. Put the red pen away. It’s no good at inspiration, and is better used at another point in the creative process.

Therefore, in many ways, creativity as a discipline is a living, breathing practice of the Gospel.

It is choosing to be vulnerable. In doing so, we acknowledge our imperfections. We acknowledge that much of what our minds and hands produce is just inadequate. We accept that we are depraved and insufficient.

The act of creativity is an acknowledgement that perfection belongs to God alone.

And His grace is sufficient for our imperfections.

We can openly practice vulnerability through our work because He has made it safe to do so. We can let go of the fear of imperfection and insufficiency, because He is perfect and sufficient.

Grace has opened the way for boundary-less creativity.

Let’s be brave and creative.

Let’s explore without fear.

 

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