Riding the Waves

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The road to success isn’t paved with gold—or, navigating only through calm waters, to use the analogue I like to think of when talking about creativity; the interaction between man and sea. The path to success is navigating through foul weather, risky straits and choppy waves as well.

Not long ago, my partner and I planned to kayak along the west coast of the Olympic Peninsula in the state of Washington, USA. As often is the case along that coastline, the weather was windy and cold, and the waves were rolling big onto the beaches. Not conditions for launching any kayak trips.

We had a good time anyway, enjoying the strength of the gale in our hair and feeling very alive when the wind gusts battered down on us. Not kayaking but hiking along the shoreline. Still, we had brought kayaks and at some point, we decided we could use the heavy waves to practise paddling under less than perfect conditions, safely and close to the beach.

With wet suits, life jackets and all the necessary safety equipment we felt safe indeed, as long as we didn’t go far out. Of course, the waves are also the worst exactly where they break onto the beach. For that very reason, it would be good practise.

It took some juggling to get the kayaks launched, but as soon as we were out, it felt pretty good. We paddled through a couple of waves and felt in control. Then we turned in an attempt to surf back in again. That’s when we lost control, both of us. The first wave took us around.

As we had foreseen, we would keep warm with the wet suit and stay afloat with the life jackets. However, what I hadn’t foreseen was that we had already kayaked too far from the beach. I could not reach the bottom. Moreover, there was no way neither of us could get back up in the kayaks. Thus, I started to swim back in with the kayak in one hand.

I quickly realized that this was much heavier than I had anticipated. After some time I wasn’t sure at all if I got closer to the beach. Instead I started wondering if there was a tide taking my out rather than in. I did not feel very comfortable any more, not the least because I could feel my stamina started to dwindle too quickly. In addition, my partner and I had drifted apart. At least she was much closer to the beach. Of course, I could let go of the kayak, but that wasn’t an option, not yet. That uncertainty, though, about which direction I was going, was anything but calming.

To make a long story short, I finally made it onto the beach, with my kayak and everything. We both did. By then I was completely exhausted, had to rest in the breaking waves before I could pull myself and my kayak onto dry land.

It was a valuable lesson. I learned where my limit is and I learned that I have to practise much more navigating foul weathers. Of course, I would never launch a real kayak trip under such conditions, but you never know if or when the weather suddenly changes faster than you have anticipated.

The mistakes we do underway are what build strength for later successes.

The path to success usually goes through choppy waters, for then to experience some calm and beautiful sea—for a little while. The path to success starts out with interest, passion and ideas. Next come the hard work and the fight to get closer to where we want to be. Then some mild success, and next some failures as well. And eventually—and hopefully—we will hit the big wave taking us far and away.

Creating your life’s best work and living the life you imagined requires having a deep drive to reach the top, but also a strategy for making it back home. It isn’t very creative to sail the biggest waves only to crush onto your doom. True creativity requires a more holistic view that includes both the up and the down.

Personally, I have had my share of success—in my eyes, that is, which is what is important in the end—but these days I am once again fighting my way out of a trough, as those of you who follow my blog know. It’s part of the creative path, and I know as long as I keep swimming and learning how to navigate back onto shore again, I will soon enough be riding confidently the big waves.

Facts about the photo: The photo was taken with a Canon Eos 5D with a 24-104 mm lens and the zoom set at 105 mm. Shutter speed: 1/500 of a second. Aperture: f/22. The photo was processed in Lightroom and Photoshop and finally a Bleach Bypass filter added from Nik Color Efex.

Last Week’s Instagram

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Since my last post where I talked about the problems I—and the whole media business as such—is facing, I have received so much encouraging and positive feedback, I want to thank you all for such a wonderful response. I have used the week since to get started working on my new projects and feel good about it. However, it’s always a little scary to throw yourself into deep water. Either you learn to swim or you sick. I plan to do the former, but I guess this week’s Instagram is telling for my situation or my feeling.

Once a week—or every so often—I will display one of my photos captured and/or processed with Instagram over the last week. It’s a way for me to show photography that usually is quite different from my regular work. Except for the technical details beneath the pictures are displayed without any comments (well I guess I gave some comments this week), hoping they will stand on their own. But I still very much appreciate any comments you may have.

