background music

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I’ve recently come across a few articles about background music and how it relates to creativity. I thought you might enjoy the share.

This article covers evidence that happier music may promote more creativity thought.

This article, by esteemed author Ryan Holiday, discusses his habit of listening to the same song or set of songs on repeat like a madman, even songs he doesn’t particularly enjoy.

I’ve given it a bit of thought but haven’t dedicated myself to any specific method.

Typically, I’ll listen to instrumental music because I find words distracting, especially when I’m writing. Lately, that’s been piano music. I’ll often find a set on YouTube and then follow similar links.

I have recently discovered, and greatly enjoyed, Mattia Vlad Morleo, after watching an eclipse video with a stelar musical composition.

Hey Creatives, I’d love to hear what your listening habits are when you want to be in a creative mode. Do you crank up the volume or need utter silence?

imagine

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We’ve seen a lot of houses lately. That happens when you’re looking for a new place to live.

It’s fun to see how other people live, to check out different styles of construction and notice the changes over time—to recognize what is modern and what appears outdated. 

In the process, there's one habit I’ve noticed my wife and I doing: we speak about the house we’re viewing as if it were our own, even if it’s one we have no serious intention of living in. I think it’s a helpful practice, to pretend we already live there and imagine how our lives (and furniture) would be structured in such a place. It allows us to weigh out the positives and negatives of a future there. This is one of the many benefits of employing the imagination.

Our capacity to imagine is a spectacular thing. I heard this from copywriter and coach, Joshua Boswell, in a video course, 

“As humans, we have the unique ability to imagine and turn those imaginations into reality through a process called creation. If you don’t imagine something, you can never create it.”

Imagination is not only helpful, it’s essential for creatives of any field.

The wonderful thing about imagination is how accessible it is: anyone can do it anytime and anywhere. But not everyone does. It is a rare and valuable trait.

If you’re like me, you may hear the dear departed Gene Wilder singing Pure Imagination. It sounds so lovely, so magical. But let’s be honest, we don’t all have a bunch of money and a crazy chocolate factory in which to live out our wildest (or wilder) imaginations. Even the dreamiest of dreamers has their limits.

Like just about any part of creativity, there is an inherent challenge to living imaginatively. To be imaginative, you must be willing to overcome your own inner doubts and distractions and use your mind with purpose.

There is a balance to be found between giving your mind a direct focus but also allowing it to roam free.

These days, we can be so task-oriented, so goal-focused, we forget to take time to daydream, to “waste time”. 

Okay critics, I hear you, if our heads are always in the clouds, we’ll never get anything done, we’re in danger of being called a good-for-nothing layabout by some old-timey person (heaven forbid). 

So I say sure, it’s good to be a hard worker, to keep your head down and be dedicated to a task, but sometimes you need to look up and see the sky above you. Sometimes you have to step back and ask why you’re doing what you’re doing and, ultimately, where you’re going with it.

When we become so consumed with the t-crossing and i-dotting of day-to-day tasks, imagination becomes essential to help us get the broader view.

To imagine is to let your mind free, to allow it to think whatever it wishes, without hindrance.

Some folks will tell you imagination is a waste of time—a pointless, idle practice. And yet those people rely on methods and tools which were imagined by someone else.

Our imaginations may take us to far-off worlds, but it may be in those far-off worlds where we discover the keys we need in this world.

So whether you’re looking for a new place of residence or even trying to picture what life is like for someone who lives on the other side of the planet, I invite you to take a little time to imagine, to let your mind roam (with some direction). You may be delighted with what you discover. You may learn a valuable lesson you can apply today. Or you might just be weirded out by the thought of an entire workforce made entirely of oompa loompas.

a pause

In light of the Las Vegas shooting, and other events in recent history, I didn't feel like doing a regular post this week.

Instead, I wanted to pause. I invite you to do the same. 

Yes, creativity is important, crucial even, but there is a place for rest, meditation, and reflection. There is a time to stop, think, and feel. With so many changes going on lately, I have been learning this in my own life.

If you still want to read a post, this former one seems appropriate:

how to feel

I'll continue my regular posts next week. In the meantime, I encourage you to, as Romans 12:15 states, "weep with those who weep."

respond

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Welcome to the fourth and final installment of my series, The Creative Approach. The title of this one might remind you of a similar post, but I promise it’s different. Read on and I’ll prove it to you.

To recap (to put your hat back on?), the first two steps in the creative approach are observe and question. Once you’ve begun to take a look around and see what there is to see, once you’ve made some inquiries based on your discoveries, the next step is to form a response—a reaction, if you will. 

