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Blog // Creativity // Productivity
December 31, 2008

Finding Inspiration And Creativity In Routine

This time last December I set myself the goal of seeing 200 films during 2008. I didn’t make it. I did, however, manage to see well over 100 films and in the process spark my imagination. I’ve long held that part of the problem with a lot of theological commentators on film (and popular culture […]

This time last December I set myself the goal of seeing 200 films during 2008. I didn’t make it. I did, however, manage to see well over 100 films and in the process spark my imagination.

I’ve long held that part of the problem with a lot of theological commentators on film (and popular culture in general) is limited exposure. You can’t really do much creative thinking about film if you only see a handful a year and then only from a small selection of studios. My best years as a writer on film were also the years when I saw a lot of movies, from a lot of different countries, in a lot of different styles.

The commitment to see so many films put one under creative stress. I had to make time to see the films, break the habit of TV viewing, go to the cinema alone more often and put more research into the films that were locally available, especially via film festivals.

And, the best bit is, I managed to write a brief review for every one of those films I saw. Nothing that will be published, per se, but all sitting there in Scrivener, should I chose to use those notes for future writing projects. If only I had started being so organised 15 years ago, I could easily write a book just from the reviews alone!

I’m not setting any audacious viewing goals for this year, largely because I’m confident there is now a (re)developed habit there that will flow on this year, since we are staying in the same location. The question I know have is if this kind of big number goal setting could help to break some other creative ruts.

In last month’s Guitar Player magazine, there was a feature on Tim Walker a musician who set himself the goal of writing and recording a song a day in 2007. You can hear the full collection here. Another musician named Paleo also recently completed the same feat.

Not surprisingly Walker commented in GP that the feat improved both his production skills and his guitar chops. What made me wonder though, was how this sort of a challenge would hit a different skill, which I often lack – the ability to complete projects quickly.

Or maybe to put it another way – the ability to make public a project that is less than “perfect.”

A few days ago I posted a link to some pieces by Ira Glass, on creativity and creating content for new media. One of the points Ira made was that when we learn a creative skill we are often trapped by the fact that our aesthetic values are ahead of our technical skills. It’s all too easy to become hypercritical of your own work, since it falls below the standard of excellence.

To be blunt, that’s the big problem I’ve had over the last four years. My skills as a guitarist who could bang out a cheap demo were not bad. But, once I started working on a “solo album” the whole big weight of technical expectation fell down around me. Suddenly I was confronted not just with my limitations as a guitarist, but also my limitations as a writer, arranger, engineer mixer and computer programmer (because we should never forget that in this age running a small studio is first of all a journey into computer geekdom).

What an audacious goal would force someone like me to do is accept lesser quality output in order to meet the time challenges. What I would fear most about trying to record and share 365 songs in a year (or even 12 a month) is not the time involved or the technical challenge, it’s the scrutiny and openness. The trial would be more psychological rather than practical.

Anyway, this is something I’m pondering right now – how to put myself under a bit more pressure and, in effect, lower my standards. Stay tuned.

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