There are some people whose work you’re instantly drawn to. You’re curious about everything from their take on the world to their tips on improving your craft.
And when you read them, you’re itching to create. You want to pick up a pen, a paintbrush, a camera or whatever your tool of choice, and make something. They inspire you to raise your hand, and speak up, to contribute your voice to the conversation. And they remind you just how important expressing yourself really is.
For me, Justine Musk is one of those people.
Musk is the author of three traditionally published novels and the blog justinemusk.com. She writes about the relationship between creativity, ambition, personal power and sexuality. And as she says, she “believes that being uncooperative with BS is to be cooperative with your own audacious truth.”
Below, in our monthly series, Musk reveals her creative process and shares her wise insight into how we, too, can create.
1. Do you incorporate creativity-boosting activities into your daily routine? If so, what activities do you do?
I read deeply and obsessively. I go to art shows. I listen. I watch. I visit new places. I follow up on whatever catches my interest. I pursue my obsessions. You need to build in a lot of wandering-around time, to get open to the cool, interesting stuff that’s happening all around you.
You are what you eat: the quality of your output depends partly on the quality of your input, since creativity is about combining and recombining and synthesizing the different elements of these influences, these ideas.
I also build in periods of quiet time. You get ideas out in the world, but the actual act of creation happens inside your own world. I use yoga and meditation to calm and focus my mind, which tends to be racing all over the place, and I do three pages of freewriting, stream of consciousness writing, every morning.
When I do these things every day it’s easier for me to get into those deep, relaxed, creative brain waves. When I don’t do these things, I get anxious and blocked.
2. What are your inspirations for your work?
Music inspires me. People with bold, unconventional viewpoints, who come at the world in a unique, authentic way, inspire me, especially when they’ve mastered the tools and techniques that allow them to give those viewpoints full expression. That combination of authenticity and mastery can take my breath away.
Lately I find myself inspired by mythology, depth psychology, ideas about the divine feminine and the sacred masculine, storytelling as a spiritual practice.
3. There are many culprits that can crush creativity, such as distractions, self-doubt and fear of failure. What tends to stand in the way of your creativity?
Self-doubt, fear and distraction are big goblins for me. The novel I’m working on now is a metaphysical thriller that deals with, among other things, sexual abuse, and sometimes the material kind of intimidates me. So I shy away from it, I procrastinate, and then I berate myself for not getting any work done (which, by the way, doesn’t help much).
4. How do you overcome these obstacles?
I’ve learned the importance of chunking things down into smaller and smaller pieces. When the mind sees the Big Picture of things, it tends to freak out, and then suddenly you’re on Twitter or Facebook again. And again.
But when you divide a big task into little tasks, and then divide one of those little tasks into even littler tasks, you switch to a different part of the brain, and you can function much better.
Also, I have a kind of rebel personality that wants to do what it wants to do when it wants to do it. The best way to get me to do something I don’t want to do is to tell me you don’t think I can do it, or to turn it into some kind of competition (especially against someone I dislike or who makes me feel like I have to prove something).
So I’ve learned to create situations in my mind that invoke that same kind of “I’ll show you!” response, which helps me focus and get moving.
5. What are some of your favorite resources on creativity?
Todd Henry has a great book coming out called Die Empty; I just read the ARC and I highly recommend it (he’s got another book out called The Accidental Creative, which is also good).
I read a lot of business books on creativity and innovation; I like how they take apart the process. I read the blogs of artist-entrepreneurs; Susannah Conway and Natasha Wescoat are two of my favorites.
6. What is your favorite way to get your creative juices flowing?
I use ritual to shortcut my mind into a more creative state. I do a bit of yoga, I play certain songs, I light a candle, and then I write.
My mind has learned to associate those activities with calm, with writing, so even now, just thinking about that ritual – just writing it out – I can already feel myself entering this really calm, dreamy state.
I learned to do this from Josh Waitzkin’s book The Art of Learning. Really good book, worth reading.
Reading also helps; reading great fiction makes me want to write fiction. Reading nonfiction gets me jazzed about writing nonfiction. So I calibrate my reading according to what I want or need to write that day.
7. What’s your advice for readers on cultivating creativity?
You are inherently creative. It is part of your life force. We all learn to create ourselves as kids, growing up, and a lot of us recreate ourselves as adults. A lot of creativity is learning how to listen to your inner voice, to recognize these gleamings of interest, and learning to follow them, to connect them.
The mind has a need to connect things, to find relationships between things, so whatever dots you collect over time, the mind will find some way to weave them together. But you have to collect them.
Creativity happens inside you, but it also happens between you and other people, between you and a certain kind of medium (painting, drawing, computers, entrepreneurialism, finger puppetry, whatever), between you and ideas.
So if you don’t feel inspired or creative, maybe you haven’t found the right people/medium/ideas yet. It’s important to keep searching and to stay open.
8. Anything else you’d like readers to know about creativity?
I think it was Sir Ken Robinson who said, “You don’t know who you are until you know what you can make.” Which means nobody else knows who you are, either.
Since we’re always evolving, shifting, changing, we should be very careful about getting locked into these fixed ideas of what we can and cannot do, especially if we’re listening to other people and looking for external validation.
It’s important to seek out feedback and constructive criticism – these things connect you to the reality outside your own head – but nobody has the right to tell you who you are.