Creativity part two: balancing life, art, and motherhood

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

So following on from my last post on this subject, I am pleased to say that recently I have been going out of my way to cultivate creative expression in my life, which sounds a bit vague and slightly pretentious. To combat this, I've made a list of practical ways to balance creativity and 'real life' - especially if you're in charge of a small, loud, inquisitive little person, like I am.

So here goes:

Be flexible

Obviously this will mean something different if your hobby is, say, sculpture as opposed to drawing or something, but as much as you can, be flexible, physically and mentally. If you think you can only be creative if you're in an abandoned field surrounded by wildflowers with a breathtaking view around you at all times, then you may run into a problem, because when you have a kid, opportunities like that just don't come around that often.

So learn to work-as-you-go. For me this means leaving notebooks and paper on every surface in my house and writing down thoughts as they come to me. This means learning to recite a blog post into my phone whilst doing the washing up as my toddler dances around my feet. Sometimes life is chaotic and if you want to be more creative, you have to just learn to roll with it.

Take some 'real life' short cuts when you need to

Basically: learn some easy meals that take ten minutes to cook so that you don't have to feel bad about shoving fish fingers and chips in the oven, or learn to feel okay with occasionally shoving fish fingers and chips in the oven. And let go of having a perfect house. If you're trying to have a job and a hobby AND you have a kid, you can't expect everything else to be perfect. Pick the things you want to focus on (your child and partner should probably make it onto that list) and focus on those. Everything else is secondary.

Also, make sure the balance is right in your house: sometimes I feel that, as a stay-at-home Mum, all the housework and cooking falls to me, but that's not true, and Chris has never once said or asserted that. I take the responsibility for more of it, because I'm home more to do it, but that doesn't mean it all falls to me. *slaps wrist*

Feed your creativity

For me, this is easy in a way, because I have reading. If you want to write, you have to read. Reading is like sitting in a lecture being led by someone whose work you really admire, only it's free. You're learning and being inspired as you go.

So I read. A lot. And I make no excuses for it. Learn from people who do what you want to do.

Also I try to find creative inspiration in other places: I listen to a lot of music, and I have recently gotten into collecting inspiring quotes on Pinterest (which, er, I may have mentioned previously). I have printed a few of these out and stuck them where I can easily read them.

For blogging, I find that reading other blogs helps me to feel inspired, as does reading articles, specifically Christian or parenting-based ones. I also make sure to read articles and stay up to date with causes that I feel passionate about.

Learn what makes your heart race and sets your mind on fire and seek it out.

Take time out

I hear this advice a lot, but it bears thinking about, despite what I wrote earlier about learning to be creative in chaos: sometimes, you just need some time out. Figure out a way of arranging this. Sometimes, for me, it's enough to just retreat to bed in the evenings with the laptop. But sometimes its easier just to get out of the house.

If you, like me, can't afford to just pop off to Costa and have drinks and nibbles to keep your brain working, then go to the library. Or go to a park and take a sandwich with you. I find writing in public really scary, for some reason, like I'm making a declaration: I'm Being Creative! But actually, people are usually so engrossed in their own lives that they won't notice you anyway. And if they do, at least there's a conversation starter ready made for you.

Which leads me onto my next point:

Be bold

Chris recently told a friend that I'm writing a book. Which I am, kind of, sort of. It's a slow process and not something I'm sure I will a) finish or b) show anyone. I'm not really ready to talk about what it is exactly (read: I don't know what it's about yet) but, yes, I am writing something.

For some reason I was annoyed with him for putting me in a flustered stumbling-over-my-words situation: It's nothing, it's not really a book, I don't know, not really. Hey! Self! Stop that. I'm afraid sometimes of genuinely trying hard to do something. But I'm fed up of pretending to be nonchalant: I like writing and I am a bit socially awkward. That's fine.

There's no reason to pretend you're not trying when you are. It's far better to earnestly try and then fail at something than to never even bother trying, right?