Facts about the photo: The photo was taken with my cell phone processed in the app Snapseed.

When Catastrophe Hits You

Sometimes we just have to take the bad with the good. The reality is that nothing is so bad that it can’t be good for something. If we can only wrap our heads around and see the misfortune—whatever it might be—in the right perspective.

I know, it’s easy to get discouraged when bad things happen to us. Right in the middle of it all, it’s hard to encourage positive thoughts. But however hard it is, if we can slowly drag ourselves out of the miserable feeling, we stand to win more than we might have lost.

I am in such a place right now. The last couple of weeks have been hard. My work has been slowing down more than I like to admit. The reality is, I have hardly gotten any new assignments over last the fortnight or so. What more is, I believe I won’t get more work for the rest of December.

Of course, it has to do with the industry I am working in. As you probably know, the media businesses have been struggling for years already. The disruption of the digital era has come down hard on the media, as it has for instance on the music industry as well as other branches. For most media companies it’s been hard to make a profit these days and keep a sustainable business, and for one who delivers to those businesses, of course I would have to expect to get hurt, too.

So far, I have managed fairly well, though. Yes, it’s been harder to get assignment at times, but I have just pushed harder, and gotten what I needed to survive. Now in the end of November, it seems to have come to a standstill, though.

I don’t expect it to stay like this forever. As a matter of fact, I believe I will be in full business come January as all the companies I am working for will start on a new budget year. However, the present standstill has gotten me thinking. I need to diversify and I need to find more legs to stand on. What happens now have giving me an opportunity to reflect on my own situation.

It’s by far a new thought for me. For years, I have been thinking about other areas I can expand into. The problem is finding time to develop new business areas, when you are so busy with the work you already have. I have—slowly and discontinuously—done various attempts but nothing that is ready to take over the loss of business during this time of standstill.

But alas. Suddenly I do have time. Moreover, that’s what I am going to do the rest of this month. Start working on my new ideas and develop those business areas. My hope is I will get far enough to be able to put them into action already in the beginning of next year. It was about time I got going. I knew I was playing with fire when I year after year postponed getting into new areas. Time to expand and find myself again. I hope…

I will end with a quote by Becca Fitzpatrick, an American author, best known for having written the New York Times bestseller, Hush, Hush: «Sometimes bad things have to happen before good things can.».

Facts about the photo: The photo was taken with a Canon Eos 5D with a 24-104 mm lens and the zoom set at 105 mm. Shutter speed: 1/30 of a second. Aperture: f/4.0. The photo was processed in Lightroom and Photoshop.

The Disparaging Gap

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Have you ever felt frustrated because the result of your creative endeavour didn’t live up to your expectations? Of course you have – it’s a rhetorical question. Everybody does. Ever so often we all feel we are not able to express strongly enough or good enough what we have on our mind or seeing for our eyes. Whether you are a photographer, like me, or expressing yourself through any other media, we all hit this disparity between what we want to achieve and what we actually manage to create. We have this great idea, but can’t get it out, can’t make it materialize in a satisfying way. Particularly when we start out as beginners we are often encountering this feeling of not being good enough.

There is a gap.

There is a gap between the result and what we set out to create in the first place. Particularly in the first couple of years as we try to figure out our way into becoming a photographer, or a painter, or a designer, or a writer – or whatever it is we are getting into – the stuff we make isn’t quite good enough, it’s really not that great. It’s trying to be good, it has ambitions to be good, but it’s not quite that good.

I surely remember when I (a very long time ago) slowly switched from photographing nature to become more documentary orientated and trying to photograph people in their various ways of living. It was a very frustrating period of time. I didn’t get the pictures I saw other photographers were able to capture much better than me in similar situations. I certainly wasn’t happy with most of my photos back then. They just didn’t capture some essence of life or were expressive in a way that could talk to others who hadn’t experienced the occasion I was trying to photograph. In retrospect, one reason was the inability to dare getting close enough, but it was also just getting around understanding the way these kinds of photos work in general. It took me many years to get around to the other side.

It has happened later, too. That I feel I am in a rut and not able to create anything worth keeping. As I said in the beginning; it happens to everyone. It’s part of the creative path. On and off we all feel we are banging your head against the wall and don’t get any further. That’s when we have to remind ourselves that it’s just a phase. Especially if we are beginners we will have to accept that it takes time, a long period of time, yes, years to get anywhere close to where we feel this gap between what we set out to create and what we actually end of with making, is diminishing.