Every question begs for a response,

This is true even if the response is “I don’t know.” But if that is your response, it’s high time to start finding some things out.

As I often like to do, let’s look at the role response plays in storytelling. A story where the protagonist does not respond to events around them is hardly a story at all. If Bilbo from The Hobbit stays in the Shire, we’ve got no adventure and he's Ringwraith meat in no time. If Luke stays on Tatooine, the rebellion loses and he's Jawa jerky. If Meg Ryan’s character, Kathleen from You’ve Got Mail doesn’t stand up and fight for the survival of her little book shop, it simply goes under and the story is over. Yes, I just referenced a chick-flick, what, it’s a good movie and it's got Tom Hanks, so there!

If we refuse to engage with our world, if we wall ourselves in, close the blinds and click shut the ten locks on our doors, what will we gain? A sense of security? Possibly. But it looks like more like defeat to me. What happens when everyone lives this way? Creativity dies and we have no stories to share. A downright shame, I say!

To respond is to do something, to take action.

It’s not enough to wish and wonder. Take a look at the information you have gathered through your observation and questions then find creative ways to address it. Here is one question that will lead you to a response, "what now?" When you live out the answer to that question, you put your creativity to work.

I knew a guy in college who discovered a unique way to potty train his boy: playing the ukulele. According to my classmate, it was the only thing he found that would work—after many other failed attempts. He had a problem (a kid who refused to be potty trained) and his response was to look around at what he had available and test it until he found a solution.

But the answer to the question “what now” doesn’t always have to be a solution to a problem. Perhaps you simply want to develop a hobby. For example: if you’ve learned about a local scrapbooking club, why not join and see how you like it?

There are so many ways to respond to, “what now?" If there is a group of neighborhood kids you often find kicking cans down your street, why not go play hacky sack, show them how to yoyo, or set up a little soccer field? Maybe invite their parents over for dinner afterwords. 

If you see the same homeless woman on the way home from work every day, why not buy her a flower, or make one out of paper? Hey, nothing makes me feel special like a little origami. 

If you pass by an interesting little shop, why not pay them a visit, ask the owner a bit about their life and maybe even write a story about it (or at least a journal entree)? 

Instead of just hitting the like button the next time you see a good post, why not comment how it made you feel, or even talk to the one who posted it in person, who knows where your discussion could lead? Engage, engage, engage.

Is there someone in your life—such as a coworker or acquaintance—who might be able to mentor you or teach you an interesting skill, say woodworking or how to play drums? Is there someone in your life—a friend’s kid perhaps—with whom you could share your experience and offer help through instruction?

A creative response can be as big or as small as you want it to be: a 15 minute project or a lifelong work. However, if you haven’t given much time to creativity in the past, I encourage you to start small. 

As you’ll see, the more you take the creative approach, the more you will exercise your creative muscle and the stronger you’ll become.

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That’s it for now folks, I hope you’ve enjoyed this little romp through the creative approach. If you’ve got any thoughts or experiences on the subject, why not respond by sharing them?

 

Creatively yours,

A.P. Lambert

 

Hey Creatives, when has your response led to an unexpected reaction from someone else? Let us know in the comments below.

 

Links to the rest of the series:

The Creative Approach

Observe

Question

Respond  (current)

question

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And now, the third installment of my series The Creative Approach. As a reminder, the three parts of the creative approach are: observe, question, and respond. We arrive at the second part: question.

During observation mode, you took a good look at your surroundings, a practice I encourage you to continue for the rest of your life. Now it's time to ask some questions, even the silliest, most ridiculous ones; there is no bad place to start.

As I've mentioned in other places on this site, "what if" is one of the most important questions you can ask to get your creative brain in gear. Asking, "what if" can lead to some very big ideas, but it starts out small.

What if the mailman really wanted to be a psychiatrist? What if the birds outside my window started singing Elvis? What if my commute took me through a secret tunnel to a magical world made of creamed corn?

All fine questions. But let them lead you somewhere more practical. What if I took time to say hi to the mailman (or woman, or mailperson) and find out what their interests are? What if I took a little time every morning to pause and listen to the birds chirping before getting caught up in the usual routine? What if I shifted my schedule or carpooled to shorten my commute?

“What if” is a great place to start, but don’t stop there. There is an endless list of questions you could ask about an endless number of things. The point is to get your mind working in a certain way, to open it up for possibility and potential and then to hone in on a purpose. If I can wonder about the possible existence of some magic city built upon creamed corn (instead of rock and roll), then finding a way to get my life a little more organized isn’t such a stretch.

