May 28, 2014

Secret to Creativity: Structure and Balance

My friend Isaac... he came over a few weeks ago to finish a song that we started writing together!

Stability vs. Instability  

Free spirit vs. Restricted

Structured vs. Disorganized

Two ends of a spectrum, and lately my creative self has been at odds with itself in these terms.

As an artist or creator, no doubt you've heard the different expert philosophies and schools of thought. It's either all about 1) following your bliss/ finding your inspiration/ going with the flow, etc.  OR 2) putting your nose to the grindstone and just doing work.  99% perspiration and all that.

But which one is the "truth?"  For me, it's a mix of both, with slight leanings towards a good work ethic.


For the past few months, I've been of the "doing the work" philosophy.  I spent a year working my way through a book called "The Artist's Way."  It's a great book, and very inspirational.  It was validating and reassuring to know there were others who have the same almost religious relationship with creativity as I do.  It made me feel like an artist again.

But the one thing it didn't do for me was is its main promise- help me create.  I barely wrote anything, despite feeling more artistic than ever; I had no reason to.

Then I accidentally joined a songwriter's group this year.

Total fluke.  I was curious after I heard about it through the songwriter grapevine.  After a few emails, I was included in the weekly email chains, even though I'd never asked to be.  Oops!  One song per week, or you're out of the group.  That's it.

I can't say anything about the quality of the things I produce.  But I can say one thing:  I produce.  Having that simple little rule gave me motivation and permission to keep the ideas flowing- no matter how silly (or bad :P)  And I think that says one thing about naturally unstable/ unstructured/ disorganized people like me:  WE CRAVE DEADLINES.

Even though a "free spirit" will never, ever tell you that...

Going through this cycle helped me remember that there is a big difference between "feeling" artistic, and actually creating something.  And that having a "free-spirited" approach to creating can be totally counterproductive to it.  Haha!


You can't go against your own grain all the time.  That would be a quick trip to Nowheresville, and setting yourself up for failure.  It's really all about getting a good mix of structure vs. free-flowing-idea time.   Work and play!

To come at it from the other side, if you're a person who is naturally organized and good at keeping things together, it might be helpful to schedule down time for brainstorming and letting your mind flow :)

... After a few months of deadlines, deadlines, deadlines, I've been feeling fatigued.  I'm starting to not love the prospect of coming up with (and presenting!) idea after idea... especially if I know they can be improved.  I want time to tinker with concepts, and make them stronger.  Or at least come up with a better lyric than "I love you/ Doo-bee-doo."

So... it might be time for me to step back, enjoy what I've done so far, and play around with it.


The other day I picked up my guitar and spontaneously played a song I adore.  I lovingly crafted it over months' time, until everything was just so (free-flowing ideas).

And then, I took that song to Maine last September.  We went over it again, changed it more.  Then we recorded vocals and guitar.  That song is worked over (structure)...  But it means something to me, and I feel proud to sing it.

It feels good to play, not just because it was rewritten and reforged so many times until it was the best it could be.  But because I know that I put part of myself into it- unlike some of the other songs I've written and recorded, just because I thought they'd be pleasant to listen to.

Even though I do currently believe in the concept of "99% perspiration, 1% inspiration." I still think that there is an "x-factor" at play when it comes to universally loved creations of any stripe.  And what is that "x-factor?"  A piece of someone's heart.  Their soul.  A lot of important and powerful art would not exist without it.

What's a perfect song, or picture, or story without it?  Sure, it will be pleasing, but it will also be sanitized.

In other words:

Structure.  Balance.  Happy Artist.  Good Art :)

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  1. This was a really interesting post and to me I can relate it to blogging. Balance is key and structure is key, as you said because the act of actually creating something is what makes you better over the long run :)

    Lots to take away from this post!

    Emmett - Spell & The Gypsy Collective Giveaway

  2. I love this. I know it can apply to any kind of creativity, but I love that it's about songwriting. Happy sigh. :)

  3. Words of wisdom, lady. I've had that book on my wish list for awhile but wasn't sure if it was worth it. I totally hear ya on craving deadlines- without them I have the hardest time pursuing things, even ones I love doing!

  4. This post really makes one think. Not only does this relate to others in terms of writing but also in terms of any form of that exhibits creativity.
    I completely agree with you powerful and important art is nothing without it's x-factor! It's what bring that people to the art, to the song, to the writing!


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