Information accurate at the time of publishing - last edited 1 May 2020
We are in the midst of a global catastrophe, and most of us are under some form of lockdown.
In some ways it might not be the worst thing in the world for creatives - no social obligations and an ironclad excuse for staying in the house! “You didn’t ever lack the time, you lacked the discipline” has become a mantra, guilt-tripping those who haven’t thrown themselves into creative pursuits.
But let’s try to be kind to ourselves. The situation in the outside world is scary, and the white noise of stress and anxiety makes it hard to concentrate. If you can find the energy to finish writing that rock opera, congrats, but if not then don’t worry about it. We’ve all got bigger fish to fry.
For me personally, the start of lockdown led to a real outpouring of creativity. I was writing the most music I’d written in two or three years, and somehow I didn’t even hate most of it! More recently, I’ve found myself caught in a creative rut. In this blog I’d like to share some of the ways I’ve been trying to drag myself out of that rut. As always, if you manage to try out any of these suggestions yourself, then we’d love to hear from you.
Try some Oblique Strategies
Oblique Strategies is a method devised by Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt to encourage lateral thinking, used by the likes of Talking Heads, Coldplay and Devo. Its first incarnation was a set of printed flash cards published in 1975, but more recently it has been made available as a smartphone app.
Each strategy is a question or remark designed to recontextualise whatever you might be working on. Shuffle them like a deck of cards and pick one at random, and you’ll be given a prompt such as “Give way to your worst impulse”, “Look closely at the most embarrassing details and amplify” or “What would your closest friend do?”. These prompts might seem quite abstract at first, and almost every strategy can be interpreted in a variety of different ways, but it’s amazing how quickly this can lead to a creative breakthrough. Several years ago I managed to salvage a doomed university assignment just from reading the simple phrase “Be dirty”.
Meditate, or practise mindfulness
Meditation and mindfulness techniques aren’t the key to solving all the world’s problems, but they can certainly help to alleviate some of the quarantine brain-fog we’re all experiencing. My own approach has been far from disciplined, but I’ve been surprised by how much of a difference it makes if I spend just 10 minutes of my day sitting quietly and focusing on my breathing.
One particularly straightforward mindfulness exercise is to stop whatever you’re doing, take a few deep breaths, and then take stock of each of the five senses. What can you see? What can you hear? What can you feel? What can you smell? What can you taste? Right now I can see my laptop in front of me and my dog standing in the doorway trying to get my attention, I can hear my Spotify playlist and the sound of the kid next door playing outside, I can feel my office chair beneath me, I can smell the leftover Chinese food my girlfriend just reheated, and I can taste remnants of the Hobnob biscuit I just ate. A bit daft perhaps, but I feel clearer headed already!
I have also dabbled with Headspace, a smartphone app with guided meditation exercises. Guided meditation can be helpful if, like me, you’re someone who struggles to focus on absolutely nothing. Instead of nothing, just focus on the voice coming from the app.
Don't take it so seriously!
One positive change in my creative practice due to the lockdown is that I’ve felt less under pressure to create “serious” or “important” music and art. I won’t be rehearsing with other musicians any time soon, I won’t be performing in public for even longer than that, and I probably won’t release any physical music until gigs and rehearsals are a possibility again. So why worry about whether or not what I’m writing is “important”, or what it does to progress the genre forward? I’m creating for the sole purpose of creating, and it’s pretty fun!
Rather than devaluing my work, this new approach has massively broadened my scope in terms of subject matter and musical moods - even if in some cases this might mean broadening it to include clichés I would normally try to avoid. To quote another Oblique Strategy, “Don’t be frightened of clichés”. This approach has also led to me writing and recording an EP of silly songs about my dog.