This post is dedicated to my new friend Joey Gray, who told me upon our very first meeting this week that, at age 43, it’s high time I move past my stubborn insistence on always being the learner in the room and never, ever, the teacher.

At dawn we ride

Here’s what I’ve learned about when to create, by watching myself and other creators the past few years…

  1. Create when you’re grateful. You are channeling a force larger than yourself, without trying to, when filled with gratitude. This force pours through your fingertips and causes what you create to be simpler, more profound, and less contrived than what you come up with when using just your brain. If you’re not feeling grateful, a very solid option is to stop, take a breath, go out and experience something that makes you grateful, and then return to creating.
  2. Create when you’re howling at the moon. One of my poet muses, David Whyte, calls this despair. I’m not a poet yet. I need more words. The longer you create, the more you realize that much of your own earlier work that you’re still in love with years later sprung forth from some deep despair. Moments when you felt/thought “Fuck my life. Fuck this _____. Fuck everything.” and then proceeded to create as a red-faced child stamping both feet in fury and frustration. This might even involve intentionally or accidentally destroying something you created earlier, which can be an important part of seeing something new entirely. If you’re interested, a bit more about despair follows this list. I have a surprising amount to say about this one.
  3. Create when you’re feeling playful, silly, and/or naughty. Mostly because it’s fun and also because what you create joins you, itself becoming playful, silly, and naughty. This is where many of the coolest, most surprising and unexpected innovations come from I think. Also, if you’re not careful, babies come from here too. So be safe out there people.
  4. Create when you’re feeling lost and a little tense about it. I’ve spent a surprising amount of time over the last decade living in a gentle (and sometimes not) fog, not quite knowing where I’m going, pulled by a call I don’t really understand, and feeling slightly freaked out by that. I realized recently that choosing the foggy path is actually that: my choice. I’m also now pretty sure that feeling lost is part of the life of a creator, so I might as well get used to it and dispense with some of the worrying and the whining about it. I’ve come to think of creating as leaving myself breadcrumbs to find my way out of my latest fog. And since the blogs and ebooks are searchable – and physical objects such as books, stuffed monsters, sock monkeys and other things we create are hold-in-your-hand tangible – there’s the bonus that I know I can always come back and get help from what I create during future fogs.
  5. Create just after you catch yourself at complete peace with a moment. Lots of glow-in-the-dark breadcrumbs here you can gather that will be useful to help pull yourself out of a future fog. You may not want to create in these moments themselves. You may just want to be present and soak them in all sponge-like. That’s terrific. Soak away. Be the sponge. Vitally important to creation. Also ok to jot down a phrase or snap a photo of what’s happening and then use those to help you recreate the moment later in your memory and create from there.
  6. Create when you fail. This may be the best part about working as a collective self, with a partner or small group of people you love. On our own, when we fail it can feel like running head first into a brick wall, and we may need to give up creation for a long time to lick our wounds. When we fail while with people we love, often it can feel more like a speed bump or a challenge or an ignition spark or simply something new we learned how to do or not do. Eventually it can feel like just part of the fun. We may even giggle out loud while saying “What a bunch of morons we are!” or “We didn’t want to work with them anyway!” or “Oh! That happened. What’s next? At dawn we ride!” Birds, animals, plants, water, and imaginary friends all tend to be excellent creation partners too in this regard, not just other humans.
  7. Create before communicating with others. I learned this one just this year, because I adore creating as collectives with others I love and leap in to listen to others most days. But individual creation is important too. Duh. What I mean by this one is to create before the day job if you have one. Before any energy-draining responsibilities. Before social media and news of any kind and before email. Create while you are brand new: before you are reminded of your limitations. While you are full of energy, awake, and powerful. Your world needs this, and so do you. If this is impossible for you right now, then this is impossible for you right now. It won’t always be.
  8. Create after a walk alone to clear away the clutter of the day. This idea was added by Upsana to the original list, and it’s a great one. After her day job, she walks for a while to clear away the clutter from the day, before creating in the evening. I love it. Thanks Upsana!
  9. Create after a crisis. This idea was added to the original list by Ali, who unfortunately had a crisis last week. We can be brought to a very clear and creative space when it is brought to our attention that we have a limited time in this body, in this place, and/or in this time. Thanks Ali! I recommend reading more from Upsana and Ali in the comments below.

Rock on.

Here’s that bit more about despair and creation for those interested…

It takes great courage for adults to pour themselves fully into their own creations most days. It can actually become easier at the bottom, when your despair is so deep that you figure, “Fuck it all, creating couldn’t possibly make things any worse.” Despair is a source of empathy, and eventually you figure out that it’s part of you and needs to be part of your work too. If you never share this part of you, you limit the number of people who will connect with you and your work to those satisfied with only the surface, which is a surprisingly small number of humans despite evidence to the contrary. The fun part about despair is that when you’re this low even the smallest thing you do – making a sandwich, tying your shoes, doing the laundry – is often noticeably a win, noticeably an act of creation or defiance in its own right. I don’t go looking for despair: there is plenty that finds me. I’m now attempting to just be present enough to stay with it a while, so I can see its value and learn when to let it go, when it does occasionally find me.