Last week, I posted my initial thoughts on Eric Maisel's latest book on creativity, Making Your Creative Mark, and promised more to come. Then his publicist sent me this interview, which I thought delved into more of the book very nicely. So here you go!
An Interview with Eric Maisel
Author of Making Your Creative Mark
Eric Maisel is the author of Making Your Creative Mark and twenty other creativity titles including Mastering Creative Anxiety, Brainstorm, Creativity for Life, and Coaching the Artist Within. America’s foremost creativity coach, he is widely known as a creativity expert who coaches individuals and trains creativity coaches through workshops and keynotes nationally and internationally. He has blogs on the Huffington Post and Psychology Today and writes a column for Professional Artist Magazine. Visit him online at his website. http://www.ericmaisel.com.
You’ve organized the book around nine keys. Can you highlight one or two of them for us?
I start with the “mind key” because I believe that getting a grip on our thoughts and doing a better job of thinking thoughts that actually serve us are supremely important skills to master. Most people do a poor job of “minding their mind” and choosing to think in ways that serve them. It is a completely common practice for people to present themselves with thoughts that amount to self-sabotage and to refuse to dispute those thoughts once they arise. If people did a better job of “minding their mind” by noticing what they were thinking and by making an effort to replace defensive and unproductive thoughts with less defensive and more productive thoughts, they would live in less pain and they would give themselves a much better chance of living the life they dream of living. This is doubly true for artists who can doubt their talent, take criticism too seriously, find a hundred ways to avoid the hard working of creating, and more. There’s really nothing more important than getting a grip on your own thoughts!
Why do you think someone would want to gamble everything on a life in the arts when it’s so hard to make it as an artist?
Human beings crave the psychological experience of meaning. We want that almost more than we want anything else. There are maybe a score of ways that human beings regularly generate that psychological experience: through service, through relationships, by excelling, by seizing new experiences – and by creating. Creating is one of our prime meaning opportunities and for many people the most important. Therefore folks who decide to devote themselves to an art discipline aren’t making some sort of calculation about risk versus reward. What they are doing is honoring their need to make their own meaning. If you look at a life in the arts as a smart career choice it doesn’t make that much sense; if you look at it as a tremendous meaning opportunity, it makes perfect sense.
You present what you call “the stress key.” What are some of your top tips for reducing the stress that a life in the arts produces?
Life produces stress, the artistic personality produces additional stress, creating produces even more stress, and living the artist’s life is the topper! An artist must learn how to deal with all of these stressors—and how to deal with them effectively. There are many tactics an artist can try—the key is actually trying some! You might try “writing your stress away.” Research reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggests that writing about stressful situations and experiences can reduce your stress levels – and can actually lead to improvements in immune functioning, fewer visits to the doctor, and an increased sense of well-being. You can reframe a given demand as an opportunity, turning your “stressful” upcoming gallery show into a golden opportunity. You can have a fruitful conversation with yourself and answer the following four questions: 1. What are my current stressors? 2. What unhealthy strategies am I currently employing to deal with these stressors? 3. What healthy strategies am I currently employing to deal with these stressors? 4. What new stress management strategies would I like to learn? An artist needs to honor the reality of stress and make plans for dealing with it!
Is there one habit or practice that really makes a difference between getting your creative work done and not getting it done?
Yes. The most important practice an artist can institute is a morning creativity practice where she carves out some time bright and early every day, five, six or seven days a week, to work on her novel, practice her instrument, or get right to her painting studio. There are three important reasons to institute a morning creativity practice. The first reason is the most obvious one—you’ll be getting a lot of creative work done! Even if only a percentage of what you do pleases you, by virtue of working regularly you’ll start to create a body of work. That’ll feel good! A second reason is that you get to make use of your “sleep thinking”—you get to make use of whatever your brain has been thinking about all night. Create first thing and capture those thoughts that have been percolating all night! The third reason is that, by creating first thing, you’ll have the experience of making some meaning on that day and the rest of the day can pass in a half-meaningless way and you won’t get depressed! Getting right to your creative work first thing each day provides you with a daily shot of meaningfulness. That’s a lot of goodness to get from one practice.
I’d like you to chat a bit about what you call the “freedom key.” What sort of freedom are you talking about?
Many different sorts—let’s look at just one, the freedom not be perfect; or, to put it slightly differently, the freedom to make big mistakes and messes. Not so long ago I got an email from a painter in Rhode Island. She wrote, “I'm a perfectionist and I want my artwork to be perfect. Sometimes this prevents me from getting started on a new project or from finishing the one I’m currently working on. I think to myself: If it's not going to be the best, why bother to do it? How do I move past these feelings?” One way to get out of this trap is to move from a purely intellectual understanding that messes are part of the creative process to a genuine visceral understanding of that truth. You need to feel that freedom in your body. As an intellectual matter, every artist knows that some percentage of her work will prove less than stellar, especially if she is taking risks with subject matter or technique. But accepting that obvious truth on a feeling level eludes far too many creative and would-be creative people. They want to “perfect” things in their head before turning to the canvas or the computer screen and a result they stay in their head and never get started. You have to feel free to show up and make a big mess—only then will good things start happening!
Another key that interested me is what you call the “relationship key.” What sorts of relationships did you have in mind and what can an artist do to improve his relationship skills?
All sorts of relationships! And relationships in the arts are frequently very complicated. You may be very friendly with a fellow painter and also quite envious of her. You may actively dislike a gallery owner or a collector but decide that he is too valuable to cast aside, maybe because he is your only advocate or your only customer. You may respect your editor’s opinions but despise the rudeness with which she delivers them. There may be no such thing as a genuinely straightforward relationship anywhere in life but relationships in the arts are that much more complicated and shadowy. The main improvement an artist can make is to actually think about the matter! You can decide how you want to be in relationships but only if you actively decide. You get to decide if you want to be honest and straightforward even if others aren’t, if you want to be polite and diplomatic even if others aren’t, if you want to be quiet and calm even if others are stirring the pot and making dramas. It may not prove easy to be the person you want to be at all times and in all situations, especially since the marketplace has a way of throwing us off our game, but you can nevertheless hold the intention to try your darnedest to be the “you” you would most like to be. This takes thought and preparation!So that's it for the interview. Do you have a favorite book on the creative process?