Also, don't be afraid of fancy notebooks. Chris bought me this for mothers' day:


It's amazing. It smells amazing. The paper is really thick. The romantic tortured artist in me swoons when I look at it.

I felt too scared to write in it. Because marks on paper stay forever (unless I write in pencil. Actually I don't know why this didn't occur to me before). It felt like the kind of book that would only accept profound and deep thoughts or beautiful poetic prose. Like it might spit out words it didn't approve of.

And then I thought: this is ridiculous! I'm not going to be bossed around by a notebook. So I'm writing in it. With slightly nicer handwriting than my normal writing, but still, it's a start.

Learn to share stuff when you're ready

This is scary. I remember the first blog post I ever shared on Facebook: I'd been writing my blog for months before I felt able to do that. My heart literally pounded as I clicked 'share', because being creative is a bit like laying your heart on a table where people might hurt or criticise it.

But the comments I had were amazing and encouraging and constructive and it made me feel braver.

So do it! Show people what you're up to - people you trust. It'll be worth it.

Take time to learn the technicals

As I mentioned before, with writing, this is fairly easy because you can just read and learn as you go. But it's worth looking into the technical bits of your craft. There are rules to writing. Rules that can be broken, but can be broken more effectively if you understand why they are there in the first place.

I've started studying a book about grammar and sentence structure. It's interesting in a kind of back-to-school sort of way. I'm not leaping for joy at the prospect of reading it, but already it's making a difference.

Also if you can go to an event related to your craft - a fair or a workshop or a conference - try to. I'd really, really love to go to a bloggers' conference and am determined to make it happen at some point (oh to have money) because I hear they're great for getting inspired.

Make time for exercise

This sucks, but I find it to be true. I find it easier to think and be creative if I've been out that day or done some form of exercise. It's like it drives out all my excess energy and leaves me ready to go.

Or something. I dunno, this might not be the case for you, but it seems to work that way for me. Sadly

Utilize technology

I use Evernote, which allows me to make notes and then share them between devices. It's handy to write something on my laptop and then later be able to access it on my phone or Kindle.

However, too much technology is probably a bad thing. Having the TV on in the background is never helpful. (so why do I still do it?!)

Own your time

Sometimes I don't feel like being creative and that's fine (see the last point of this post!) but sometimes I know I need to just push through and get on with it, as writing is more constructive than just sitting on the sofa staring open-mouthed at my phone. Sometimes you just have to own your time and use it wisely.

Let your kids see you being creative

You can't just drop everything and expect the world to revolve around you because you are Artistic. Most days, the demands of a toddler leave me little room for anything other than, well, her. At the same time, I think it's good for children to see their parents being creative and freely expressing themselves, whether that be painting or home decorating or cooking or whatever.

I don't want my kid to think that she has to bottle up the way she feels or that she can't be herself, that she has to stick firmly to what society believes she should be, that she's not allowed to think or feel anything outside the norm, and creative expression allows room for this. Plus, creativity is a great way to encourage decision making and independence.

Sometimes I write while Jellybean draws (provided she's strapped in her highchair, in case I get carried away and don't notice her drawing on the walls). This is actually a really nice way to spend time with her.

Maybe I'll write more about this another time, but here is the last point of this ridiculously long post:

Don't take yourself too seriously!

With the subheading: go easy on yourself. If you can't be creative right now, if you don't feel up to it, if you just want to veg out in front of the TV tonight for once, if you can't get motivated: it's fine. If you are really doing what you love doing, you will eventually need to sit down and do it at some point because you will miss it. Does that make sense?

Also, have a sense of humour. Sometimes craft projects go horrifically wrong or you read something that you wrote a few months ago and have the dawning realisation that you sound like an idiot. It's fine. Learn to laugh at yourself. Otherwise you'll go crazy.

What do you think, arty parents? Have I missed anything? Comments are welcome as always!

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