The frustrating part when you encounter this gap is that your taste is good enough to tell that what you are making is a disappointment to you, but you just aren’t able to do anything about it. Unfortunately, a lot of people don’t get passed that point. They quit. But remember, then, all those who you think do the most interesting work, have been through these phases as well. All of them. They have just not given up, but kept working even when they felt that disappointment for their art work. They went through a face of years when they knew that the work they were making wasn’t as good as they wanted it to be. They knew it felt short. But they didn’t give up. If you go through a phase like that right now, you got to know that is totally normal. The best thing you can do is do a lot of work. Do a huge volume of work. And eventually you will come out on the other side. It’s only by doing a huge volume of work you will be able to close up that before mentioned gap, when your work will be as good as your ambitions.

You just have to fight your way through that phase. I know it’s easy to say. I know it is discouraging to stand with your legs stretched out across that gap. But if you know that you eventually will be able to create something that feels completely right, that in itself will hopefully be an encouragement enough to keep up with the hard work even when it feels less than satisfying in the moment.

How has you encounter with this gap been? And how did you get around it? Please share we us your experience.

On a different note, I want to apologize to all of you who follow my blog and faithfully comment on my posts for not having returned your visits. Since before Christmas I have been on the road and simply haven’t been able to follow up. However, I do appreciate every visit, every like and every comment. How no doubt about that. And now that life is slowly getting back to normal again, I promise I will start revisiting your blogs again. I will get back to you all.

All Good Things Are Three – Or Bad

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Over the last couple of weeks I have challenged you, my readers, with a few photographic tasks. The response has been more than expected and I have been impressed by the creativity and visual approach to the two challenges I have thrown up in the air so far.

Thus, I would like to give you a different and last challenge – for now at least. Next week I will start to showcase the photos that have been submitted to the previous challenges. But first then, the new challenge:

This is a very special challenge in that I am not necessarily asking for you to post any photos here. Nevertheless I would love if you did, but as you soon will see the challenge is not about one way to approach or look for photography – as the two previous challenges. The thought behind the challenge today is that we who enjoy photographing, maybe some times take it too seriously. We want so much and we have so high expectations for the end result. I would think it’s quite common for all fields of creative work. The consequence of these high expectations might be stagnation and inhibition rather than brilliance. When we want too much our creative mind freezes fearing that we won’t be able to deliver as expected. We actually end up doing exactly contrary to what we want to do. If you decide to make a master piece, you surely will end up not being able to do so. Master pieces don’t come on order. On the contrary, they come when you least expect it, when you let go of all pretentions and expectations and just create from the bottom of your heart, freely and without inhibitions – with no second thoughts to the final result. If you allow yourself to fail, if you allow yourself to make mistakes, you will let down your guard, and then maybe – maybe – you will be able to create something truly original and personal.

So the challenge this week is to do exactly that. Give yourself an hour or half a day or whatever and go out and photograph ugly and erroneous photos. Don’t only try to let go of any expectations, but actually photograph with the intention of creating crap. You will surely shoot something quite different than you would usually do – and you might even find some shots that come out very strongly and captivating. Don’t expect this though, just go out there and do something you never ever do otherwise. However the result is going to be, the process itself will be enlightening.

Please, if you dare showcase some of these photos, I would love to have you post a link in a comment underneath as usual for these challenges. It would be fun to see what we all come up with of different approaches. Are you ready?

The Curse of Perfectionism

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I used to believe in perfectionism. Nothing could ever be good enough. And, yes, whatever I did was pretty good. But what I didn’t realize back then is how limiting the need for everything to be perfect was for my creativity. I started to push the threshold so sky high that it was impossible to reach it. So instead of reaching for the sky, I inhibited myself and didn’t even get up above the ground. My creativity stagnated. I didn’t create because I felt it wouldn’t be good enough anyway.

