/, Inspiration, Time Management/How To Get and Stay Creative – even with constant distractions

6 Ways to Get and Stay Creative

Sometimes when you read someone’s blog, you get the idea that they have this fantastically neat and perfect life in which they have beautiful, fireside, quiet moments to write a blog post, create an interesting game, or in my case, compose a piece of music. It’s easy to get jealous of those teachers, bloggers, and composers who create such amazingly creative stuff. “How do you do that? How did you think of that? How do you have time to create all these resources?” Many teachers tell me, “Oh I could never be as creative as you!”

But I insist you can be and there are some specific things you can do to help yourself in being creative and making teaching, learning, and composing even more fun for yourself and your students. Yes, you can get and stay creative even if you have all kinds of beautiful and precious little distractions running around (as is my case). Here’s how it happens for me even though my life is messy, selectively disorganized, and very, very noisy these days.

How to Get and Stay Creative even with constant distractions | composecreate.com

1. Say NO to the standard “how to be creative” posts.

I don’t know why, but I’ve been a junkie for reading books and posts about how to be creative. Since I’ve read scores of these, I will save you some time and tell you the top three things that these books will tell you, but I’ve also realized that most of these books are written by male authors who are working outside the home (no offense to you), whose kids are all older than 10 (if they have any at all), and who can only be classifieds as “workaholics.” You know these answers all too well:

  • Get up early. (You’re joking, right?! When you have children that wake at 6:15 and you have to get your shower in before they wake up, “early” would be 4:30 and that just doesn’t work for me.)
  • Follow your ultradian rhythms. (Yes, yes, I know that my body naturally wants to only focus on a task for 90 minutes and then needs a 20 minute break. Isn’t that nice that you have 90 minute chunks of time?! I, however, have only 5 minute chunks of time when someone is not screaming, asking, or guilting me into doing something for them.)
  • Go on long walks in the woods. (Also a very nice thing to do if you are not pushing a double stroller and don’t have to get more than one set of shoes on little feet, make sure everyone goes to the bathroom first, etc.)

I will stop there as I think you get the idea. Ahem. I’m serious about saying NO to these posts. You don’t have the perfect life. I don’t have the perfect life. No one does. So I would invite you to settle into the noise and try some of these other techniques IN the life you have now.

Relieving yourself of the burden of finding the perfect rhythm and habits will free some space in your brain for being more creative!

2.  Immerse yourself in what you are doing and find your inspiration from that.

For example, my kids love Dr. Seuss and I am a huge fan of his rhyming prowess and ability to teach life lessons in amazingly silly ways. So I’m finding a lot of joy in creating Dr. Seussian rhymes for a variety of occasions and though this doesn’t always translate into something that you see on my blog, it does sharpen my creative skills and keep me in that creative mode.

For example, in our church’s small group recently, someone asked if it was a good idea to allow the group to grow or keep it small for a longer period of time. I could have just sent back an email about what I thought, but I had just read the “The Lorax” book by Dr. Seuss book to my kids (the one that says, “I am the Lorax, I speak for the trees…”) and I heard this first line in my head, “I am an introvert, I speak for the ints…” and then I just couldn’t stop myself. Here’s what came out simply because I took my inspiration from what my life consisted of at the time:

I am an introvert,
I speak for the ints,
Adding more peeps here
might not make make sense.

I’m finally a-coming
to comfort and trust
With the good folks we have
And I think that we must

Have more time to get cozy
and involved in the lives
Of the folks we’ve been given-
All the husbands and wives…

This continued for 3 more stanzas, but you get the idea. I didn’t go on a long walk for that one. I just took what was right in front of me and made it a creative moment.

How does that apply to you as a piano teacher? Ask yourself what you are doing right now. What’s prevalent in your life? Are you in the car all the time taking your kids places? Maybe you can come up with an “traveling” incentive or motivation contest for your kids. Are you a member of your local symphony society? Maybe you can take your students to one of the symphony’s practices as a special enrichment activity.

3.  Seek inspiration in what you are enjoying right now.

When Hal Leonard asked me to write my first intermediate solo collection, I searched long and hard for a subject to write about, but just couldn’t find one. Then my husband asked me, “Well, what are you enjoying now?” to which I replied, “Well, I’m really enjoying the book about John Adams that I’m listening to on audio books. “Well, find something to write about that!” Hmmmm…it sounded like a difficult task, but then I wrote the first piece about Abigail Adams and suddenly my inspiration was there! Why not a book about forgotten American heroes and heroines?! Because I did it this way, pieces in American Portraits are REAL and they are from my heart.

