There are two essential ingredients to creativity that cannot really be shared in a workshop, cannot be learned in a classroom or from a book, cannot be handed down from mentor to apprentice: the gift of TIME and SPACE.
Time is something we swim in every moment of our lives, yet it is the one thing above all that we never truly seem to have enough of, not for everyday tasks or extraordinary adventures, not for practical pursuits or chasing dreams. Not even for doing nothing at all.
One thing we learn as we spend it, though, is that not all time is created equal. For creatives, uninterrupted time is precious.
Learning to manage time, to shape it in such a way that we have a reasonable “chunk” to devote to our craft is something we can learn. But, ultimately, it is up to us to navigate our days and to determine how and when we can focus on creating. The reality is, some days that time might need to change. Being flexible is important.
But even more important is the act of giving ourselves permission to devote TIME to our calling!
Robert Coles writes, “We all need empty hours in our lives or we will have no time to create or dream.” Don’t mistake the word empty to mean worthless or wasted. It simply means time where we don’t have to think about a dozen things at once. Time where we don’t have to think at all.
Because it is in the silence, in the quiet of that empty time, when the magic happens.
In his book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, creativity expert Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi writes that “It might be true that it is ‘quality time’ that counts, but after a certain point quantity has a bearing on quality.” One of the best aspects of New Harmony is the slow down, get unplugged, pull back from the everyday routine of it all.
As Csikszentmihalyi states, it’s not just the quality of uninterrupted time, but the quantity.
According to Csikszentmihalyi, flow occurs when we are fully immersed in what we’re doing. As writers, it’s that time when we slip from the conscious self directing our thoughts to the unconscious revealing the story, the verse, the words.
Although we might be able to learn ways (or techniques) to help get into a creative flow, to engage our muse, it won’t matter if we don’t have the time to actually become fully immersed. Interruptions, which are part of daily life, can keep us from getting into that single-minded focus and flow.
That’s why it’s important to designate a set amount of time for your creativity and to let others know that time is sacred.
Like I said, some of the techniques for taking advantage of uninterrupted time can be learned, sure, but it still comes down to us shaping our day so we have that time. While you’re in New Harmony, determining what time you’ll spend on your art becomes an easier choice. In part because you’ve allowed yourself to step aside from most of your daily responsibilities. But there’s also something about the creative energy of the place, whether you are here for a guided retreat or merely on your own, that lends itself to becoming fully immersed in creating.
How Does It Feel to Be in Flow (from one of Csikszentmihalyi’s Ted Talk slides)?
- Completely involved in what we are doing – focused, concentrated.
- A sense of ecstasy – of being outside everyday reality.
- Great inner clarity – knowing what needs to be done, and how well we are doing.
- Knowing that the activity is doable – that skills are adequate to the task.
- A sense of serenity – no worries about oneself, and a feeling of growing beyond the boundaries of the ego.
- Timelessness – thoroughly focused on the present . . .
- Intrinsic motivation – whatever produces flow becomes its own reward.
Most people who have spent time creating (whether it’s at the page writing, at the easel painting, at the piano playing) and who have slipped into FLOW understand how amazing it is. That’s the state we’re constantly seeking to get back to and the only way to do that is with some of that empty time to which Cole alludes.
As Robert Henri puts it – “The object isn’t to make art, it’s to be in that wonderful state which makes art inevitable.”
But in order to make the most of that time, we also need space.
We need a spot where we can immerse ourselves for however much time we have, uninterrupted. I read an article recently that stated, our creative lives aren’t like DVD’s that can be paused every time there’s an interruption and then just started again seamlessly returning to the flow.
Think of FLOW as a literal thing, as a stream, that is fluid and moving, and each interruption is like a damn, like a fallen tree blocking the way. Yes, water is usually able to find a way around, eventually, but that often takes time.
And the direction the stream was flowing in often gets diverted, at least temporarily.
I live in a town where Mark Twain spent much of his adult life living and writing about Huck and Tom and Becky, and he had a special octagonal study built that stood away from his home, complete with fireplace and lighting and other comforts. He’s not alone when it comes to writers who have created their own separate writing space.
For a writer, being at the page is a sacred space. But so too is the actual tangible place where he or she writes. And the value of such a space shouldn’t be taken lightly. As Joseph Campbell put it, “Your sacred space is where you can find yourself again.”
Finding or creating such a space in our daily lives is important.
Now, some writers find that space on the train commuting to and from work. They’re able to tune out the world and tune into themselves. Others have offices or nooks or, like Twain, separate studies devoted to their writing.
Places like New Harmony offer a variety of wonderful nooks and hideaways, parks and benches and other outdoor spots, nestled right in among the natural world with the soothing music of fountains and birdsong.
But there’s also a desk in your room. Where no one will find you. Where no one will ask you to do this or to do that. It’s a sacred space where you can fully immerse yourself for large chunks of time. You will find that New Harmony is a place of quiet, of calm, of serenity. And that is conducive for writing, for drawing, for creating.
“You need not leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. You need not even listen, simply wait, just learn to become quiet, and still, and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked. It has no choice; it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.” – Kafka
Here are a few articles on the value of solitude for creatives:
- The No. 1 Habit of Highly Creative People
- The Value of Solitude
- The Call of Solitude
- Introvert Quotes on Creativity
- What Great Artists Need: Solitude
Part of the benefit of taking a retreat is the gift of time and space. But it’s important to also find ways to create your own mini-retreats each time you want to create. In order to do that, you need TIME and SPACE.