Let your questions take on more focus. Write down a few problem areas in your life (start with small ones) and begin to ask questions about those. For example, if your problem is: I don’t get to sleep early enough, you might ask yourself the following: why do I want to get to bed earlier? What keeps me up so late? Do I know other people with this problem and what have they done? What will happen over time if I don’t fix this?

Questions lead to new thoughts which lead to change. However, it isn’t instantaneous. Just as it takes an entire novel for a character to complete their arc (sometimes a whole series), it will take time for you to change, for you to become a change-bringer. However, questions are an important and necessary step on the yellow creamed corn-brick road to change (yeah, it’s more than super corny, it’s kinda gross).

Once you’ve spent enough time asking questions which lead to other questions, like any good detective, you will eventually want some answers. Stay tuned for the next and final gripping post in the series: THE RESPONSE! (I’ll leave your mind to play that dramatic horn sound)

 

Creatively yours,

A.P. Lambert

 

Hey Creatives, when has a question led your mind down unexplored avenues? Let us know in the comments below.

 

Links to the rest of the series:

The Creative Approach

Observe

Question (current)

Respond

observe

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What you are about to read is a continuation from my series, The Creative Approach.

As you may remember, the three steps to a creative approach are observe, question, and respond. Let’s tackle that first one: observe.

What does it mean to observe? 

Open your eyes. Seeing those words, I can’t help but think of the opening lines in the song, “Always,” by Erasure, which is obviously about the endless struggle to be creative amidst a contrary society. Alright, it’s open to interpretation. 

Where were we … oh yes, observation! So, where exactly should you begin? Why not start at your own front door? Step outside and take in the world. Take off your headphones for a minute and look up from whatever mobile device you’ve been glued to. This is more than a brief glance—let it all in.

While you’re in observation mode, don’t worry too much about trying to get something out of it. Just let things come to you as you discover them. Notice all your senses: what are the sounds, smells and even tastes? Don’t go licking light poles though, people might call the authorities on you—trust me on this one. 

Consider, how do you feel when you first step outside? Refreshed by the first breath of a new day, reluctant to be shoved around in a tight crowd like cattle, dread for an oncoming storm? Is it hot or cold, wet or dry, windy or calm? What sorts of people or animals are nearby and what are they doing? What do nearby buildings or landscape features look like? All these things may seem mundane at first, but when you really stop to take notice and record, you will begin to see things you haven’t seen before.

One common struggle is to look outside oneself. We spend the vast majority of our time thinking internal thoughts about our own wants and needs and, because of it, our surroundings go unnoticed. 

To be creative, you first have to appreciate your environment. Your environment is where you can draw inspiration. To be stuck inside your head all the time is to miss out. As you begin to look around, you’ll be surprised how a shift of focus will change the way you see the world.

A friend of mine recently published his first children’s book, What Do You Notice, Otis? I love how it encourages kids to pause, observe, and interact with the world around them. Sadly, this has become a neglected practice for many a person (regardless of age) today.

Observation isn’t hard, most of us have just gotten out of practice. But anyone—even a distracted, oblivious guy like myself—can do it. 

For example, on my drive to work I’ve noticed many things I found peculiar: a man wearing blue latex gloves while driving his beat-up silver Honda, another guy holding his leaf blower upright and swinging it as if he were playing a guitar, a girl with a large brace on her leg following her friends who were all in fancy dresses, and a young man who didn’t appear to be homeless with a sign asking for college money. Each of those could be the makings of a good story.

Now it’s your turn; take a moment to pause and observe in the world around you, or, even better, schedule some time and find a place to so do. You might even want to take a journal along for recording purposes. 

When you stop to look around, you’ll discover a world which was previously hidden to you, though it may have been right under your nose (it also helps you avoid stepping into anything … unpleasant). This will set off the sparks to ignite your creative drive and get those wheels in your head turning right round. Besides all that, you’ll find observing can be very fun (I myself am an avid people-watcher).

 

Here’s looking at you kid,

A.P. Lambert

 

Hey Creatives, do you make it a point to stop and take in your surroundings? If so, what have you noticed lately? Let us know in the comments below.

 

Links to the rest of the series:

The Creative Approach

Observe (current)

Question

Respond

approach

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Here you are at the first post in a four-part series, The Creative Approach. This is the first series I've done for this site, though probably not the last. Enjoy!

What is it to approach something, if not to draw closer? To approach requires movement. When you make an approach, you move away from one thing toward another. 

By taking a creative approach, you are allowing something to come to life: an idea, a thought, an inkling. You move away from an unfulfilled, unenthusiastic life toward one of purpose and excitement. It’s more than just a shift, it’s a move from nonexistence to existence, and that’s no small step, even for Neil Armstrong.

