Research Paper By Polydoros Karyofyllis
(Creatives Coach, GREECE)
Writing really is my life. Thinking about it, when I’m not doing it is terribly painful but when I’m doing it…it’s a lot like if I was a long distance swimmer and had to jump into a pool covered with ice: it sounds terrible, but once in it and two or three laps done, I’m home and free. Maya Angelou, poet
The path of the Creator
Being a creator myself, I have spent four decades of my life without knowing that my pursuit of success, my stretches of anxiety of or depression or the daily ups‐n-downs, the sense of loneliness, the procrastination or the bursts of frenetic action, my self-absorption, my lack of practicality and aversion of the mundane tasks and the overall feeling of non-complacency, have been dependent on the way I had formulated my personal narrative and the way I used to put it in action.
Sharing personal stories with fellow artists made it evident that there are many similar patterns and clear need for coaching for fellow creators. The creator though is not just the artist. The entrepreneur, the innovator, the artisan, anyone who feels the urge to make things is a creator. In fact creativity is a core human urge. Even though I use examples of artists‐creators keep in mind that fundamentally we are all creators.
Life Coaching for Creators
It is imperative to stress that life coaching for the creator is no different than coaching any other individual. The same code of practice should be applied. Having said that, it is worth noting that creators can often be very sensitive, witty, critical and self-absorbed, making coaching a challenge but also a pleasure and a well for self-discovery and creativity for both the client and the coach. The coach coaching creators can try mobilizing client’s creative skills in order to remodel practices, build new habits, shift perspectives and explore the abundance of possible narratives and scenarios springing effortlessly. To assist the coachee in rewriting her personal life-script can be as potent as a revelation, a kind of rebirth.
Making a detailed contract with a creator‐client should be the standard procedure but not necessarily by using a generic form. The creator often seeks comfort if someone provides a sense of order and security but sometime she seeks a tailor made approach showing aversion in the possibility to be treated like an “every man” in which case a personalized contract can be a well appreciated offer. Since the contract form is the calling card of the coach even the aesthetics and language used it can be compelling before the start of the actual coaching to use your best visuals and language when dealing with a creator.
Appeal to the senses
Listening and talking to a creator is not always easy. Some creators being visually inclined may get easily distracted or loose focus during e.g. a session through telephone. Understanding the client’s sensory preference and addressing it is imperative and sometimes is as easy as knowing his/her profession. The musician will always be auditory and the painter visual, although synesthesia condition of having a blended sensory perception is often found in artists. Visualization exercises, soundscapes, even kinesthetic exercises can be used for the highly sensitive creators Use NLP to decode the preferences and adjust your way of conduct to them.
Starting the coaching by exploring client’s values is not only the proven procedure but in the creator’s case it provides a wealth of narrative material to build on. Like the let motif in music scores, values will show-up every now and then during the course of the coaching. Values are like a pantheon of character typologies available for the writer. I often use Archetypes by GC. Jung in order to understand or formulate a character. No matter which tool you the coach are using the coachee has the ultimate power to choose what traits her ideal self‐character has and how to align her actions with them. Choosing and building around a character is like fleshing out a sculpture or protagonist in a script or a novel.
The creator is someone who is commonly mistaken as an example of a free person, freed from inhibitions, societals boundaries etc. This assumption is based on the characters that literature has created, the idealized larger-than-life personae who defied the norm of their times. The creator is nevertheless bound by strong convictions and beliefs, many of them being limiting beliefs, as well as a strong sense of criticality and judgment. Today’s art institutions are cultivating critical thinking as much as creative thinking. Finally some biographies of artists that are now famous but during their lifetimes had little to no acknowledgement, like Van Gogh, strengthen the stereotype of the bohemian artist that starves as an outcast on the fringe of society. Some of these limiting beliefs I are: will die unappreciated, alone and in poverty, I have no talent or my talent has dried out, I am too old to make it, only the-beautiful rich-sellouts survive in the cutthroat art world, true art never survives the common taste, art‐critics‐gallerists‐collectors, theater owners, publishers, etc. are exploitative, useless, uninterested etc.
All these of course can sound realistic yet history is full of artists who have done masterpieces while being on their own or in the royal court, under the wings of strong patrons or independent AND financially successful, critically acclaimed from their peers AND the audience etc. One of the frequent patterns in coaching with the creator is the sense of mistreatment, the belief that recognition is for those who are unworthy, sellouts etc. By shifting from negative examples to positive ones and by decoding best practices and building on own strengths make the creator feel empowered, better equipped, less vulnerable, energized and in action. The understanding and applying the act of writing and amending his/her own life script the creator does what he knows best, apply her own strength, Creativity.
Action plan for the creator is often inventive, adventurous and fun. At the same time it often has to transcend the burden of long, daily, practice hours, which is a necessity in most creative processes. Being able to survive nowadays’ distractions seem an aim possibility especially when recognition is often perceived as excelling in the public realm by means of exposure.g. through social media which actually drains energy and suck time. Dealing with the mundane in a creative way and shifting perception on their use, augments the feeling of self‐reliance, worth and independence. The way creators deal with their finances, health, family etc. can often be‐ self destructive and undermining their overall life. Creativity finally is often described as an “encounter with the muse” when in fact most successful artists would argue that it is a daily practice no different than any other day job. Making this daily practice, pleasurable and rewarding, a habit and life pattern worth investing, is in part of the goals of a creator’s action plan.