So, how does that apply to piano teachers? Well, what are you enjoying? Did you enjoy the Twilight series? The Harry Potter series? Or whatever is hot right now? Chat with your students about that. Find the music from those pieces for them to play. Have a special Vampire recital at halloween time. Are you enjoying playing in your church praise band? Maybe you can come up with a small praise team to meet at your house and have a music session with your students.

Rhythm Cup Explorations Coil croppedAlong with that, think of things that your students are enjoying right now! They’re nuts about the “cups thing” as shown in this video, so if you have Rhythm Cup Explorations, first of all your students will think that YOU are amazingly creative! And then you can ask them to be creative about how they do the passing or the tapping. Watch what happens when you give the the license to do this (be sure to leave them alone while they figure it out) and you’ll be able to see how this works. They will combine all kinds of elements into what they do (see the definition of creativity here) and come up with something creative. THAT’s how it works!

4.  Do something, do anything, but use those 5 minutes chunks of time to advance the ball just a little.

After the birth of my second child (I have three now), I complained to my husband that I only had 5-10 minutes at a time to do anything without being interrupted. He gave me some advice that I thought was ridiculous at the time. He said, “Well, just do something for 5 minutes to advance the ball just a little bit.” I told him it was impossible to compose in 5 minute segments and he just said, “Try it. Or edit for 5 minutes, or work on your piano recital program for 5 minutes. But use the 5 minutes.” The rest is history, folks. That’s exactly the secret to how I’ve gotten anything done (including Rhythm MenagerieRhythm Manipulations and now Rhythm Cup Explorations which were huge projects) over the last few years! 5 minute increments of time. They DO add up!

5. Eliminate or cut down on activities that arrest your brain. And get plenty of sleep.

I debated on whether to put this in or not, but it has made a big difference in my life, so I’m going to risk it. We’ve made a conscious decision in our family not to watch much TV since it forces very specific images and sound into our minds instead of encouraging our minds to create its own images and constructions of what is happening (as reading does). Watching TV is certainly not wrong. But in my life (which is what this list is about), it’s made a difference not only in how creative I am, but how much time I have in being creative. It’s just something to consider.

I also try to get plenty of sleep. Unless it’s the week before a product launch (stay tuned…I have something fun coming out in January), I don’t stay up until midnight working. Did I used to? Yes, frequently. But the children don’t understand that they need to be better behaved when mommy stays up till midnight, so I have to be better behaved and put myself to bed at a decent hour. It helps us all be more productive (or at least nicer to each other).

6. Hire a babysitter (or someone to clean your house). 

Yes, sometimes I just have to hire a babysitter to watch the kids while I compose in another room or go to a coffee shop to work. It’s worth it in the end for me.

So there’s my list, for what it’s worth. Please let me know if it’s helpful.

What things do you do to get and stay creative in the midst of constant distractions?

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By |2016-12-31T15:19:56+00:00December 17th, 2013|Creativity, Inspiration, Time Management|14 Comments

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14 Comments

  1. Megan Hughes December 17, 2013 at 11:04 am

    I have 3 kids myself and well remember the days of no time and no room in my brain to think or dream. I completely agree with your advice, but I also want to say: an inner life takes lots of empty time. The mind has to be at rest and able to float to new places. That can’t be done in little micro-bursts while planning menus, paying the bills, getting to the next activity, etc.
    What worked best for me is deep dialing down of stress and input. Just say no, and protect your imagination from outside intrusions.
    This is as true for us as it is for our students. No one can be inspired just because at 4:30 it is on the schedule. True, the daily tasks of learning and perfecting a craft can be done that way, but watch out. There needs to be free time.

  2. Roxy December 18, 2013 at 11:14 am

    THANK YOU…for your very REAL response. This is the first time I’ve come across some strategies that actually feel achievable and authentic to me…rather then me trying to mold into something inauthentic. *grateful*

    Roxy

  3. Sylvia December 18, 2013 at 11:29 am

    Wendy
    Your article on being efficiently creative couldn’t have come at a better time for me. I love the idea of 5 min to chip away at a task. Thank you for your insightfulness. Love reading your letters.

  4. Sylvia December 18, 2013 at 11:33 am

    ……..by the way, my students absolutely LOVED playing Stinky Stocking at their Christmas Group Lessons. This game is a keeper!!!