It all begins in the mind—your imagination. But how do you get there, from nothing to an idea, from a dead standstill to a sure-fire approach? Well, rocket boosters and 2,000 tons of fuel would help, but lets say you don’t have that on hand.

It starts with motion. Without this, nothing happens. 

Creativity often comes to us while we are actively doing something, not sitting around staring blankly at a screen with our minds in a cat-GIF induced coma. It also comes when we set circumstances in its favor. For example, when we aren’t distracted by one million to-do’s or news updates and instead allow our minds to wonder a bit. So the creative approach is not just about movement toward something, but also away from something. We move from distraction toward focus, from inactive toward active.

Newton knew well enough that objects without motion tend to stay that way while moving things keep on a-movin’! This is why starting is often the hardest part: it takes focused effort to get from stationary to mobile, to build momentum, but it’s no less necessary.

A story doesn’t begin until something happens—something that matters to the plot and character. Your creativity won’t kick in until you get your groove on and move on.

But how do you do it? How do you transition from still to loco-motion? How do you get the ball rolling, the crank turning and the hopper hopping—just how do you generate creative motion?

The creative approach is a three-step dance. The first step in the creative approach is to observe. Next, you ask questions based on your observations. Questions get the gears turning, which get you thinking in new ways. Finally, we come to the third and final step: respond.

Let me repeat all that, but with different words: you must first take a new angle, head in a new direction. After you do, questions allow you to look at the matter from a different perspective, or as they say in the biz, get a new view (no, they don’t actually say that in the biz, I don’t even think they say “the biz” in the biz, who are we even talking about?) and, once you’ve gained your new view, you’ve got to do something about it: you must respond.

Give it a try, take some time to examine the world around you, even if it’s just a 15-minute walk around the block, then ask some questions and, lastly, find a way to respond that is unique and engaging. Hopefully this is something you do naturally, but it never hurts to pick a time and place to focus specifically on this practice. As you’ll see, an approach isn’t all that hard once you make the first move.

 

Creatively yours,

A.P. Lambert

 

Hey Creatives, when was the last time you took a creative approach to something ordinary? Let us know in the comments below.

 

Links to the rest of the series:

The Creative Approach (current)

Observe 

Question

Respond

better or worse

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This likely falls into the category of TMI, but what they heck, I’m sharing it anyways. Not so long ago, I had the privileged experience of developing a most unpleasant rash (and not on purpose either). Over the matter of a few days, it got pretty bad. Thankfully, I was able to see a doctor and get needed medication to make it go bye-bye. Hey, I’ve got two kids now, I’m allowed to say things like that.

It wasn’t all bad though. I actually learned a couple things from the experience:

1. Rashes suck.

2. There is a big difference between better and worse, but it isn’t always obvious.

 

I imagine you’ve heard more than you bargained for about my personal health at this point (which is good, because I’m just about through telling), but my attitude and outlook changed remarkably when the rash (we’ll call him Sir Rashington) made the transition from getting worse to getting better.

As far as creativity goes, that tipping point between these two states of being is crucial, but it can also be nigh undetectable. At what point do you transition from a bad painter to a good one? Insert any other creative activity in there. I watched a video about Jim Carrey painting recently. Sometimes this tipping point may be obvious, but often it isn’t.

The transition from a poor skater to a mediocre one to an accomplished one happens slowly and incrementally, no one is a pro on the first go. Just like any athletic ability, learning a creative skill is rarely an overnight event. It takes time and effort.

Sir Rashington still looked pretty bad between days 5 and 6, but I was pleasantly surprised to find he hadn’t gotten worse. Even when improvement was obvious, he still didn’t look (or feel) all that great but I sure was happy things had taken a turn in the right direction.

Creatively speaking, It’s easy to get discouraged when we compare our progress to other, more accomplished people—your “better” may still look pretty terrible. But the point isn’t how it looks right now, but where it’s taking you and where you will end up. And getting better isn’t that hard, it comes down to a committed, regular practice.

The word Kaizen incorporates the Japanese ideal of continual improvement. It’s often used as a business model to eliminate waste and increase efficiency. I wonder how much such a mindset might help our own creative lives. How much progress might we make on a single creative activity if we committed to taking very small steps toward improvement in it every day? Why, it’s enough to give you the itch to try a little harder and do a little more on the next go-round.

Anyhow, thanks for suffering with me through a somewhat gross subject. I hope you, like me, can rejoice in the small signs that you’re getting just a little bit better than before—especially where skin conditions are concerned.

 

Creatively yours,

A.P. Lambert

progress

One key factor I’ve found in every game I’ve enjoyed is a sense of progress. As time passes, the player becomes stronger, better equipped, more resourceful, more capable, and just plain better. 