The need for accountability during the coaching period can also be a challenging task. Due to the long process of creativity that could extend far from a usual coaching period it may take many months or even years before a creative project has finished e.g. writing a book, preparing a body of work for a solo exhibition, finish a music score, launching a startup,finalizing an invention or the business plan of a new entrepreneurial attempt. This means that either the coaching period could be planned over a long time in order to stand side by side with the creator until the planned deadline e.g. the opening of an exhibition or the premiere of a play or that the results and progress would be counted towards milestones of a lesser importance e.g. a certain number of chapters written, a contract with an agent reached, an investor contacted or commits to the project etc. The creative process is a marathon and as such many ups and downs are expected, the finishing line always seems distant and many milestones may need to be set in order to chunk down the run in small parts.
The active/non-active time
Contemplation and abstention can be both very helpful especially when alternating between them. Contemplation is the concentrated, focused thinking and this is one of the most powerful capacities of the creator. Abstention on the other hand is the deliberate refraining from action. Abstention and idleness are not to be mistaken as laziness. When done in a mindful way they can unwind, but also inspire the creator. During the time of seemingly- non action, serendipity takes place in the form of inspiration.
One of the more painful periods in the life of the creator is the “writer’s block”. Being stuck, feeling helpless, depressed and with limited drive or physical energy can be some of the indications.
Procrastination or erratic work, complaining about seemingly “objective” burdens such as lack of money or time are signs of a need to re calibrate personal goal(s) with values in a streamlined set of actions. Being back in the track of action especially when freed from expectations of immediate success is rewarding on its own end. Using a trackable self-directed action plan while held accountable of its course by the coach can be assuring and fruitful.
Stamina and Rituals
The life of the creator is that of the marathon runner. Day in and day out in a ritual of work often against odds, often without recognition makes it a difficult path but full of personal reward, growth, surprises and offers a soothing feeling of routine. Decoding the lives of creators we see that the vast majority followed daily personal rituals that secured hours of daily work, as well as time slots for contemplation and unwinding.Succeeding in entering and maintaining a sense of flow at will is one of the secrets of the creator’s life. Picasso said that after long hours painting he didn’t feel the slightest fatigue. In his words: “That’s why painters live so long, while I work I leave my body outside the door, the way Muslims take off their shoes before entering the mosque.”
One of the most pursuing narratives in the life of a creator is the pursuit of Success. Success can be a lot of things and its commonly described as recognition from peers and public,acquirement of wealth and fame etc. It is a fact that pop culture has portrayed living and past artists as icons self expression that leads to public acknowledgement is often presented as a perfect analogy for self-realization. It is important to distinct between creativity and the daily practice of creating from its result. Although assisting creators to visualize their preferred ideal outcome is as important as with any client, clinging to success as an end destination can take the actual fun and productivity off the actual creative practice.
Envy is often encountered within the creative community. Although it is experienced as a poisonous feeling it can become a compass for our own needs and aspirations and the scale with which we can measure our own limitations. It also points to our fear of failure and the even more difficult to decode, fear of success. Through envy one can start noticing what those envied do well and how using them as examples instead being put off by them is empowering and not only helps us embrace the actual subjects of past our envies but also deal and reconcile with our own limitations and fears.
Being able to accept, absorb and learn from criticism is important for an artist. Telling the difference between the artwork and the self is important. Often artists cannot separate their work from themselves thus having criticism hit directly on their core. Decoding criticism to its components, searching for actual key learnings, making analogies with other actions that have similar effect, reversing criticism in order to spot empowering keywords and getting back on the creative process are few of the steps to be considered.
Self-acknowledgement in the case of the creator has some unique characteristics. The creator’s ego in the form of a persona is often caricatured as bloated but at the same time it is highly prized and idolized. The creator becomes a brand with added value, no different than other consumer commodities. He becomes a product himself. The distinction between accomplishment and self worth is often blurred in the case of the creators because the self is often difficult to be separated by the work. Focusing on the personal needs of the creator and addressing to the person hidden under the glittery surface can be time consuming and difficult. The true self acknowledgement is different from the public one. The public opinion comes and goes according to fads and trends but being content with who you are and what you have accomplished no matter how small or big, is empowering and liberating.
On coach’s end
Coaching for the creator is a fulfilling and exciting path for the professional coach. Often she will encounter brilliant and witty minds, sensitive souls and very unique individuals that follow an independent, off the beaten path, life. By cultivating own sensitivity, openness, and patience, challenging own beliefs and letting her own self free to explore different perspectives in life, the coach will be granted the entrance to the inner world, the visions of the creator and the privilege to stand by side her during her creative pursuits.
Julia Cameron: The Artist’s Way, A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity
Compiled texts: Creators on Creating. Awakening and Cultivating the Imaginative Mind
Mason Currey: Daily Rituals How Artists Work
Austin Kleon: Sell Like an Artist
Steven Pressfield: The War of Art