(Published Oct. 12, 2022 as Newsletter No. 2)
October 12, 2022. If you’ve spent any time working on a project with me, you know I love diagrams. Even in my freewheeling so-called retirement, every once in a while, I have to sit back and ponder how the hell does this work?
I began the one below years ago when I was trying to nail down my creative process. The gardening metaphor was a grace note I added later, probably when I discovered our new house had established flower beds that I needed to tend.
PROCESS: GATHER MATERIAL
This element is about the sense of abundance I need to get going—an abundance of ideas, knowledge, and materials.
My career in quality assurance demanded a lot of data before an actionable story could be told.
I can hardly ever gather enough information before writing up a family history anecdote.
To make a scrappy quilt, I needed a closet full of fabric gathered from thrift stores.
To begin gardening, I had to know the names of every stray leafy thing on a stem that popped up along our fence and its history in herbal medicine.
PROCESS: CULTIVATE METHODS
I learn. I collect tools. I watch videos. I take online courses. In so many areas, I have realized that if someone is teaching it, I can probably learn it.
Novel-writing (analyze sentence lengths).
Polymer clay (learn to mix colors).
Embroidery (forget dainty, be bold).
Natural dye (how to make patterns on cloth with grape leaves).
Stamping (how to carve my own to use on fabric).
I meet my limits, of course. For the life of me, I can’t sculpt a pretty face out of polymer clay, no matter how many tiny wooden and metal tools I own. And I really hate when I have to relearn something I thought I’d mastered. Like Excel spreadsheets.
PROCESS: PLANT YOUR BUTT
Nothing gets done till you do it, right? I can research forever. I can buy all the fancy tools. But until I plant my butt in a chair with a pretty good idea of what I want to accomplish, it’s all theoretical. For me, for most of my projects, this is literal: nothing beats a back-supporting chair and a table at just the right height for a long work session. It’s that commitment step. Dusting off the sewing machine, inserting the right needle, and getting the thread all in place—that’s a commitment too.
It is mid-October. In a fit of catalog enthusiasm, I ordered fifty tulip bulbs, now keeping cool in a box on the porch (abundance!). Then I decided to get a nifty tulip-hole digger, now waiting to be assembled (new tool!). It’s time. The nights are consistently cool, so the hour has come to get my gardening jeans on and actually do the planting for a beautiful springtime show.
Now that I’m old, I like thinking of creative work as my “harvest.” All that abundance + all that learning + all that time produces a perennial garden that, with a little nurturing, yields evermore glorious blooms year after year.
WHAT ABOUT YOU?
Do you have a formula for getting your creative work done? A 1-2-3 for getting that new toy box made, those polymer clay Christmas ornaments baked, that scrapbook finished? What steps will it take before you can play “Stairway to Heaven” on the guitar? You may have a process totally different from mine. Let me know. Meanwhile… wine poured!
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Books from Mad in Pursuit and Susan Barrett Price: KITTY'S PEOPLE: the Irish Family Saga about the Rise of a Generous Woman (2022)| HEADLONG: Over the Edge in Pakistan and China (2018) | THE SUDDEN SILENCE: A Tale of Suspense and Found Treasure (2015) | TRIBE OF THE BREAKAWAY BEADS: Book of Exits and Fresh Starts (2011) | PASSION AND PERIL ON THE SILK ROAD: A Thriller in Pakistan and China (2008). Available at Amazon.