The Secret of Creativity: ABG (Always Be Gathering)
|Photo by Dayne Topkin on Unsplash
I’m really interested in the creative process so I spend a lot of time reading and listening to podcasts about it, and trying to learn from other ‘creatives’. By this, I mean people who make something out of nothing at the prompt of an idea, thought or emotion.
I find that it is essential to clarify what one means by creative, as everyone has different ideas of what being one entails. Some contend it is those who specialize in particular forms of art or creative expression (dance, music, painting and the like). Yet, for others, creatives are those who are able to actually live off their art, but I disagree.
I believe we all have creative potential. To create means to form something out of existing raw 'materials' (intangibles like sounds or ideas count too), that is in some way different from what came before it. In that sense, most things around us, regardless of their use, purpose, or production methods have been born of creativity.
However, because we have bought into the myth that only some of us are creative – usually defined in overly abstract and mystical terms – many of us have turned our inspiration sensors off.
We have perhaps settled in the belief that only a few particularly gifted individuals experience those eureka moments that then go on and change the course of history, win awards, or make lots of money.
And yet, if we look closely enough, those little light bulbs are pulsating all around us waiting to be found.
WHERE DO IDEAS COME FROM?
In my creative quest, I’ve learned there are some people who think ideas are out there floating and we have to be in the right place at the right time to grab them. There are others who contend ideas seek us out and supernaturally reach the right person; the recipient is then tasked with accepting and acting upon the idea or not. There are others who believe that ideas are like small pieces of metal that we attract when we intentionally seek them out. And yet, there are others who think we are able to generate ideas out of pure self-will.
Personally, I land somewhere in the middle. I have experienced those Jane the Virgin moments in my day when an idea catches me completely off guard and interrupts me in the middle of a mundane task. Those ideas are often like the golden snitch – you blink and you lose them. Other times, I’ve just had a sense of something within me that says, ‘save this reference or idea, it's interesting enough...maybe it will blossom into something someday,’ and it takes years before it takes any sort of shape. Other times, I've had to sit down and draw inspiration or ideas from somewhere within me when I feel absolutely nothing coming at me.
Because the manifestation of my creativity mostly comes in the form of writing, this often looks like me sitting down with my laptop or notebook and staring at a blank page for a really long time without a clue of where I’m going or what I’m even trying to say.
Regardless of where ideas originate, I have found that they tend to increase in tandem with my awareness of what is happening around and inside me.
Generally speaking, the greater my awareness, the richer my life, the more numerous and better my ideas, and the stronger the catalyst to create.
THE ABG PRINCIPLE
My favourite character from Superstore, the heartwarming sitcom that depicts a group of employees working at a big box store, is Dina.
In one particular episode, employees are brainstorming ideas to stretch their paychecks a little bit (in lieu of a raise), and at one point Dina mentions that her life philosophy is “ABG - Always Be Gathering.”
Though in that context it might seem funny (or even a bit sad), since then, every time I think about creativity, ideas, and learning I go back to the ABG principle.
Even though we now seem to be more exposed than ever to the entire world, our existence has become increasingly reduced. For instance, it’s easier than ever to surround ourselves with voices that only confirm our pre-existing notions about life, especially online.
The pace of life has undeniably increased, leaving many of us feeling busier and more exhausted than ever, without much energy to venture out of our pre-established duties and routines and explore the wider world (physically, mentally, emotionally, intellectually, and socially).
Even inflation is making it harder to be out there and more connected to each other, when an outing with friends can literally make it hard to make ends meet at the end of the month.
I have found that when I am in that space, focused solely on myself, my immediate concerns, likes, and dislikes, and just overall shelled in my own existence, it is tough to create because I stop gathering moments, experiences, ideas, inspiration... and my creative tank stops being filled up.
Of course, some of these lonelier or more introspective moments have led to some of my most meaningful writing. Yet, at some point, when the tank stops being refuelled, I’m left running on empty.
The beautiful thing about the creative journey is that anything and everything can provide inspiration if only we are open to gathering – a song, a sight, a sound, a sense, a smell, a smile. Everything around us is a story waiting to happen, to be picked up if we’re there ready to grab it.
This post is itself an application of its own principle. As I watched this show for the umpteenth time, something clicked in me when I heard that line and an entire piece started forming in my head. I didn't necessarily intend to join to seemingly disconnected ideas, I was simply gathering.
A few years ago, I read what I believe has become one of the most influential books on creativity, “Steal Like an Artist.” I loved that book so much.
One of its foundational ideas — and the one that challenged me the most — is the fact that nothing is original. “All creative work builds on what came before.” If that premise is true (and I believe it is), then in order to create something we must know, or be aware of, what came before. But, in order to be aware, we need to gather.
The whole creative process is action-oriented. Even waiting is a verb. Sometimes, when I am not writing, I condemn myself because I feel like I should be doing more (I am in the process of writing a piece on that small, yet often destructive, little word 'should'), but the truth is that time is seldom wasted. It is often during those 'less productive' times when the gathering happens the most and is the most fruitful.
GATHERING = LIVING
It is impossible to produce forever and non-stop; just as it is inadvisable to gather forever. While some level of gathering should always be happening (because it implies, to a large extent, that we are in fact just living), the intentionality with which we do it can vary depending on where we are in our creation process (e.g. writing a piece vs. editing it).
But, against our production-and-algorithm-saturated mind, it is also impossible to produce forever without the gathering seasons. I think a better analogy for creative work is agriculture, rather than factory work.
In short, that is the point of this piece: gathering is simply going out there and living — but doing it intentionally, with eyes and ears wide open. The more we do that, the more our creative tank gets refuelled, the more our creative juices flow, and at a more human level, the more full our lives become.