Last week I attended an intimate three day creative course. The moment I arrived I was thrown in the deep end when someone thrust a Herculean paintbrush into my hand. I was directed to a table where I found an apron, a tray of primary colours and a massive piece of tan paper. Music started from an iPod in the corner somewhere and people started painting. Just like that. No sketched outlines, no mental plan – they just painted the music. I don’t do paint. I love the idea of paint but you can’t rub out your mistakes, you have to incorporate them. You can’t edit either, you have to use every terrible brush stroke. I was terrified. But my work had paid for me to be there so I did a Violet Baudelaire, tied up my hair and got started. Often I had to stop myself from throwing my hands in the air and saying, ‘I don’t have a clue what I’m doing!’ But for the most part I forced myself to stop thinking. Who knew that could be so hard.
And yet, even though my painting looked as though it could have been done by a ten year old, I felt as though something had broken off of me. I remembered that creativity is fun. By the end of the exercise I had stopped thinking so hard and was actually enjoying the colours as they spread across the page and the motion of the brush in my hand. When last had I created something with no agenda?
Later we had to create a brochure presenting ourselves… With only collage. Again, I longed for photoshop and a good old pencil but those were against the rules. A small part of me grumbled about the fact that I would never do this is ‘real life’ nor my creative day job. But again, the tearing of paper and sound of scissors slicing through magazine pages was freeing. As I glanced around the room, I saw brow furrowers and bottom-lip-biters as they tried to assemble random pieces of paper to make some kind of representation of themselves, and somewhere underneath all that concentration I could see they were enjoying themselves too. Sometimes using an unusual medium forces you to play where you would usually be so eager to prove yourself. The very lack of skill forces you to just create because there is no way you’re going to create a masterpiece. Again, a rather liberating experience.
The next day focused on words. The first session was all about poetry (happy sigh). I love poetry. I love the unusual pairing of words and the clever metaphors. I love how poems like bottled emotion, bottled moments. All the talk about poetry was lovely but suddenly it was exercise time and I realized we were going to have to write a poem about someone else and actually read it to them. It felt like a seriously intimate thing, a soul bearing thing, an exhilarating exposure of my perceptions. I write poems in private – they have become my emotion-venting tools – but I seldom let anyone see them, so it felt very strange sharing words in this way. Good, but terrifying.
The second session was all about screen writing. Though I never plan to write a screen play, I love film, so I was curious. The speaker mentioned something called the controlling idea (the great underlying premise of your story) which I thought would be very helpful in novel outlining. Having such a specific focus could keep your story in check throughout and plot could hang like arms and legs from this strong torso.
What was most illuminating though, was the way discussion drifted from film to film, telling as much about the viewer as the filmmaker. I was reminded that creative come in all sorts of types and tastes – they defy boxes. And yes, even creative can be a sucker for a good old rom-com. (Yes, I was surprised by that too)
Because I attend monthly writers circle meetings neither of these sessions felt new to me. The information was very similar however, I felt different. Thanks to the previous day’s play aspect, I felt a renewed sense of curiosity and the courage to attempt things without expecting anything to come of them. Sometimes we need to go back to the drawing board and remember what it is that makes us creative. We need to let that explorer loose again.
The final day was the hardest for me. It focused on movement.
Have you ever seen a duck with two left feet? That’s me. I never used to be like this. At university I even took dance as my final year elective in my performance degree. But over the years, as my body has grown to be every bit the writer I profess, dancing has become a bit of a joke I play while cooking in the kitchen (much to the delight of my children). Again the exercises forced me out of my introverted writer bubble and urged me to let go. I realised that over the years I have begun to take creativity rather seriously – too seriously – and I needed to remember to enjoy myself.
I can’t say I have acquired any new skills from the course but that wasn’t really the point. I think the point of the course was experimentation and rekindling, a reconnection with our creative selves. I certainly came away with that in my heart: eager to make some stuff and not worry too much about who liked it, eager to let that curious explorer out into my creative spaces.
Now off you go, go write something!