“Everything you know is important. But you shouldn’t assume that the poem or music you create will come from what you know; it comes from what you don’t know.”*
–W.S. Merwin, poet

Suppose you’re about to practice, compose, or improvise: Do you aim to restate past ideas or come up with fresh ones?

Assuming that deliberate self-copying makes you cringe, then, to be creative, you’re going to have to step beyond your known universe and toward an indefinite future.

Maybe your ideas will soar; maybe they’ll sputter. How can you know where your intuition will lead?

You can’t.

And that’s one reason why so many people don’t create: The uncertainty of the process sends them fleeing toward the familiar.

Musicians who dread risk, for instance, will devise ordinary programs, play shopworn licks, shy away from entrepreneurial projects, and otherwise languish.

Creative artists, by comparison, love venturing outside of their comfort zones. They know that their greatest discoveries will be found in uncharted waters, and they fearlessly set off in search of adventures.

Here are 5 ways that we can embrace the mysteries of the creative process and become fearless creators.

1. Refine Goals
Our big and small goals will interact either to fire our enthusiasm or douse our potential.

Authentic long-term aims and specific daily objectives spur us to work. In contrast, vague aspirations – such as to “get better” – can leave us unsure of what to practice.

2. Trust
As W.S. Merwin states, our accumulated knowledge matters. Still, our know-how isn’t our art; rather, it comprises the tools we use to create art.

To innovate, then, we have to trust our abilities, dive into tasks, and let go of worry about how things will turn out. Although we can’t know where our creativity will take us, by believing in ourselves, we can be certain we’ll arrive somewhere meaningful.

For example, a trusting songwriter will start composing a new piece, confident that the act of beginning will stir up ample material that she can craft into a song.

3. Generate Copious Ideas
If we want to scuttle our creativity, we should tell ourselves to come up with brilliant insights exclusively. Then, our wellspring of ingenuity will be blocked by an inner critic.

Conversely, to tap reservoirs of imagination, we do well to churn out unfiltered streams of ideas.

4. Experiment & Evaluate Playfully
With a cache of ideas in hand, our next step is to adopt a playful approach to separating out the valuable nuggets from the raw material.

In the practice room, let’s say, we might record some passages, listen back, make revisions, record again, and so forth, taking pleasure in the process.

5. Persevere
Some days we’ll enjoy cascades of ideas and floods of accomplishment; other days we could be snarled in difficulties.

Nonetheless, creative achievement is typically built on piles of discards. So let’s bring a tenacious attitude to our work because perseverance and mental toughness are as vital to the creative process as are artistry and technique.

The Musician’s Way has helped people worldwide boost their creativity. Also see my online course 10 Steps to Lifelong Creativity.

*The above quotation from W.S. Merwin is paraphrased from a statement he made during his residency at the UNC School of the Arts, April 21-23, 2008.

Related posts
Artistic vision
The growth mindset
Mastery and mystery
Self-evaluation: The key to artful practice

© 2010 Gerald Klickstein

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