Rules of Engagement: Creativity

One of my favourite TED Talks is the ‘Rules of Engagement’. Kate Bingaman Burt talks about the fear of the blank page – what do I draw/ paint/ write about? She notes, though, that if someone said “draw anything, but only use purple” it would be fundamentally easier, like a switch had been flicked. I’m sure there is a neuropsychological mechanism in place, but it’s easier to say ‘human brains need some kind of boundary through which they can engage the world’.

I was talking this over with a friend yesterday, how the rules of engagement apply to any personal and social situation. Though I’ve been working on my own social rules of engagement (it’s been a wild year, including the Pandora’s box of psychologist sessions) I’ve never made rules about how I engage with my creative work.

‘How to write’, ‘how to work through creative blocks’, ‘how to focus’… these articles are a-dime-a-dozen. I’ve read some really fantastic ones, and ideas have stuck and started to grow in my mind… but I’m still terrified of writing. I’m two years behind in my business plan. Today, though, I’m writing my own rules of engagement for creative work. The timing is fortuitous for big changes – three years ago I was wrapping up my studies in Melbourne and winging back to Brisbane, today is All Saints Day when I remember the people who’ve made a difference in my life. Summer is here, and the jacarandas are in full decaying bloom. It’s time to step forward.

Rules of engagement with creative work:

1. Make something with my hands every day. Write something everyday. This is not the same as completing something or publishing everyday, but it creates a routine and that is something my brain relishes. I don’t want to complete something every day of the week. I like watching things grow and change over time, and I know this will happen only with momentum each day. Inertia breeds doubt, and I’m going to squash that fucker.

2. Morning is my time. Not first thing, but after coffee, breakfast, and my daughter has left for school. Ideas pop, and my brain is fresh and clear. The day is young, I don’t have to start wondering about feeding or clothing people. I will not give this time to housework, social media, or talking to others. This is my time, for my thoughts and energy without competition. I have limited time and focus, and will use it for things that are best for me.

3. Build a support group. I have so many friends that are makers and writers I’d be fucking crazy not to ask for help. I’m stoically independent (read: stubborn) and have tried to ‘go it alone’ for so many years; frankly, this has gotten me nowhere. Everyone needs encouragement, to share ideas, and to both offer and receive assistance. We are social creatures.


I thought there’d be more rules, but I’m starting to understand that it’s the concept of boundaries – and that they are personal boundaries – are what really matters. I’m already feeling more relaxed about my creative work. I know this is the initial rush of having found focus, and I’ll wait to see how I feel about writing tomorrow. In applications for this year’s TED Talk at Southbank we were asked ‘what is the question no-one is asking?’; my response was ‘what would the world be like if people made their own rules for living?’. I guess I’ll find out soon.


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