I’m reading Rick Rubin’s new book The Creative Act. I thought it was going to be an autobiography, but it reads more like a spiritual text. It’s hard to overstate how much it resonates with me. He connects the creative process to meditation, awareness, relationships, animals, the creative side of AI, communing with nature, overcoming demons and more. Everything I’m interested in 🤓
Process over product
We tend to think of the artist’s work as the output. The real work of the artist is a way of being in the world.
Making music is not about a recording or knowing 100 fiddle tunes or being able to play a scale at 300 bpm. Being one with the process is what we’re after. Playing music is about connecting with something larger than yourself. The daily practice is not a means to an end but the thing itself.
Reveal what’s hidden
The ability to look deeply is the root of creativity. To see past the ordinary and mundane and get to what might otherwise be invisible.
Creating art allows us to reveals things about the world that were previously hidden. It brings forth a new side of ourselves. I often find that when I’m feeling low, a doorway opens for a creative idea that has nothing to do with what was troubling me. And once the idea comes, I feel lighter.
This very article is an example of a creative response to a life situation. I’m writing from the waiting room in a hospital. My wife and I are adopting a child and the birth mother went into labor. I didn’t plan on doing it. I just try to write a bit every day and remain ready for what comes. And if I think about it further, I didn’t plan anything. This all just emerged from the Universe.
Just play every day
Living life as an artist is a practice. You are either engaging in the practice or you’re not. It makes no sense to say you’re not good at it.
My way of saying this: You’re a musician if you play every day. Just commit to playing every day and you reach the ultimate goal of making music.
Small steps, small wins
While the emotional undercurrents of self-doubt can serve the art, they can also interfere with the creative process. How do we move forward, considering the stories we tell ourselves? One of the best strategies is to lower the stakes.
Small steps, small wins. Don’t be upset that you seem so far from your goal. That your heroes seem much more advanced than you (I can relate to this feeling). Strive to make one little thing better today. Improve by 1% a day and you won’t notice much. But over the course of just a year, the gains will compound and you’ll make astounding progress. Think about what you can do in five years…
Perfectionism gets in the way of fun. A more skillful goal might be to find comfort in the process. To make and put out successive works with ease.
Good is better than perfect. Good keeps you going. Seeking perfection brings anxiety and derails you. Just play every day and pay close attention to the process. See mistakes as vital information then adjust.
Listening without prejudice is how we grow and learn as people. When you practice listening with the whole self, you expand the scope of your consciousness to include vast amounts of information otherwise missed…
Listening is practice too. This means it’s something you can actually get better at. At the same time, it’s a skill we all have, but other thoughts and habits cloud our ability to truly listen. Can we listen to someone without putting our own stamp on what they say? Without formulating a response while they talk?
Let’s end with a musical meditation.
- Close your eyes and listen to the drone. Notice your breath. Feel your heart beating.
- Play a single D note (open D string or A3).
- Shift your attention between the drone and the sound you make. Then try to hear them together.
- Play a simple tune in D Major or D Minor: Oh Susannah, Arkansas Traveller, Shady Grove, etc.
- Shift your attention from the drone, to the tune and then to hearing both at once.
- After a few reps, stop playing and audiate the tune (hear it in your head).
Repeat the steps as many times as you like. If you find this fun or helpful, please leave a comment. I’d like to go further with this idea if you guys are into it.
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