A key to any creative endeavor is a free mind.
Very few of us are at that point when we first start. It takes practice, work, practice, work, and then more practice and more work to get there. But if you’re dedicated to it, one day you’ll be doing your thing, and BAM! It happens. The light goes on, and you know you’ve made it. It’s the moment when you stop thinking about what you’re doing and start FEELING it.
Golf provides a non-creative parallel to this idea. If you’ve never played golf, congratulations, you’ve spared yourself much aggravation and misery. Don’t start. I played for years but always had one major problem. Whenever I was about to hit a shot, I’d start thinking about fifteen or twenty different things at the same time: grip, stance, backswing, club position, shoulder turn, downswing, and so on. Not surprisingly, the results were disastrous. I didn’t have the patience (or the money) to continue investing the time it would take to get significantly better at golf, so I laid down my clubs and moved on.
I believe the golf principle is universal. To be really good at what you do, you have to reach the point where you get your brain out of the way.
But, don’t overlook the basics – at first. Technique is important. Mastering the fundamentals of your craft is crucial. But you master them so you can get beyond them – not be slaves to them. This is part of the developmental stage. The goal is to reach the point where you operate on instinct and your brain runs in the background like a computer’s processor.
I’ve learned this in the three creative things I spend time doing: video production, writing and music. I consider the first two of these “jobs” and the third a hobby, but in each case, I’ve learned that too much conscious thought usually mucks things up.
Whether it’s a piece of writing, a camera shot or editing decision, or if I’m just fooling around on the guitar, the more I think about what I’m doing, the less effective it’s going to be. But the more I go with my gut, the better the end result. Instinct is a powerful creative tool.
The time to do the thinking is in when the initial idea occurs. That’s where you can plot, plan and brainstorm, but the real work comes in the creation. That’s when you let the feeling begin.
If you want to be a writer, write all the time. Write all of the bad writing out of your system. Read as much as you can, too, and learn the basics of grammar and composition so you can express your thoughts coherently. But mainly practice your craft until it is second nature. Then trust your instincts.
It’s the same with music. Practice chords and scales till you don’t have to think about them, then don’t. Play as much as you can, and listen to lots of good music and other players who inspire you. Once you know the basics inside and out, forget ‘em and play from the heart.
If you’re going to be the next Spielberg, learn how to use a camera, figure out how they work, learn all the basic principles of shooting and editing. Watch the works of the masters. Maybe watch some bad stuff to learn what not to do. Then film everything and put it together. Learn how to tell a story and convey emotions with pictures. Do it until you can create whole movies in your head before you’ve shot a single frame.
As you’re transitioning from head knowledge to innate ability, you’re developing your personal style and voice. When you reach that magic moment when you don’t have to try to do it anymore, and it flows out of you like water from a faucet, your life has reached a different level. You’ve become creatively free. Freedom spreads. So first comes the free mind, then the free heart, then the free life.
Or as Funkadelic so eloquently put it: “Free your mind and your ass will follow.”