Creativity Lesson

I’ve just discovered a new creativity book: Growing Gills: How to Find Creative Focus When You’re Drowning in Your Daily Life by Jessica Abel. I just started reading it but have already found many helpful and enlightening insights and exercises.


The first is aimed at uncovering the obstacles that stand in the way of achieving creative goals. If you are like me, you are challenged by the task of creating art every day. (If you have read my previous messages, you know that art needs to be done every day.) The reason we do not create each day is not because we have no time, it’s because life gets in the way. We find ourselves in a dilemma- we could do our art or we could watch a movie on Netflix. A dilemma is a choice to be made. Every choice you make, every time you prioritize one thing over another, there are corresponding sacrifices you make. Facing the decision whether to work on your art or watch Netflix sounds like a no-brainer, yet if you look at it closely you realize it’s truly a dilemma, and there are real benefits and real costs to each choice. Choosing art over Netflix means you make progress that will give you a sense of pride. But you have to live with the discomfort of facing your work and all the feelings that come with that. Plus you’re giving up your “free time”. Choosing Netflix over art is a nice break and allows you to share in the social bonding that comes with watching the new shows your friends see, but now you have to live with guilt and self-blame for the art you haven’t done. The problem is not enduring the discomfort of the trade-off. The real problem comes when you don’t decide and instead let whatever happens, happen. In other words, you worst problems result from when you have a dilemma and you don’t face that fact and make the hard decision. Instead you just close your eyes and do whatever occurs to you. You didn’t consciously choose anything. How to avoid falling into this trap is to use the technique of “The Five Whys”.


You begin the process by identifying a problem: I always plan to start the day doing one hour of artwork but it never happens. The first why:


Why don’t I start doing art at 8 am as I plan?

The answer: Because I am reading and responding to my email the first thing in the morning.


The second why:


Why am I reading email?

The answer: Because I check email as soon as I wake up and then get pulled into answering each request.


The third why:


Why do I check email as soon as I wake up?

The answer: Because my phone is next to my bed.


The fourth why:


Why is my phone next to my bed?

The answer: Because I use it as an alarm clock.


The fifth why:


Why do I use it as an alarm clock?

The answer: Because it has an alarm clock and I don’t own another alarm clock.


Suddenly, you have an answer that points to a solution that is concrete and under your control.


You may need more or less than five whys, but the key is to keep asking why until you can ask something along the lines of “Why did this process fail?” You are aiming to identify a process that’s failing. If your intent is to do art first thing in the morning and it isn’t happening, you are living with the cost of not doing it. What does it cost you not to do art first thing in the morning? This is the dilemma that you need to face and solve.


This is just one gem that I gleaned from starting to read Growing Gills. Along with the book there is a workbook that is free to download and use as you work through the exercises suggested in the book. I recommend that you purchase the book and use it to organize your creative life. It is available through Amazon. Here’s to a new beginning!

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