Hello! I am seven days post conference in (very) sunny Seville and am right back into the swing of things. I was once again reminded during my week away of the importance of stepping out of routine and day-to-day life once in a while to get inspiration and creative juices flowing. And talking of creative juices, that’s what I want to talk to you about today.
We’re coming into April and I recently reviewed these first three months of the year in terms of my PhD. Whilst I can say that I have still been enjoying my work, and I still know I am doing what is right for me, I can also definitely say that there has been a certain something missing. A spark, you might call it.
On further investigation of this, I noted down the main activities I’d been carrying out so far this year. This included mostly transcribing, conducting interviews, a little teaching, some marking and redrafting a paper for submission. I haven’t not enjoyed these tasks, but aside from the interviews, they haven’t been lighting me up with joy either.
I decided to take a different tack. At what points during the last three months did I feel there had been a spark. When had I felt in flow, when things had felt more effortless, when I had felt proud and happy with something I had done? This boiled down to three main things, writing posts for this blog, designing my poster for the conference and preparing a presentation. After a little bit of thinking I realised that the common factor in these tasks was that I was producing something, something of my own. I was creating.
Whilst transcription might result in a lengthy word document of the interview, it isn’t my own. Whilst I might have a spreadsheet of marks to show for my marking efforts, I haven’t produced anything original. I haven’t been using my own creativity.
Thinking back over these last few months, this has been necessary. It’s just the way tasks have fallen and it’s been ok. But motivation has been gradually reducing and things have felt a little clunky. I tried to think why I haven’t been creating, and the main reason was that ‘I haven’t needed to’. I don’t need to write that chapter yet, I don’t need to prepare that presentation yet, I don’t need to X,Y,Z yet. There are more important things to do.
But creativity is like a muscle, it needs to be used to stay strong and usable. And unlike most muscles, creativity is one that can actually become more energised the more it is used. Creativity fills your cup up, rather than draining it. You might be taxing your mind, working your body, and you may well feel tired, but the output and the delayed consequences of creative activities are so worth it.
Creativity has been described as one of the most powerful capacities we have to bring us alive in the moment and positively impacts our health and well-being.
When things are busy and there is a long list of tasks to be doing, it can be very hard to pull yourself away from it and do something that perhaps isn’t a priority, but would feel good to do or complete. But doing this, engaging in something inspiring or producing something you are proud of can fuel you up, ready for those not so creative tasks.
Whether we choose to admit it or not, those of us who choose to do a PhD are creative beings. We have to design and create studies, we have to create materials, we have to create, nurture and produce a thesis. We can’t shut down our creativity just because we are busy, because quite frankly, we never know when it might come around again.
We can however cultivate a creative lifestyle, a creative way of going about our days that allows for snippets of inspiration and creation to slip through. In the past, when people mentioned creativity I used to remove myself from the conversation – I wasn’t creative! I can’t play an instrument, I can’t sing to save my life and have you seen my drawing?! But creative experiences or ventures don’t have to result in a masterpiece.
Dancing around your room and making up new dance moves, that’s creativity. Choosing ingredients, preparing, cooking and serving a meal, that takes creativity. Sitting down and finding an innovative solution to a problem, that is creativity. Doodling, colouring, making something from nature, writing blogs, humming, sewing, decorating your room or house, taking beautiful photos, baking, problem solving, telling a story to your little cousins, coming up with a new organisation system – these are all creative tasks.
Creativity can be defined as the act of turning new and imaginative ideas into reality. And it can be both a frustrating but also an incredibly rewarding process. Creativity doesn’t need to be scary. And perhaps most importantly, creativity doesn’t need a reason to exist. Creativity for the sake of creativity is reason enough.
Having identified my lack of creative outlets these past few months I have made a ‘doesn’t need to be done but can be if I want to’ list. This list mainly includes writing for my thesis – but the prospect of it feels exciting. I can’t wait to get going with it.
Whenever things feel a bit stagnant or lacking that spark in the future, I’ll be sure to review how I’ve been nurturing my creativity and whether I’ve been allowing it to flow. I’ll engage in something creative for the sake of doing it, for how it makes me feel in the moment. Even if there is something ‘more important’ on the to do list that I ‘should’ be doing. Even if it seems frivolous and pointless.
We don’t need a reason to follow inspiration and creativity, we just need to give ourselves permission to.
Until next time 🙂
P.S. Something I have been enjoying the last couple of weeks is creating some boards over on pinterest. I’m aiming for a place where academics and postgrads can seek helpful information and resources. So far I’ve included tips on productivity, presentations, posters and much more. You can find my page here. And please do let me know if there is a board you would like to see!