Perfectionism can be a curse. It can immobilize yourself and it can make what should be fun and exciting to do – like creative endeavours – into a stressful chore. The result may be that you are sabotaging yourself by raising the standards unrealistically high. You may make yourself captive to judgments of others or, even more likely, to your own relentless self-evaluation. In the end there is no joy left in the process because there is so much pressure, comparison, judgment, and unrealistic thinking involved. Even when something is well received by others, you still feel that’s not good enough. You focus almost exclusively on what is wrong, ignoring what is going right. What more is you inhibit yourself from playing and experimenting – and thus from developing yourself. Instead of become better at what you do, you become worse, – quite the opposite of your intentions.

I used to think that I’d rather do three things only – and do them perfect, than do one hundred things with only ten of them being right. Today I see that ten is more than three, even when I by then have produced ninety «failures» to get to those ten. What more is – which I didn’t realize back then – is that «failures» are only failures if I let them be so. In fact they are a springboard to success. Everything that doesn’t work out the way you have wanted it, is nothing but part of the learning process. If you can leave your pride behind, every «failure» is actually a step in the right direction – one that makes you better and more resilient. In addition, mistakes can even become a new way of seeing your work, an inspiration to do things in a different way. Then suddenly, «failures» aren’t mistakes any more, but actually accomplishments of their own right.

In her book The Muse Is In, Jill Badonsky writes: «Get real. Being perfect just isn’t possible within the realm of being human and those who strive to be perfect often sacrifice joy in the process. If you strive for “amazing” but let go of expectations and are happy with whatever results you reap, then you’re on a healthier and more realistic path.»

So relax your expectations, in fact, purposely lower them so low that you can feel excitedly naughty about showing up to perform you work with reckless abandon. Let the creative process – wherever it brings you – be the reason and motivation in itself. And why not consciously try to produce «bad» work? You will be surprised how genuine and good the result will be, when you let go of the curse of perfectionism. In many ways it’s just like any relationship; if you expect it to be perfect, if you expect your love one to be perfect, you are on a path to disappointment. Take it as it come, be open-minded, let go of expectations, be yourself, and love – and creativity – will flourish.

Choose the Hard Path

Bryce (22) og Olivia Undhardt (20) på bryllupsreise til California

There is something with us human being that is almost ingrained in our nature. We tend to take the easy way. Why shouldn’t we? Why make it hard when we can make it easy? I think this most human feature stems from prehistoric times, when we were still hunters and gathers. Life was a struggle – and you had to conserve energy and breath to be able to survive. If you could find something to eat – and enough of it – in the tree next to you, why look for something further away?

Today, though, we live quite a different life. We don’t struggle to find food or survive on a fundamental level – well, the lucky ones of us I should add, those of us who can just go to the store and find what we need, and are able to afford it. I guess we still choose the easy way, it’s just that it’s so much easier compared to when we lived a hunter’s or a gatherer’s life. The big difference, thus, is now it’s actually easy, while it wasn’t back then. The modern, undemanding life doesn’t fill our lives with purpose any more. We need something more. We need to expand and breathe – in a different way. Maybe finding a deeper meaning with life – now that it is so easy to live and survive it and we actually have time to think about it.

This more we are looking for may be finding fulfilling challenges we can grow with – as human beings, as creative beings, as social beings. It may be pursuing our passions as I wrote about in my post last week, Finding Purpose. That is quite a different ball game, though, than finding food to survive another day. If the purpose is growth and expanding of the self, the easy way is no longer an effective strategy.

Instead, if you are pursuing art – or more specifically as is the case for me; photography – choose the hard path. It will make you better at what you do. Don’t go the easy way. It will only lead to the same old boring results. You want to expand and grow, no? The only thing that’s going to be easy is choosing – as hard as it in itself is going to be.

To become good as a photographer – or any kind of artist – and reach the fulfilment I wrote about in the before mentioned post, you have to grow an increasingly stubborn rejection of any notions of shortcuts being available for you. Live by the philosophy of the Buddhist monk, who said he was taught that when two paths diverged in front of him he should take the harder of the two. Robert Frost, the American poet, would say the one less travelled. I suspect it’s less travelled because we’re all looking for shortcuts and forsaking the harder path. But here’s the thing, the shortcuts won’t get us there. It’s the harder path that will make us better artists.

Shortcuts in art lead to clichés and propaganda. They lead to artists more concerned about the end product than what they want to express, and they lead to art that denies a basic truth about humanity. It’s as simple as this: There are no shortcuts for anything we are passionate about. No shortcuts in love, in health, in spirituality, or even the wildly pragmatic world of business. Sometimes there are shortcuts to the local Starbucks, but that’s about it. A pursuit of shortcuts creates shallow art, if art at all.

