Creative Flow vs Deviation

“Endless source, endless river.
River of no shape, river of no water.
Drifting invisibly from place to place . . . it never ends,and it never fails.”
-Tao Te Ching

As an artist I have a natural tendency to follow the whims of inspiration. At times, I even have a tendency to avoid work, even creative work, if I don’t feel the inspiration. While I have gotten much better at just pushing through the absence of inspiration and working, I still occasionally deviate from my plan and muddle up valuable time.

While I might be able to give myself several valid reasons for deviating from my plan, that does not mean it is what is best overall. Sometimes deviating from the plan allows a bit of play and a shake up in the pattern which can catalyze all kinds of juicy good things. Things like, a creative breakthrough, renewed creative spirit, and even a fresh and beneficial new perspective when resuming the work and original plan.

However, it can also mean things like self sabotage, giving into fears, becoming as Julia Cameron puts it “someone else’s battery”. We can do these things because we don’t feel worthy of success, because we feel guilty or selfish in our pursuit of vision, and even because we are willing to feed the loosing of faith in our innate power.

So what does one do to figure out if the the decision to go against plans is deviation or creative flow?

1)  Is there something I am avoiding by changing plans?

This is the most important question, but it is challenging because it requires a heap of self awareness and truth. Often we don’t want to push through. If you can pinpoint what you are really avoiding, or what the deeper emotion is you have found a golden egg. Exploring this in depth can allow you to thoroughly supplant it and remove the underlying issue as an obstacle once and for all. If there is nothing there then proceed with the other questions.

2) What do I know for certain I will gain from this and how might it serve my original plan?

If it is too difficult to find something, if it takes a lot of consideration then it is best you choose not too. If you do find a few reasons that show it can server your larger picture  then flip the question around. Ask yourself “what might engaging in this activity costs my larger goal?”. If you can think of things weigh the pros and cons carefully.

3) Did it bump into me or did I have to go looking for it?

Were you happily plugging away when something just fell into your lap and caught your interest, or were you stagnating and stuck and decided to abandon post in search of the first thing you ran into?

I have a studio at home and the benefits are wonderful. Yet I have caught myself sneaking off to do meaningless things during my work time. Meaningless like laundry, which we all know is always waiting to be done over and over and over. Meaningless like signing up for a fundraiser that has more than enough volunteers to handle it.

I do strongly encourage taking a friend up on the unexpected offer to go listen to a local band, a trip to a new exhibit, and other such things. Just remember to hold the reigns and not let such things become frequent or plans to be made with out a clear end point.

4) Does this activity have a clear end point?

If the activity has no clear end point, then it is likely deviation. If you really think there is much potential in your new prospective activity then take time to get very clear before committing. Recently I took on a project to help a non profit organization. I assumed a lot of things in this commitment. I assumed that the organization was a legal entity, that they would have some decent amount of organization, that they would follow up in a professional manner.

In the end none of those things were true. While I bare no judgement to their intent or the process of their development from grassroots to mainstream, I can not proceed as intended. I have spent enough time away from my own work, and will continue to help them as they provide appropriate information to me.

Creativity and inspiration are often abstract, immeasurable, and spontaneous. That doesn’t mean that they can’t be planned. Planning doesn’t mean a rigid inflexible schedule either; however we must be vigilant to stay true to course. Unplanned exploration can yield many treasures, but it can lead us away from the full manifestation of our vision.  If you can be honest with yourself and be still enough to consider the whole picture; figuring out if you are deviating or tapping into that rich creative flow will be no obstacle.


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