Monday, April 07, 2014

The Power of Polyamorous Creation

I once read a fantastic book called Realizing The Impossible, an anthology of commentaries and images on the relationship between art and social movements. The book gathered contributions from around the globe, both from current artists and historical creators, curating a vibrant history and overview of political art.

This interview with multidisciplinary artist Shaun Silfer said it best:

“The best artists have shit on their shoes. They’re running around in the middle of everything, they can’t settle down, they can’t shut up and they can’t quit fidgeting with everything.”

And what’s interesting is, if you study the world’s most prolific creators, they all work the same way. They’re masters polyamorous creation, or, working on multiple projects simultaneously.

The term polyamory is the hybrid of the words poly, meaning “multiple,” and the word amor, meaning “love.” The controversial idea first penetrated public consciousness in the seventies, but its definition has been researched, redefined and revisited by a number of accredited institutions over the years.

In the romantic sense, here’s the essence of the philosophy:

“Polyamory is the practice, state or ability of having more than one intimate, loving relationship at the same time, with the full knowledge and consent of all partners involved.” 

Obviously, there’s much criticism around the topic. Issues of relational stability and marital longevity have been widely debated, researched, even satirized by a number of cable and reality television shows.

But that’s not the point I’m trying to make.

I’m interested in the concept of polyamory from the perspective of a creator, not a couple. I’m interested in transferring polyamory from the interpersonal domain to intellectual domain. In this regard, it’s not about pursuing relationships with multiple romantic partners, it’s about pursuing relationships with multiple creative projects.

Our artistic endeavors, after all, are living, breathing things, with which we have intimate relationships. Ask any artist in the world, and they’ll agree there is a profound connection between the creator and the creation.

But as the definition of polyamory suggests, there is a full knowledge and consent of all partners involved. Meaning, the act of dividing your love and attention among several creative works doesn’t automatically lessen it. Just because you’re juggling multiple projects simultaneously, doesn’t mean you love either of them any less because of the existence of the other.

I have a writer friend who’s incapable of polyamorous creation. It drives me crazy. Whenever his latest book enters into the editing and design phase, he refuses to work on his next project in limbo. As if doing so would be the equivalent of cheating on his current project.

But I always tell him, look, just because you switch gears midstream and dive into another creative endeavor, doesn’t make you any less focused, efficient or loyal to your current pursuit.

In fact, it’s quite the opposite.

Albert Bandura is one of the most frequently cited and influential psychologists of all time. He originated the theoretical construct of self-efficacy, which is the belief in your own ability to succeed and achieve the goals you set for yourself.

In his research on the cognitive functioning of creative thinkers, here’s what he found:

“People’s creative efforts are more productively deployed when they pursue multiple projects simultaneously, at varying stages of completion, shifting among them as circumstances dictate. In doing so, they’re less likely to succumb to the impediments, false starts, inevitable delays and distractions of the creative process, and more likely to experience greater productivity and goal attainment.”

How many creative irons do you have in the fire?

When you practice polyamorous creation, it also produces positive interactions between projects. In my current workload, I’m building a course curriculum, writing a book, producing a documentary and a composing musical album. And initially, each project was mutually exclusive. Unique in its own right. Four different mediums, audiences and messages. But over time, the projects began to bump into each other. And I couldn’t help but notice thought bridges, cross fertilizations, subconscious connections, natural relationships and unexpected integrations between them.

As a result, that unconscious integration allowed me to quickly, easily and effectively transition from one project to another on a daily basis. And that contributed to a greater consistency in my body of work and overall artistic vision. Proving, that our creations may be multiple, but the creator is singular. 

Are your ideas talking to each other?

Of course, the question of polyamorous creation is, how do you know when it’s time to switch gears between projects?

That all depends on your schedule, rhythms, natural energy cycles, creative preferences and environments. As I’ve mentioned before, the great creative discipline is simply knowing what season it is. Developing an exquisite understanding of your own timing. Listening for what wants to be written.

Scott Adams, cartoonist and entrepreneur, says one of the most important tricks for maximizing productivity is matching your mental state to the task.

“When I first wake up, my brain is relaxed and creative. The thought of writing a comic is fun, and it’s relatively easy because my brain is in exactly the right mode for that task. But I also know from experience that trying to be creative in the midafternoon is a waste of time. At six in the morning I’m a creator, and by two in the afternoon, I’m a copier.”

How does your physical body dictate your creative body of work?

And keep in mind, just because you’re working on multiple projects, doesn’t mean you’re not focused. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. You’re more focused than ever. Focus, after all, isn’t about activity, it’s about identity. Keeping all your passions in play, while still staying true you dominant reality. Not hammering one nail all your life, but hammering lots of nails, one way, all your life. And believing that doesn’t matter how many different things you do, it matters that you’re the same person when you do them.

Polygamous creation, then, is not about spreading yourself too thin. It’s not about procrastination. It’s not about chasing too many rabbits. It’s not about becoming a jack of all trades. It’s not about accumulating a bunch of unfinished projects. And it’s not about placing too many cumbersome demands on yourself.

It’s about hedging your creative bets.

It’s about insuring yourself against the daily discouragements, delays, distractions, depressions, derailments and disappointments of the creative process. And in many cases, that means giving yourself permission to go work on something else.

New project receive an unflattering review? Go work on something else.
Editor move the final deadline back two weeks? Go work on something else.
Meaning starting to drain from your current endeavor? Go work on something else.
Computer freeze at an inopportune time? Go work on something else.
Client go on vacation and forget about your website? Go work on something else.
Receive a rejection letter from a publisher? Go work on something else.
Stuck on a song lyric that just won’t rhyme? Go work on something else.
Spirit won’t move the way you want it to? Go work on something else.

That’s how you use polyamory to buttress your creative practice.

In fact, I read interviews everyday with artists, songwriters, painters, designers and other creative professionals, and they all echo the same sentiment. Prolific creators know resistance will eventually rear its ugly head, and so they always have something waiting in the wings, ready to be worked on.

With only one iron in the fire, you wouldn’t have the freedom to do that.

Ultimately, polyamorous creation, the practice of pursuing relationships with multiple creative projects, is a proven strategy that allows you to be both prolific with, and protective of, your artistic work.

Go get some shit on your shoes.