Everything works in cycles. One of the most powerful things you can do for your professionally creative life is develop an awareness of the natural ebb and flow of projects, ensembles, environments, and collaborations. All things come and go. We should be excited by this because it means that we’ll get to experience so many new and different adventures in our thought processes and in our actions. Too often, we let the cycles go unnoticed, or relegate them to a subconscious level, and worry or stress when we feel like different parts of the cycles are “happening to us.” Motivation, direction, and action steps become more accessible when you zoom out a bit and can recognize where you are in the cycle.
Your 29 Days to Diva – Day 12 Assignment: Learn your cycles
It might be the Midwesterner in me, but I tend to think of the parts of the cycle as: planning, planting, growing, and harvesting. I think it underscores just how natural it is to work in cycles. I often talk with my clients about understanding what part of the cycle each of their creative projects is in. We also discuss the importance of having projects in different parts of the cycle for better balance and less burnout. It’s also been a helpful metaphor when my clients realize that they have a hard time completing projects. If you are that “quick start + ideas” person, you might feel demoralized when you realize that your projects start to falter when they reach the growing and harvesting parts of the cycle. Learning your own strengths and weaknesses in relation to parts of the cycle can help you make better choices about how to move through them. You might realize that you need assistance in the form of a mentor, coach, or paid assistant. Understanding where you need help will help you hire the right person for the job instead of just assuming that you need a coach when you need an assistant or vice verse.
Stages of the creative cycle
When you’re in the planning phase of the cycle, you are working solo (or with your creative team) to outline the project. You might be thinking about creating a punch list of tasks. You’re likely also thinking about what resources do we need to make this a reality? As you figure out the details for that, you create a resource plan. If you’re working with a team, establish the roles and responsibilities of everyone involved as early as you can so that expectations are as clear as possible.
It’s important to think about a timeline. For example, you’re planning a recital. How long do you need to do the necessary practice and administrative work in advance of the recital? Also, what is the date and time for the recital itself? Will there be multiple performances or related activities? Planning also includes thinking about the budget. Finally, you might even be ready to consider a communications plan. Your communications plan might be communicating with venues to get the recital booked. Or, after the date, time, and venue are set, you’ll start figuring out how to make sure listeners know about the performance.
What creative projects do I have in the planning stage?
I think of the planting stage as the first action steps you take to make this a reality. Sometimes I’ve talked about this as the moment you get other people involved and it’s on more than one person’s calendar. It is a rare case in which a project is entirely and utterly solo such that no other person is involved. Planting looks like:
- Sending a pitch email
- Paying a deposit on the recording session
- Asking for a coaching with a conductor
- Having a conversation with a potential commissioner
- Applying for a grant, festival, series, or conference
- Fill in the blank with your own example here: ________
What creative projects do I have in the planting stage? Are there any creative projects in the planning stage that are ready to move into the planting stage? What is the *very next step*?
Just like with garden plants, we see the above-ground parts such as the leaves, stems, flowers, and fruit. But, the roots of those plants have been taking hold and parts have been growing out of our field of vision for a period of time. There are networks of root systems and organisms that are doing all sorts of work to make those visible outcomes happen. Here comes the practice metaphor. You know how much behind-the-scenes work goes into making a single performance happen. That’s all part of the growing stage. This is also why many professionally creative folks get stuck at this stage. It’s lonely and it’s thankless until you get to the harvesting stage. This is where people lose motivation.
Don’t “quiet quit” your own creative projects. During the growing stage you might feel an acute sense of the things that are the hardest about being a professionally creative human. You might be worried about low pay because the growing stage, while necessary, doesn’t usually generate many resources. You could also feel a lack of opportunities for advancement in your field because you’re focused on the work you’re creating/producing but it’s not out into the wider world yet. You might have run into issues with your collaborators or you’re experiencing childcare issues. Plus, the growing season is usually accompanied by that feeling of a lack of flexible hours because you’re putting in extra time to make this all come together. It makes sense why this part is challenging. If you’re the kind of artist with MANY projects that are all in the growing stage at one time, be aware of pending burnout. If you’re in the planning stage of a project, read through the pain points in this paragraph again and be more specific in your planning to address them for the growing stage.
What creative projects do I have in the growing stage? How will I keep myself motivated during this stage? Are there any projects that are ready to move into the harvesting stage?
Whew! Time for the fun. I mean, stressful, but still fun. Harvesting is the sharing and re-sharing of all of the fully-formed creative work that has made it out of the growing stage. You’ve planned, you’ve planted, you nurtured the work while it was growing, and now it’s time to harvest by sharing it with the world.
One of the things I wish more of my colleagues knew was that you can actively harvest projects from the past again and again and again. There are tons of potential performers, listeners, collaborators, presenters, etc in the whole wide world. If you’re looking at your creative projects right now and realize that the harvesting column is looking a little sparse, go back and ask yourself if there’s still something from your past that you could book again or present again. Have a presentation or paper that you gave a couple years ago? Is it time for that to come back out for a new audience? Great!
What creative projects do I have in the harvesting stage? Are there any past projects that I would like to bring into the harvesting stage again? Are there any projects that have moved through the planning, planting, and growing stages that are finally ready to move into the harvesting stage?
Everything works in cycles, diva. The more that you develop an awareness of the stages of the cycle and where your creative projects fall in relation to the cycle, the more you’ll feel a self-efficacy about your creative work. Learning, understanding, and applying this understanding of cycles will help you create your own trajectory. Sometimes I think of this like a Trello board (a visual collaboration and/or project management tool can be very helpful in organizing your projects) where the various creative projects I’m working on are their own cards. Inside the card, there might be a very long checklist of things that have to happen. But, at the macro level, the cards are moving from planning to planting to growing to harvesting. When they reach the end of that trajectory, you can decide whether or not they go back to the beginning and happen again or maybe they have a retired column where they play golf, volunteer to teach younger folks, and perfect their snickerdoodle recipe.
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