There is one game I can think of with an exception. In the mobile game Sword & Sworcery, your character actually loses total health points through the adventure, due to increased exhaustion. It’s an interesting twist, but even though your character, the Scythian, becomes weaker and more easily defeated, she still progresses in other ways such as learning songs, unlocking new areas of the map, and defeating powerful triangles (no joke).

Without progress, I imagine a game would get dull quickly, since you'd just be doing the same thing over and over with little change. It’s like getting stuck in a grind.

Progress is the evidence that our efforts produce results.

Ok, we’ve talked about games, now back to the Bat Cave, umm, I mean, creativity

What does progress look like for the creative? It’s a steady shift toward improvement. It could be getting better at a skill, like painting or playing piano. It may be gaining further understanding of how something works, such as a circuitboard, or building a connection with another creative person of influence. It might be learning more about a problem, such as why a town’s water source has become contaminated.

Anything that allows you more opportunity to practice creativity is progress.

But here’s the rub (is it just me, or are we both thinking of a delicious dry-rub on some tender barbecue meats right now? Oh, it’s just me, right) progress can be slow. Sometimes it can feel like you’ve put in many, many hours into a particular creative pursuit, like balloon animals, and you still only know how to make a wiener dog. All the while, the bunny remains hopelessly out of your grasp (in a very real sense).

Yes, it can be frustrating when progress is slow and you feel no better today than yesterday or even last week, but I’ve found as long as you stick to a goal with determination, you will eventually get there. It’s only when you stop trying that progress (and that elusive bunny balloon) becomes unobtainable. There is something valuable I've learned about progress:

Slow progress beats no progress every time.

Much like the Scythian from Sword & Sworcery, we are faced with setbacks and weakness, such as sickness or the effects of aging, but that doesn’t mean we can’t continue to make creative progress. I urge you, press onward and, at last, that bunny of progress will be yours. Then you can move on to something like this. That may be a very high bar to reach for. Hey, just take it one step (or balloon) at a time.

 

Creatively yours,

A.P. Lambert

 

Hey Creatives, have you been frustrated by a lack of progress? What was your response? Let us know in the comments below.

 

competition

I’ve just recently had a son come out of the womb and into the world. He’s our second child now and you’d better believe I’m one proud papa. Yeah, It’s pretty awesome. I must say, his arrival has sparked many a thought about life, fatherhood, and even creativity into my sleep-deprived mind.

One thing I’ve considered is how his relationship with his older sister will develop. I think back on my own relationships with my siblings and how they have changed over the years. I hope the two will be good friends and that, together, they’ll be better humans than they would have been apart.

This got me thinking about competition, specifically the creative sort. I think competition can be a very healthy thing, but it can also be harmful with the wrong motivation. It’s good for kids to compete against each other; it pushes them to try harder and do better than they would have otherwise.

Competition teaches the victor the reward of hard work and the defeated how to deal with failure. It provides an excellent opportunity for everyone involved to learn about good sportsmanship. 

But I’ve seen many adults take competition to a nasty place, where they are driven by a constant need to prove themselves, to outdo everyone else—a place where they are never satisfied with what they have but must continue to outdo themselves or else feel like an utter failure. They live by an impossible standard. This attitude causes people to sacrifice their own standards and integrity in order to win, it's why the use of performance enhancers like steroids has become such an issue in professional sports.

The harmful sort of competition can be just as prevalent in creative circles. Writers, cooks, film directors, musicians, fashion designers, etc. can get to a place where they must do better than everyone else to prove their self-worth. This sort will never pass an opportunity to attack their competition. They will cheat to get ahead if that’s what it takes. In the end, such behavior hurts creativity, rather than promotes it.

It’s like being a hoarder with your creativity, unwilling to share, in case there won’t be enough appreciation and admiration to go around. Just like hoarders, such a life becomes disgusting quickly and inevitably drives others away—not just the competitors, but also allies and friends.

Instead, why not share what you have and encourage your peers to do the same? Teach someone less experienced than you and speak well of your competitors. The world is big enough for every creative to find an audience. As a writer, the more I work on writing well and helping others to do the same, the better writing will be available for readers and, as a result, we'll discover more readers who enjoy our works. It's a self-sustaining goal.

Yes, creative competition is great. I think C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien were good examples of this. But, just as in their case, creativity should be seen as a team effort, one based on encouraging one another to press upward and onward to become more creative.

 

Creatively yours,

A.P. Lambert

 

Hey Creatives, do you find competition to be a boon or a hinderance to your creativity? Let us know in the comments below.