Moreover, a pursuit of shortcuts does something else. It deeply discourages the growing artist who tries them, and finds them leading nowhere. The shortcut drops the earnest artist in the middle of nowhere, with no map or water, and then vanishes. It leaves us with a sense of «now what?». In the end it forces us to walk back to where we started and make up for lost time on the path we ought to have trod from the beginning.

Art is hard. I think we need to understand that, and at the same time not be discouraged by the fact. Because, as soon as we choose the hard path, we will find it rewarding and fulfilling beyond our imaginations. However, we have to make that first choice. The conclusion? There’s no secret to success or photographic virtuosity – in any arts as a matter of fact, and if there is one it’s this: it’s a long, hard, but gratifying road with no shortcuts. It took me half of my life to figure it out. I thought I could sail down the easy road, but it left me pretty empty handed both as an artist and a human being.

Finding Purpose

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I don’t want to say that I have found the purpose, or meaning, of life – my life that is. Nevertheless, I have found what makes it worth living – again for me. I deliberately emphasizes for me, because what makes sense to me won’t necessarily – or most likely – make sense to others. This much I can say, though; if we were all able to live out our passions, a lot of us would certainly feel happier and more fulfilled.

As I wrote two weeks ago in my post Pursuing Passion, I have done exactly that, pursued my passion for photography, journalism and travel. When I combine the three, I lose myself into a different and much more intense way of living, I feel alive and vibrant; I am almost constantly in flow. Of course, it doesn’t only happen when I travel or photograph or produce a story, it can happen when I am listening to music, or I may find flow when writing or when reading – or it may occur in encounters with people I connect to. The point is we find flow when we do things we love to do.

In the before mentioned post I referred to the book The Element by Ken Robinson. Robinson is kind of a creative expert – an English author, speaker and advisor on education in the arts, and he often challenges the way we are educating our children. One of his main points is that the educational system should encourage the students to pursue their passions, more than just follow a prescribed and – for many students – boring curriculum. If students could find their passions and be encourage to pursue them – professionally, a lot more people would feel they are living a meaningful life, not only when off from work, but all the time; indeed, their work would be a fulfilment of its own, not just something to make a living of. Robinson’s argument is that there is a powerful driving force inside every human being that, once unleashed, can make any vision, any dream, a reality. That is The Element, which he writes about in his book. Robinson uses it as a term that describes the place where things we love to do and the things we are good at come together – as I mentioned in my post Pursuing Passion.

Some people may feel passionate for a range of activities and may be really good at them. Others may have a singular passion they can thrive with, that fulfils them far more than anything else does. No matter what, when people are in this place that Robinson calls the element, they connect with something fundamental to their sense of self-revelation, of defining whom they really are and what they are really meant to do with their lives. This is why many of the people in The Element, who Robinson writes about, describe finding this element as an epiphany.

The big question is; how do we find this element in ourselves? How do we discover the passion that, if pursued, will make us good – and will give us this fulfilment I am talking about?

I quoted this in my before mentioned post from Robinson’s book: «The Element has two main features, and there are two conditions for being in it. The features are aptitude and passion. The conditions are attitude and opportunity. The sequence goes something like this: I get it; I love it; I want it; Where is it?»

I Get It. An aptitude is a natural capability for something. It is an intuitive feel or a grasp of what that thing is, how it works, and how to use it. Our aptitudes are highly personal. They may be for general types of activity, like math, music, sport, poetry, or political theory. They can also be highly specific – not music in general, but jazz or rap, just as an example. But how do I get or disover what I could be good at? This is maybe the hardest part of finding this place that gives fulfilment in life. Anyone who has been in the state of flow, though, know something about his or her natural aptitude. Some discover what they good at as kids. If you don’t know yet your aptitude, maybe looking back into childhood memories can unleash it again. Or maybe someone who knows you very well, can point you into a direction. An important point here is; it’s never too late to pursue one’s passion. There are plenty of examples of people who find their call late in life.

I Love It. Being in your element is not only a question of natural aptitude. It needs something more. Passion. People who are in their element take a deep delight and pleasure in what they do. They do it because they love – and couldn’t imaging doing anything else.

