I’ve recommended Todd Henry’s book The Accidental Creative to dozens of people over the last few years. It’s a phenomenal book for re-thinking your approach to creative industries, and it appeals to any number of friends who have struggled with productivity systems that don’t account for the rhythms of creative life.
That said, there are always gaps. For all people tend to get something out of the book, they rarely find themselves able to implement his process as a single block. There are parts that just seem counter-intuitive, such as intentionally chasing stimuli, and there is also the problem of his approach to relationships. There are a number of formal approaches he advocates that are hard to set up, particularly if you’re a shy, retiring creative type who dislikes the outside world.
One of the ones that seems to have universal appeal in theory, yet never quite gets off the ground in practice, is the idea of a Creative Circle.
WHAT IS A CREATIVE CIRCLE?
The appeal of the circles Todd Henry describes is simple – bring together a group of creative-types who help each other stay focused and engaged, inspiring each other and sharing tips/knowledge, facilitating insights that wouldn’t happen if you were toiling away alone.
The recommendation is that you meet weekly, which is one of the reasons it’s so difficult to implement. Creative-types are like herding cats at the best of time, getting them to actually sit down and engage in a formal process on a weekly schedule is a complete pain in the arse.
Traditionally, writers have all sorts of informal approaches to this, from crit groups to gatherings like the Inklings. They’re close to what’s at work here, but not quite there. For one thing, they exclude the possibility of being inspired by people in other creative fields.For another, they tend to focus on the work itself, rather than staying focused on big picture issues.
I like focusing on the big picture. On the handful of times I’ve done this, face to face, with other people, it’s that part of the process that was most useful.
THE SUNDAY CIRCLE
Given the difficulties of scheduling this sort of thing, I figured I’d attempt something similar here on the blog for those who are interested in being involved. Largely, I’m doing this because I wanted the focus a regular check-in would give me, and because I enjoy hearing about what other people are up to on the creative front.
If you’d like to join me, the process is simple: run through the following questions.
ONE: WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON IN THE COMING WEEK?
What creative project getting the most of your focus in the coming week? What are the challenges associated with it? The goal here is to give people some context for what you’re working on and clarify the parts that have your attention, so that people are aware of what’s on your plate and how they may be able to help.
Even posting something simple like a rough genre can be enough, if you’re not that comfortable with going into details; the mere mention of Space Marine stories in my current obsessions post last week scored all sorts of useful book and film recommendations that are going to help with my work.
TWO: WHAT’S INSPIRING YOU AT THE MOMENT?
We’re all creating on the back of other artists and there is a lot of power in hearing about what’s getting other people engaged in their artistic practice.
It also offers insight into the way other people are approaching their work. For example, I had a quick conversation with Anna Campbell at GenreCon where she raved about a jewellery exhibition she’d attended and how vital it was to her writing. That kind of research has never been on my radar before, but I quickly started thinking about how I could do something similar for my current project.
THREE: WHAT PART OF YOUR PROJECT ARE YOU AVOIDING?
Pick a part of your project that you’ve been avoiding because you haven’t had the time or energy to get it done, and put it into words. This is, perhaps, the most uncomfortable part of the process, but every creative project has its obstacles and everyone has bad weeks where they’re trying to figure stuff out.
Articulating the problem is generally the first step to solving it. For one thing, it’s harder to avoid once you’ve acknowledged that it’s there. For another, putting it out there means folks will be in a position to offer accountability and encouragement.
What am I working on? This coming week is all about the first few chapters of Space Marines: Pew! Pew! Pew!, a short novel project that is increasingly in need of a far better working title.
What’s inspiring me at the moment? Neil LaBute’s not-quite-a-sit-com, Billy and Billie, about a step-brother and sister who start dating. There is not a single character on the show that is not incredibly awkward, but I’ve been fascinated by the dialogue, the way it sets up scenes, and its willingness to be slightly off-kilter. Definitely not going to be to everyone’s tastes, but there is something ambitious about its willingness to alienate people that I enjoy.
What part of my project am I avoiding? Chapter three. I’ve rewritten the opening two chapters of this book a handful of times without moving forward. Chapter three scares me because I’ve got a whole bunch of stuff that needs to be researched, and I haven’t yet figured out how to make a military briefing exciting.
Interested in being involved? Post your answers in the comments or on your own blog (with a link back here, so the rest of us can find you). Throw some thoughts around about other people’s projects, ask questions if you’re so inclined. Be supportive above all.
Then show up again next Sunday when the circle updates next, letting us know how you did on your weekly project and what you’ve got coming down the pipe in week two (if you’d like to part of the circle, without subscribing to the rest of the blog, you can sign-up for reminders via email here).