Post from December, 2021

A Time for Reflection

Sunday, 19. December 2021 20:08

The Winter Solstice is the occasion for a large number of holidays, many more than the summer solstice, and many having to do with the ideas of rebirth, of bringing back the light lost during the waning year, and new beginnings. Also scattered among these mid-winter celebrations is the idea of remembering the past, either our own, or of famous historical and mythological figures who sacrificed in some way, gave gifts, aided the poor, or events that are considered miraculous. There is a feeling of wrapping up the old year.

In fact, the second most important holiday in Japan is Omisoka, or New Year’s Eve, a time for concluding the old year by “house cleaning, repaying debts, purification, and bathing,” among other activities designed to prepare for the “crossing over from one year to the next.”

In Western society we find a number of people remembering Christmases or Hanukkahs or other mid-winter celebrations of the past, particularly of their childhoods, or holidays with friends or loved ones who have passed out of their lives. Unfortunately, such remembrances can lead to holiday depression in some. For example, I knew a woman who could never get through Christmas Day without crying; she never explained why, but I’m reasonably sure that it was not happy memories. But not all memories are sad, and they are what many people treasure about holiday time.

Whatever our belief systems or celebration preferences, this is a time of wrapping up the old and preparing for the new. Unless we live in a cave, it’s difficult to get through the season without experiencing some of this. My suggestion is to embrace this transition.

Since so much has been written on new beginnings and renewal and fresh starts and all of that, I would like to talk about the wrapping up part: reflecting on the year past. There is much to be learned from looking back at the past twelve months, particularly for creative people. This is a time when the days are short and the nights are long, and that, in itself, aids reflection on the past: there seems to be time to consider things, to look at our successes and failures and trials and difficulties and evaluate our responses to those situations. Such is not intended to make us dwell on any one aspect of the past year, but to look at the whole—from a slight remove, so that we can evaluate the year objectively—and objectivity is the key to this activity. We can begin to learn what worked, what didn’t work, what changes we might have made to better realize our projects. When we have done this, we will be better informed about our own strengths and weaknesses and better able to move forward into the new year, armed with new knowledge about our creative process.

And that, after all, is the goal of reflection, not to reminisce, not to beat ourselves up over failures or gloat over successes, but to consider, to analyze, so that we can move forward with improved creativity to make new and better work. As I write this, the Winter Solstice is just days away, and the New Year follows shortly; if you haven’t yet taken the time to reflect on your creative work of the past year, I would encourage you to do so. Your creative output will benefit.

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Make a Plan

Sunday, 5. December 2021 21:58

A number of people encourage spontaneity; I am not one of them. I find that whenever I try to operate spontaneously, in any activity from a business conversation to a creative project, I forget something, or leave something out or lose my way for a while, or—in worst case scenarios—end up going in circles. This is the reason that I have come to realize that I will do better if I make a plan.

This is not to say that there is no place for spontaneity. Certainly, I never plan friendly conversations, and often not activities, other than selecting a restaurant. And in creative work, there is always that unplanned time for brain-storming or spontaneously allowing ideas and mental images to connect and merge and play off of each other. That done I find that I am always more successful if I make a plan after this first creative exercise.

The first step in creating a plan is to establish a goal, based on all that free association that preceded it. This gives the project a target, establishing what is to be accomplished. The next step is to prepare a pathway to the target. This is the actual plan, and does not have to be overly complicated or detailed. It should, however, lay out the major steps to be used to attain the goal. Once those two things are done, it’s time to implement the plan.

Some people jump right in at this point; I, on the other hand, like to mull on the plan for a while, turning it over in my mind, trying to determine what needs changing, what might be a better path, what features need to be added, what components are absolutely necessary, what things can be cut, what details need to be addressed. If there is time, I like to let the plan settle into my subconscious for a time.  When I am able to do this, I find that my subconscious will make suggestions at odd moments during the day or evening, causing me to modify the plan to a greater or lesser extent.

And that points out an important consideration in dealing with plans, particularly those related to a creative project. Plans are not carved in stone—or any other unmalleable material. Plans change and reshape themselves, whether in the development or implementation phase. This is to be expected. It is nearly impossible to anticipate all of the issues that may arise between the inception of a plan and its final execution, so flexibility is demanded. In addition to problems, discoveries are possible during the implementation of the plan, and sometimes these discoveries will add to the project or augment it in some way. An open mind is a requisite of plan implementation.

The path to a project’s completion may involve many revisions of the plan, and the occasional detour, and so plans must often be modified on the fly. However, having a plan ensures that there is direction and purpose at every step on the way to a project’s completion.

This approach works for me. Making a plan for each project allows me to resolve issues and get work done and, while at the same time allowing me to be open to new ideas as they arise. Even if I have to change the plan completely, it’s still there to guide the project to completion. Your mileage may vary.

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