I Want It. Attitude is our personal perspective on ourselves and our circumstances. People who love what they do, often describe themselves as lucky. People who think they are not successful in their lives, often say they have been unlucky. According to Robinson, high achievers often share similar attitudes, such as perseverance, self-belief, optimism, ambition and frustration.

Where Is It? Without the right opportunities, you may never know what your aptitudes are or how far they may take you. There aren’t many bronco riders in Antarctic, or pearl divers in the Sahara Desert. Aptitudes don’t necessarily become obvious unless there are opportunities to use them. Often we need other people to help us recognize our real talents. An often we can help others discover theirs. I found my aptitude for photography because a good friend of mine purchased a camera when we were in our teens and got me infatuated with photography as well. Another friend made me subscribe to a photo magazine, which eventually spurred my interest even more.

What are you passionate about? What kind of activities makes you feel most alive and in touch with yourself? I would love to hear more about it.

Playing for Fun

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Photography is a serious business. But it doesn’t need to be – not always. I know for certain I too often take it too seriously. We sometimes – or more to the point: regularly – need to play more with our artistic expression. Have fun. Creativity is in the first place fun, so why do I not let myself play more when I take photos or process the photos? Is it my reputation as a photographer I am worried about – or is it just that getting old has left the child in me behind somewhere in life? I am reminded of what Picasso said about creativity, the child in us and getting older.

Part of playing and having fun is letting go of expectations – not expecting high quality in the end result. Playing means letting go and just see what happens in the process and where it will take us. That’s the beauty when we can let go – we find new places, we find untracked paths for our creativity. We discover new faces behind our habitual mask. I think that’s one reason why Instagram or Hipstamatic has become so popular; those apps let us play with photography so easily (and of course share the result so easily – too easily?), but maybe that is also their embedded flaw; they are just to easy to use and thus don’t really make us challenge ourselves enough, don’t make us play in fullest. What I am saying is, let’s lower the guard, and play – I was about to say play seriously, but at least play more profoundly. And let’s drop preconceived ideas about what is good and bad or correct and incorrect.

Take myself for instance; I know I am often critical of technique for technique’s sake. I often see HDR as plain trickery, a superficial technique, not adding much to an image’s expression. I often see the use of Photoshop filters the same way. As pure playing with technique. Or any other technical manipulation; in general I don’t see it is anything but an attempt to hide what in the first place was an uninteresting picture. As pure play and fun. And that is exactly my point in this post. So what? Play and have fun – and I should do so more myself – and let go of all rigid and predetermined ideas of what is the right way.

In order to take up on my own words, I let go of this preconceived ideas of mine, sat down with Photoshop and played with filters and various add-on’s for instance from Nik Software. And as part of challenging myself, I posted some of the resulting images in this post. The original photo is below. So go out and have more fun!

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A Path to Creative Life

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Creativity is something to be uncovered. This I wrote in my blog post Uncovering Creativity last week. I also stated that I believe we all have access to creativity, that we all have creativity within us. As a continuation of the post I want to raise the question; how do we uncovered our inherent creativity and connect to what I often call our creative well (by the way an expression borrowed from Julia Cameron and her excellent book The Artist’s Way)?

A lot has been written and said about creativity and the mechanisms of the creative process. One thing that recurs in most of the literature – and one of the most important factors in my opinion when it comes to the creative process is passion. Passion is the connection between you and your creativity. If you want to become more creative and be able to develop beyond the ordinary – if your want to find your personal artistic voice – your need to approach your creative work with passion. For me this is where all true creative work starts – no matter what you do. Without passion for your work and through what you are trying to express the process will be nothing but an exercise. Passion ignites the creative process. In this I am not only talking about passion for the craft itself, for instance for photography if you are into photography – which goes without saying, but even more so what you try to capture with you camera – again if you are a photographer. What I am saying is you need to be passionate about your subject, if you want to capture strong images; you need to care passionately about what you are photographing. It’s about emotional investment; if the subject isn’t important to you, nobody else will care about it either. In other words, photograph – or make art about – whatever is important in your life.