  5. Jennifer Foxx December 18, 2013 at 11:49 am

    Take naps! I try to take a nap everyday and even though I might not actually “sleep”, it’s down time for me and usually when I come up with my creative ideas. I sometimes joke that I have to be horizontal in order for the creative part of me to leak out.

  6. Kendra Beagles December 18, 2013 at 3:29 pm

    Wendy, you are an inspiration!
    I am a private piano teacher (31 students) and have a pre-school Musikgarten studio teaching kids from birth to 9 yrs. I also work with choirs here in my town. I’m not as young as you (62yrs) so am passed the small children stage, but am in agreement that the small segments of time can be very valuable and do add up; also plenty of sleep is vital. Thanks for all you do to keep us encouraged and motivated.
    I ordered some of your music recently and am really enjoying your Christmas arrangements with the CD. I love the creativity you have incorporated into the traditional/original arrangements! I’m curious as to what computer program you use to help write out the music?
    Anyway, enjoy your Christmas with your husband and children. You are a gift to all us musicians and music teachers!!
    Kendra Beagles

  7. Wendy December 18, 2013 at 3:49 pm

    Hi Kendra,
    Thanks so much for your kind note and your comment. I always like to hear what other teachers think. I learn so much from you all! I use Finale for all my notation. I love the program and am also in love with their customer support.

    You have a wonderful Christmas as well! Thanks so much for taking the time to comment.

    Wendy

  8. Drema December 19, 2013 at 6:56 am

    Wow, Wendy, thanks for writing up this post. I really appreciate your thoughts on this.

    Your point 1 & 2 makes sense. I realize now that I often feel stressed because I’m trying to be creative outside of what I’m enjoying and already doing. Then when I’m frantically stressed, I just grab at anything and try to accomplish ’em all — but it just takes longer and I stay up later, making me less able to be creative cause I’m not well rested.

    I haven’t tried planning or prepping in small chunks but I have tried it with piano practising. I tried 20-30minute increments, then rest/stretch or do something relaxing for 5 minutes. Spreading the practising time longer but it does make it more effective!

    I totally agree with the TV-watching. When I watch excessively amounts of tv, it really fries my brain. I find that I become more tired and less & less creative. This is something I’ve been struggling this year and realizing.

    Thanks for being so real and practical in your post! =)

  9. Rebekah Maxner December 19, 2013 at 10:08 am

    Thanks for putting this to words. I’ve been a creative mom for 15 years, and have complained to my husband, too, that life doesn’t just clear a path for creative time, solitude, open space. Sometimes it feels like a risk to put down your true thoughts, but I’m so glad you did!

  10. Heidi N December 21, 2013 at 8:01 pm

    I love this your thoughts in this post… especially the tv time! Although I’m not much of a composer, some of my most creative moments come when I am creating something for my children impromptu, like playing music for them to dance to in the living room, jazzing up versions of Jingle Bells at their request, or brainstorming ideas for a fun group lesson game. With 6 children, I can totally relate to the small chunks of uninterrupted time:) My best ideas usually come when I’m laying in bed at night after the kids are all asleep.

  11. Lisa February 24, 2016 at 7:30 am

    Thanks so much for sharing this post with us, Wendy! I am a mum of 2, a piano teacher & a primary school music teacher. Although I work part time at school, I find I spend a lot of time on my other days planning for my students. I have also become a bit of a night owl & do my work after the kids have gone to bed but have decided that getting to bed at at 3am is not great for the long term. I admit I run on adrenalin while I’m teaching, however I often crash & burn on my “days off”. Your advice to get it bed earlier & get up earlier has come at a perfect time for me (& my family!) Thanks for your insight and inspiration! From one of your Aussie fans 🙂

  12. Wendy Stevens February 24, 2016 at 7:33 am

    Hi Lisa! I’m so glad this was timely for you! I right there with you in terms of family, so I fully empathize. I’m glad you got some good ideas. The getting to bed earlier is so hard because it seems counter-intuitive, but I find it’s better for everyone around here! Thanks for taking the time to write!

  13. Alexandra Weiss February 24, 2016 at 8:12 am

    Hi Wendy:
    I found that starting to work at 4:30 am is the only viable solution for me (I am currently writing a dissertation), at the same time as being a single mother with 2 very small kids, and teaching part -time… As for inspiration and reasonable use of time, EVERY minute counts (as it does for other successful people – lawyers, doctors,etc.)

  14. Zak Rahman April 20, 2016 at 9:34 am

    This is the first realistic approach to this subject I have ever come across.

    Thank you for taking the time to share it!

    All the best!

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