Can you be creative on a schedule?
Can you be creative on a schedule? This is a question I have often asked myself. As I lugged on through years of schedules and 9–5’s, I hoped the answer was yes. I hoped because I wanted to cheat the system. I wanted to have my cake and eat it too. I wanted the best of both worlds: I wanted to have both security and discomfort, both order and chaos. I wanted to both create and maintain the means to do so comfortably. But if there’s any hard lesson I’ve learned throughout these formative years, and through all my experiences, it’s that there is nothing comfortable about creativity. It cannot be comfortable, and it cannot be controlled.
There is nothing comfortable about creativity.
I hadn’t believed in myself enough to ever take the leap and quit my day-to-day 9–5’s, or any of my fall-back routines and schedules, to immerse myself fully in the unpredictability that comes with a creative calling.
So I experimented with balance; for years, I teeter-tottered between order and chaos, trying to maintain both and switch between them constantly. But somewhere inside myself, I knew that I couldn’t have both. I didn’t have both, and it showed.
I was limiting myself to writing only 5 minute to half-hour writing sprints per day. And while this might work for some people, it wasn’t working for me. I knew I needed to devote all my time and energy to creating, and to being ready when the calls came and when inspiration struck. I felt within that everything I did, every experience I had outside writing had to exist for the sole purpose of putting the experience to the page.
As I shifted between the two states and gradually moved towards being in a state of order, I began noticing shifts in my dreams as well. Now, I know when my creative state is maximized by the dreams I have at night. When I am in a creative state, I dream about things that don’t exist that I feel the need to pull out of the dream and to spin into reality. When I am not in a creative state, I either don’t dream at all (which is usually the case) or in the rare case that I do dream, it’s about mundane day-to-day activities that require doing when the following day rolls around.
I know when my creative state is maximized by the dreams I have at night.
Despite all this, I didn’t want to give up trying to place order on the creative chaos. I wanted to control the creative process, and that was where I was failing; I failed to trust the process. Somewhere inside myself, I doubted. So I kept on, figuring I could write on the side while I took a more stable job during the daytime. But as the years went on, I found the jobs taking their toll on my creativity, not to mention my time. I began to notice an overarching trend: whatever I tried to control never worked in my favour.
Ever since I was young, I was always looking for unique ways to weave words onto blank pages, to apply my knowledge of language in a way that was true to myself.
But a lot of the working world puts focus on schedules, and getting work done at a certain time or by a certain time, and even sometimes in a certain place.
It stuck with me when in a program I was once in, the Professor mentioned that she was taken aback by something one student had told her: that he preferred to get work done on his/her own time rather than in class when he/she was “supposed to”.
Rules govern the classroom.
I realized I was chaos trying to make it in an order’s world.
That was the point when I admitted to myself that I may be in the wrong field. But I had known this deep down way before.
**If you have not yet watched Velvet Buzzsaw, the latter section of this post may contain spoilers**
Around that time was when the 2019 Hollywood artsy scene slasher movie Velvet Buzzsaw hit the Netflix platform. I, like many people, streamed it on Netflix to see what the hype was about. I found it unremarkable, save for one particular scene, which my mind immediately singled out from the rest of the movie. This one particular quote proved that the movie understood the hearts and minds of creatives. It knew what our souls craved.
“Dependency murders creativity. Creativity plays with the unknown. No strategies exist that can enclose the endless realm of the new. Only trust in yourself can carry you past your fears and the already known.”
~Velvet Buzzsaw (2019)
If the movie portrayed one thing correctly, it was the notion that the business of creativity and creativity itself are two vastly different monsters that have to be approached in a vastly different manner, and you can’t always juggle both successfully. You have the choice to either give up on the creative demon and sellout or to go all-in and crawl into your mind with nothing in your pockets; but you can’t have both.
Creativity is not something you can control. Let me repeat that so it hits home.
You cannot control creativity.
Creativity controls you.
You are done unto it, as it is done unto you.
True creativity hides from control. It will be but a mere shadow under your bed unless you decide to lie very still and blank your mind to coax it out from its hiding. If you try to bring it out prematurely, it will scramble its true form until you let it be what it wants to be. You just have to trust that it will come out when it’s ready.
The idea of creativity being something outside of your control isn’t a new idea. In this TED Talk, author Elizabeth Gilbert talks about viewing creativity and inspiration as something a supernatural “elusive being” injects into you at seemingly random moments of your day; and being the mischievous demon that it is, it usually does so at the worst time, at moments when you have no time to tend to the calling appropriately.
I was first introduced to this concept in my high school Writers’ Craft class, when my teacher uttered to me the following phrase:
“You don’t choose writing, writing chooses you.”
My day job was the complete opposite of creative; it functioned and fed off control and schedules. It was a whole different beast entirely, which scared my creativity back under the bed where it glued itself to the headboards.
I knew I had to choose.
The monsters could only sit on each of my shoulders for so long.
Except I also knew that the “choice” was only an illusion.
I didn’t actually have a real choice in the matter, because guess what?
Yep. You guessed it.
Creativity controls you.
You don’t choose writing. Writing chooses you.
The longer it took to accept that, the more my soul would wither in the process. In the movie Velvet Buzzsaw, the art itself (the true art, which the painter had spilled his guts into, literally), is what killed the sellout artists. But in reality, it’s your soul that dies; this monster eats you from the inside out. It’s nothing external, but you still suffer for it. At least I know I did.
The true horror of the movie was the way the characters approached art and life. They had given up their calling of being artists and focused solely on exploitation for the purpose of gaining wealth and status.
Neither monster can be tamed, but when you make friends with it, creativity will be there to save you when you least expect it.
But make sure you don’t expect it.
If you enjoyed this article, you know what to do: be sure to share it with all the struggling creatives you know, or anyone who has ever been visited by the creative beast.
Have you ever been able to retain your creativity alongside a structured 9–5? If you’ve tried, how has it worked out for you? Leave a comment and share your experience.
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