Natasha Wescoat, of the awesome art blog Art Candy (that’s her work called Vanilla Skies on the left) remarks on the anxiety that prevents us from doing creative work. This is a fear, she says, “which you can avoid by simply becoming immersed in the act itself.”
Easier said than done, except Natasha’s point is that it isn’t: we make the creative process too complicated by overthinking it and freezing up.
“Just like meditation, you must go into a zone or state of unconscious drawing/painting. Since a child, this has been my tool for drawing. I would start with a picture in my mind, and then let it appear on the paper….I would go into a state of relaxation and unconsciousness, not wondering if I can draw the object or thing, but only knowing that it would become a story on paper. Good or not. Because of that ability to zone, I became better and better at drawing.”
Natasha refers to this process as “the ability to zone” and “automatic creating”.
In her book THINKING WRITE: THE SECRET TO FREEING YOUR CREATIVE MIND Kelly L Stone calls it “accessing your subconscious.”
The subconscious, she says, is your “most valuable tool…your own personal gold mind of ideas, inspiration and creativity.” It records everything and remembers everything. It can also be “programmed to help you reach your writing goals”.
To get to it, you have to slip past “the anti-writer” which lives within the preconscious, the transitional area between the conscious and subconscious. “The negative statements that it makes can actually program your subconscious mind, which then works to bring the negative statements into reality.”
Just like sticks and stones, the things you say to yourself can hurt you…or at least your writing. All the little ways you sabotage yourself, all the myths about publishing — “you can’t get published unless you know somebody” — you buy into in order to give up hope and quit before you start: for all that, you can blame the anti-writer.
Stone describes the four types of brain waves.
Delta waves. When you are awake and aware and ready for action. “Delta waves generate left-brain activity and do not produce spontaneous creativity.” Ahem. Let me repeat that: do not produce spontaneous creativity. We spend most of our waking time in a mental state that does not allow the kind of free-flowing ‘zoning’ that Natasha is talking about. This is the state we require for job interviews and presentations and grocery shopping: the ins and outs of daily living.
Alpha waves. When you’re alert but relaxed. These waves “are associated with creativity and right-brain activity.”
Theta waves. Typically when you’re in deep sleep: the body is fully relaxed but the brain is engaged with dreaming. Or maybe you’re meditating. Or maybe you’re doing something that requires intense concentration on one task for a long time. “[Theta waves] could account for the reason when many people have bursts of insight when driving on the interstate.”
Beta waves. You’re asleep. You’re not dreaming. Nothing happening.
Stone points out that “people who learn to fire walk often exhibit alpha brain waves while walking across the hot coals. Experienced meditators have learned to use relaxation to perform extraordinary physical feats…Elite athletes have been documented to have a burst of alpha wave activity in the seconds before they [demonstrate] high amounts of skill, such as throwing a basketball through a hoop or taking a difficult putt.”
When you’re stressed, your brain is focused outward on the environment. “There can be no flow or exchange of ideas between your conscious and subconscious minds.” Only when your brain waves slow down can “your subconscious mind easily communicate with your conscious mind” which is why so many people will advise you to “sleep on it” when searching for the answer to a question or problem.
Someone like Natasha has learned to relax her body to generate alpha and even theta brain waves which allow her “to zone” and make art.
“I’ve been asked by dozens of people how it was that I could draw hair that flowed and people that had such movement and aliveness, and all I could simply say was that I drew them as I felt them move.”
Much of Stone’s book is devoted to techniques of “progressive relaxation”: how, like Natasha, you can learn to manage your brain waves and slow yourself down, enabling creative work.
My own way of doing this is simple enough: I lie on my bed. I turn my mind loose and drift.
I think of this as conversing with the undermind.
If you think you lack talent, if you think you’re not creative…
Be like Natasha.
And then just do it.