When you have found out how to channel your passion into the creative process by finding projects you care about, next step is to connect to your creative well. This is about getting into a state of mind of being in flow, where time stands still and you are completely absorbed by the work. This might be the hard part, because each of us has to find our own way into flow. For many starting is the barrier; by just getting started after a while things begin to happen, you sink into a deeper layer of concentration and feel as if being connected to an external power. Part of this is letting go of fear; fear of failure, fear of others’ judgment, fear of not being creative, fear of loosing control, fear of not being good enough. Part of the process is also letting go; letting go of rational thoughts, letting go of control, letting go of oneself. The before mentioned Julia Cameron suggests something she calls morning pages to connect with your creative well. It’s basically writing three pages in handwriting as the first thing your do in the morning after you wake up, just whatever occurs to your mind and without trying to control neither the thoughts nor the writing. It works and it’s recommendable (for more about morning page, look up my post Finding the Creative Well) .

A third important prerequisite for the creative process is putting in enough work. Even if you are the most talented artist in the world; if you don’t work hard, you will never really get in touch with your deeper creative self. You have to do the work, there is no way around it. When you do the work, you develop your creative mind and you slowly by slowly develop your artistic voice. Through hard work you find confidence and maturity and your unique way of expressing yourself. Give yourself projects and force yourself to complete them. Nothing will develop yourself as much as doing the work. After a while a whole new creative world will open up for you.

As I mentioned in my post Uncovering Creativity, creativity is not a scarce resource that runs out if you draw on it. On the contrary. But sometimes you need to replenish the creative well. By this I mean draw inspiration from other creative persons or artists or anything that makes you feel good. Why not spend a day in a gallery looking at contemporary art? Even just watching a good movie will expand your creative horizon and fill up the creative well again. Nothing is probably better than spending time in Mother Nature. Reading is good too, as are concerts, meditation, or even just treating yourself with a good cup of coffee in a stimulating café.

Related to replenish is retreat. Sometimes when you are struggling with your work, it may be a good idea to step back and let it go of it for a while. Do something different, go for a walk, sleep, see some friends or play with your children. Because even when you consciously let go of your creative work your unconscious mind still keep running in the background. This is a time of incubation. Suddenly when you get back to the work you were struggling with you will find that the challenge has solved itself.

One thing that really boosts creativity is to challenge yourself. When you feel too comfortable and keep doing what you are already able to do well, creativity stalls. Instead you need to face your fears and challenge yourself by doing work you don’t feel comfortable about doing, and in so doing expanding your creativity. If we want to develop our art – be it photography or other artistic expressions, we cannot keep staying in our comfort zone. The result is inevitably stagnation and boredom. Related to challenging yourself is stepping out of the box. This is another way to expand by doing your artistic work in a way you normally don’t. For instance try to photograph simple pictures if you usually prefer complicated images, or vice verse. Or handhold you camera with a slow shutter speed when you usually work with a tripod. This is just two examples, but you get the picture. By forcing yourself out of your usual habit your stretch your craft and find new ways to approach creativity. Related to both these steps are the willingness to learn. If you never stop learning, you will continue to grow and develop. Read books, join workshops, attend lectures, subscribe to magazines or talk with your peers about your craft and the creative process.

Another important part of the creative process is completion. Completion makes the work available to others, makes others enjoy all the creativity we have put into the work. Sometimes we create for ourselves, but even then we need to complete the work. Completion is not only about displaying or showing our work, it’s also marking the end of one creative process in order to open up for new ideas and a new flow of work. It’s a mental transition between old and new, which makes us ready to embark on new creative tasks. The completion is also strongly connected to detachment, which I have written about before (Engaged and Detached at the Same Time). With completion we are more easily able to detach from our work, and leave it to itself.

A few more ideas that can be used to develop your creativity and help you connect to your creative well: Make a plan for your creative life and put some effort into thinking what you want to accomplish. Set goals; be it a book, an exhibition, a multimedia program, a show for your friends or something else. Planning can really be a driving force for your creativity. And why not try to create with other? Collaboration can very much spurs the creative process. By working together you may induce way more inspiration in each other than you are able to do on your own. A successful collaboration provides credibility, it gives you an opportunity to gain experience, and it expands your knowledge base, widens your sphere of influence, deepens your relationships, and gives you a real-world resume. But one of the most important takeaways from collaborating is that it promotes your work ethic.