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.
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.
Along 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 Menagerie, Rhythm 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?
- Rhythm Menagerie – this was the biggest project I’ve ever done in 5-10 minute chunks! Well, I did have a few times where I had more.
- Rhythm Cup Explorations – Inject the “cups craze” into rhythm practice. Your students will LOVE you!
- Tasty Tunes – A great example of how to take your present circumstances (feeding young children) and turn them into creative moments
- Easy Recipes for the Busy Piano Teacher – a new series to help you spend less time cooking and more time creating!