Express Yourself: Capturing Your Creativity
One writer discusses the importance of finding your creative release, even if you're not very good at the thing you're creating
I am in the shower and I am warbling. I am in the car, tapping a beat on the steering wheel as I poorly attempt to harmonise with what's playing on the radio. I am hoovering, belting out classic R'n'B diva hits. I am absolutely not a strong singer.
In fact when I was wee I was so tone-deaf that my mum insisted I got singing lessons. Lessons fixed the tone-deafness, but a combination of lack of practise and the ‘occasional’ cigarettes I’ve been pretending I don’t smoke to my mum/doctor/dentist/self for ten years means that my vocal range has gone. But here I am twittering away.
On rare good-mood occasions, my singing attempts are accompanied by dance moves. My dancing is, well, interesting. My first ever school report for PE read: ‘We fear Phoebe may never be able to catch a ball, and she runs with neither speed nor stamina.’ No joke. So you can imagine how (not) coordinated my limbs are when I’m trying to bust out the shuffle. But still I flail around. It’s my own nonsense pyjama party, or as I prefer to call it, ‘loungewear rave’, glass of wine in hand imagining my pals are around me learning the choreo too.
I can’t dance too hard or I’ll shake the piles of old magazines and cheap glue sticks from my desk to the floor. I’ve been making collages the way you did before Pinterest was a thing, mood-boarding with scissors, A4 paper and glue, sticking down absolutely anything that takes my fancy, doodling the world’s plainest stickmen and boxes in felt tip on top of my craftings.
It feels very teenage to be acting like a fake pop star in my office surrounded by amateur art equipment. Mini-me in my head whispers: "You should be doing something PRODUCTIVE!" Sometimes it does something even worse, lying in wait until I’m really enjoying my activities, piping up with "Wow, this is great, like really great! Imagine if we did this all the time? Fun, as a job?! Work harder at this, be better, and we could do that." Yet as a kid when I tore up and down the street on my bike I wasn’t imagining I could be Danny MacAskill.
We find it so difficult to make space and time for ourselves just to have fun; there's always something else to be doing, something else to distract us, some way to make cash. Making space to express ourselves just for the pure joy of it is rapidly becoming a dying art. In a world where we’ve been taught to think ‘bigger’ with all we do so many little joys turn into side hustles and potential projects instead of pure, simple fun.
Don’t get me wrong, full respect to anybody who’s managed the exceptionally difficult task of turning their passion into their job. But if you're lucky enough to do what you love for work what can you do for fun? Or to – shock horror – relax? When you’ve run out of books, watched everything worth watching on Netflix, and you’re finally done with endlessly scrolling on your phone, what are you turning to?
It’s undeniable that last year so many people who had managed to turn their creative passion into a career saw it flop, through no fault of their own. We all know people who no longer even want to do that particular creative passion in their spare time, purely for the enjoyment of it; my DJ gigs evaporated and looking at my decks just makes me feel lost. Unless we can prove the productive worth of a task we don’t seem to want to do it. But with so much unexpected free time last year I sang, flailed and collaged much more than I used to. And once I get past the nonsense thoughts like, 'You’re shite at this', 'You’re just having...FUN???', 'This isn’t allowed' etc, concentrating on breathing and moving and cutting and sticking takes me out of my own head enough to feel truly relaxed, during and after.
Getting in the zone (aka the flow state – Google it, it’s cool) and doing anything that makes you focus truly on the task at hand, and nothing else, is a form of easily-accessible meditation in its own right. While I’m watching TV, or looking at Instagram for the 46th time that day, the voice that demands productivity comes back, but anything daft or interesting without a screen can connect me to that flow state. That’s a secret spot of pleasure just for me and me alone, and I can give myself the opportunity to just express myself, as long as I keep clicking delete on the brain-emails with the subject lines: ‘Re: Looking Uncool’ and ‘Urgent! No me time allowed’.
Doodling, drawing, cooking, reading, playing sport, cross-stitch, singing, writing, dancing, making models, twiddling on the guitar, painting your nails, trampolining on your bed, even playing catch across the coffee table, can all get you in the zone. Are you going to play catch for Scotland? Definitely not, but that’s not the point is it? Do your flatmates notice that you've got nail varnish all over your hands? Probably not. Even if they have, who cares?!
We’re all scared to do something – anything – and not be good at it, and feel embarrassed. We’re scared to simply enjoy things in case we fail. But when you were wee there were no brain-emails eating up your inbox. Your out of office was always on as you did all your favourite things just for you. My cut-out creations aren’t going to sell at auction for £10,000; my poems should have ‘by Phoebe, aged 3’ signed at the bottom; sometimes when I hear recordings of myself singing I want to slap a lock through my lips and throw away the key. But what does it matter if those recordings aren't for anyone’s ears but mine. Or if only I re-read my scribbles, and hang my collages inside my wardrobe for only me to view? What does it matter if nobody knows I’ve been playing the harp badly? What if I just... enjoyed it?
I know it’s possibly the grimmest time ever, and the idea of making space to do anything creative requires potentially non-existent motivation, but do you not deserve to do something that is just for you? Surely that is your motivation. Nobody needs to see, hear, or even know about what you're up to if you don’t want them to, and picking up things you enjoyed as a child but no longer do is a quality start to self-expression.
Or prove your 'I’m rubbish at this' voice wrong and push yourself to try things you think you can’t do. I could never hula hoop as a kid and now I can; several friends have joined the online All The Young Nudes life drawing classes and are transfixed in concentration each week, delighted with their drawing improvements. Do things that are in absolutely no way related to your dreams or career goals, things that can easily be done on your own at home. That way they can’t be taken away from you by anyone or anything.
Try a bunch of different activities until something clicks. Don’t read books and watch YouTube tutorials to try and figure out how to make or do the perfect thing. Don’t compare yourself to others, or even look at someone else’s work. Put pen to paper and don’t overthink it. Write those lyrics; paint that picture; slice scissors through a magazine – maybe even this magazine – and do what feels right. Unless, of course, you're baking, then you probably want to follow a recipe.
I’m notoriously awful at baking. My friend Claire has shown literally everyone we know the photo of The Great Banana Bread Fiasco of 2017, and the many – too many to list – stories of my kitchen creations gone wrong have become a running joke between me and my pals. But during lockdown, my mum bought me a book on how baking can be mindful. The book's introduction begins by telling you to accept from the start that your bread will not be the finest example of a loaf you’ve ever seen, and that’s okay because it’s your loaf. Just revel in the fact that it’s yours. And so I am in the kitchen, crooning and twirling along to a record, and I'm absolutely covered in flour.
Illustration by Ruth Mae Martin