Thursday, 27 November 2014

Dance between your ideas

'Usually, I finish a project with much more done on the next one than I thought. That's why I've developed this procedure for having a bunch of notebooks around, so that I can keep my projects straight. Once some music gets started in my head, it's usually very clear what the piece is. I'll take a break from what I'm consciously doing at the moment and write something down in the right notebook.'

John Harbison from The Muse That Sings: Composers Speak about the Creative Process by Ann McCutchan

We seldom think about one thing for very long. We can be distracted from even the most attractive and captivating of ideas by something new, something unexpected, or simply something different.

Throughout our lives we are encouraged to fight distraction: to concentrate upon the task at hand and expel all errant thoughts.

This makes good sense: for driving, operating machinery, passing exams, brain surgery, stuff like that. None of us want to have a car accident or serious injury, or fail an important exam. Most of us most of the time do not wish to hurt anyone!

Our creativity, however, thrives upon distraction: upon the unexpected, upon the novel and the new. Distracted by the thought of a falling man Einstein eventually formulated his General Theory of Relativity. Distracted by a contaminated petri dish Alexander Fleming eventually discovered penicillin. Distracted by the cooking of waffles Bill Bowerman, quite quickly in comparison to the previous examples, invented the waffle trainer.

Distraction, in all its forms, is the life blood of creativity and innovation, so we need to learn how to embrace and use it to our advantage. We need to learn how to dance comfortably and enjoyably between the ideas that compete for our attention.

Dancing is fluid but formal; dancing is changeable but controlled. The best dancing, to my mind, has a simple and immediate effect upon those who dance and those who watch. 

John Harbison's method of capturing and working with his ideas achieves similar things. His notebook system is flexible enough to allow him to move between ideas (like moving between different dancing partners) but formal enough to ensure that he captures and develops his ideas accurately and methodically; his partner ideas may change but the steps of his dance do not. His system is also simple and straightforward, helping him to change the focus of his thoughts quickly: to easily and immediately dance with the distractions of new, unexpected and potentially valuable ideas.

So, when you next need to think creatively, try dancing with your ideas. Create a system similar to John Harbison's and balance the fluidity of distraction with the formality of focus. Then you can welcome distraction with open arms, safe in the knowledge that you will not lose your place within the overall dance of your thoughts.

Friday, 14 November 2014

See it from far away...

'Maybe they're far away, in the act of performing, but I don't hear what they're playing.'

Aaron Jay Kernis from The Muse That Sings: Composers Speak about the Creative Process by Ann McCutchan

One of the ways Aaron Jay Kernis inspires himself to start composing is to bring an image to mind. One of the images he creates with his mind's eye is that of musicians performing from far away, so far away he cannot hear what they are playing.

Imagine you are seeing your problem from far away. You cannot hear the clamour and noise it is making or, if they are involved, what people may be saying to each other.

But you can discern some things.

What glistens or stands out from afar? Which movements or actions catch the eye? What is blurred and difficult to make out?

What, from your perspective, surrounds the problem? Within what landscape is it set? Does it appear small when compared to what surrounds it? Or does it loom large over the landscape, despite how far away it is? 

Or is it not in a landscape at all? Is it in fact enclosed within some larger space? What does this space look like? What is its function? Is it reinforcing the problem? Or is it somehow containing or limiting it?

Is anyone else watching? What are they doing as they watch? Can you even hear a little of what they are saying?

Watch and listen for a while...

How are you seeing things now? What are you beginning to hear?

What do you want to do first? What direction do you want to take? What do you want to look at more closely?

Begin to compose your solution.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Create a memory pop-out book

'I don’t keep a lot of notebooks. I sometimes regret that I haven’t. But I sure have developed a memory notebook -- I have lots of ideas for pieces that I haven’t done yet. One piece I’ve had in mind for fifteen or twenty years is a setting of Walt Whitman’s “Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking,” a landmark American poem. I have so many notes for this potential piece interleaved in my copy of "Leaves of Grass" that the book looks like a cabbage in bloom. So in a sense I do have notebooks -- collections of ideas partially worked out, here and there.'

Eric Stokes from The Muse That Sings: Composers Speak about the Creative Process by Ann McCutchan

The above shows how Eric Stokes makes note-taking a valuable and intrinsic part of his creative process.

Making notes at the time of inspiration and physically placing them inside and beside the source that generated them enables Stokes to develop a 3D memory map and timeline of his ideas which steadily grows outwards and along, filling out and continuing the narrative of his creative journey.

He creates a memory 'pop-out' book which quickly captures his ideas, faithfully marks when and where they were first thought of, accurately maps their subsequent development, and easily enables new ideas to be added to and linked with them.

Every time he flicks and thumbs through his memory enriched book he sees his ideas in motion and once again experiences the pace and energy generated by his sparks of inspiration. The book's touch and feel, together with its physical sense of growth and onward movement, invite Stokes to continue his creative journey and associate ever more creative ideas with his initial inspiration.
You can create your own memory notebook. When a book inspires you immediately begin transforming it into a 3D map and timeline that captures your ideas at the place of their birth and faithfully records their progress as they grow, develop, reach out and connect with other inspirational ideas.

Frequently flick and thumb through your budding memories and ideas, adding and adding to them until they bloom into something new.

Stop press!

Isaac Newton used the above approach:

How Isaac Newton remembered everything he read