The creative process: lessons from David Lynch 

I'm thrilled about today's topic! 

This time, I am not discussing some intricate aspects of the music industry. I am focusing on a more important element: your creative process. 

Right now, we sometimes tend to concentrate more on our promotional activities rather than on our art in itself.

However, without a good creation, there's nothing to promote!  

All our promotional efforts, moreover, could also be quite a distraction from our creativity, especially when we work as independent artists, taking care of so many aspects of our career all alone.  

Maybe you also have a day job, which limits, even more, the time (and the energy) you can dedicate to your creations.  

How can we claim our creative power back? 

I personally found much comfort and encouragement in the words of David Lynch, one of my favorite directors. If you're struggling with your creativity, the creator of iconic movies like Blue Velvet and the legendary TV series Twin Peaks has a lot of advice for you. 

What follows is a summary of some suggestions on creativity discussed by David Lynch on various occasions.  

At the end of the article, you will find a list of interesting YouTube links to hear these thoughts from David himself. He's a great orator, so it will be even more inspiring to listen to his speeches.   

Here's the content of the article, in a nutshell: 

  1. creativity is a puzzle 
  2. the role of meditation (optional, but strongly suggested) 
  3. be happy 
  4. what happens next? 

Now let's dive in! 

David Lynch. Credits: rollingstones.it

Creativity is a puzzle...in someone else's room 

Puzzles are among the recurring images Lynch uses to explain what an artistic creation is.   

Creativity has a fragmentary nature and our job, as artists, is to fix and combine those fragments, one piece at a time. 

First of all, ideas come as precious gifts. Precious because they are the raw material without which we couldn't do anything.  

These ideas are the fragments, the single pieces of a puzzle. To attract them we have to place "baits on the hook". The most effective bait to fish ideas is desire. The desire to get ideas is an essential part of the fishing process, but it might not be the only one. Lynch also talks about daydreaming and being alert while visiting places and living our day to day life. Being alert allows us to get inspired, even by the smallest things. It may be leaves falling from trees on a lazy autumn afternoon, or a conversation you have with a relative or friend, or anything else happening around you.  

Daydreaming, in my experience, is just as necessary to write scripts and songs. Before rushing into the writing process, it can be useful (and utterly fun) to spend some time just daydreaming your story, your characters, your musical ideas. "Like a TV in your mind," as Lynch himself explains. I do that so often when I dedicate my time to screenwriting, that I almost fall in love with the characters I create. It's the same with songs: I fall in love with the idea, the message, the melody, or a specific verse. This love makes me get ahead with the creation. 

That's exactly what David Lynch suggests: each fish you managed to catch will make the desire to keep fishing even greater, making the process easier and easier. By listening to your feelings towards the creation you are working on, you enhance your creativity.  

The importance of listening to my creation is another lesson I learned from Lynch: the sooner you accept your creations talk to you, the better your creative life will get. 

This whole process, however, requires time, so it's completely useless to be in a rush. As with real-life fishing, you need patience for ideas to get hooked. However, setting some limitations and even deadlines can be of great help to encourage our creative juices to flow. Just don't get too attached to the outcome: enjoy the ride, instead. 

The process of creating, in conclusion, is pretty mysterious if we try to describe it rationally. To say this in the words of Leonard Cohen, as highlighted by host Paul Holdengräber during a 2014 interview with Lynch (second link at the bottom of the page), "If I knew where good songs came from, I would go there more often." 

The role of meditation 

David Lynch is known to be a strong supporter of Transcendental Meditation, a practice he carries out daily. Now, there has been some controversy about this practice, so I realize not everyone will consider this piece of advice as valuable. 

I don't practice Transcendental Meditation and I don't think I need to practice it to be a better artist. However, I do practice yoga almost daily as a sort of meditation in movement (unfortunately my fidgeting nature doesn't allow me to sit cross-legged for more than five minutes). 

Even when I don't "formally" practice meditation, I notice that being aware of my "ocean of pure consciousness" and doing my best to expand it, really helps not just creating, but also dealing with life in itself. 

Now, I can't consider myself a spiritual person. I am quite edgy, to be honest, and very far from the peaceful, joyous, meditative kind of person. Yet, I have undoubtedly experienced the positive effects of meditation on my work and my life, which is the reason why I am including this point in the article.  

Again, you don't have to necessarily embrace Transcendental Meditation. There are tons of meditative methods you could try.  

On top of yoga, I try to practice Vipassana as often as I can. It is a very easy meditation, introduced by the Buddha, that focuses on your breath. Even five minutes have really good effects on me.  

If you're not into meditation at all and hate the idea of trying, it's ok. You can still learn a lot from any of the other teachings by David Lynch. Just be aware of the importance of intuition in the creative process and how meditation can help you enhance it.

David won't agree with this paragraph, as he thinks only Transcendental Meditation can make you transcend, but I'm sure he won't get angry at us for politely dissenting.

Be happy 

A great piece of advice, too often forgotten, is this: always enjoy what you do. Don't get trapped in the negativity, be happy! 

It may sound cheesy, but Lynch has a point here: how can we have the energy and the mental clarity to create if we are suffering? 

Negative emotions might be great for your storyline, for your song, for the characters you portray (after all, they are very relatable for most of the world population), but they are like poison for you, the creator.  

In highlighting this concept, David unmasks the myth of the maudit artist. At this point, however, a question arises: would troubled souls like Van Gogh have been better artists if they hadn't suffered so much? Lynch replies to this objection during a conference in Brasil (check the last link at the bottom, at about minute 28:00). The answer is simple, yet almost hard to believe: while creating, those troubled artists weren't suffering. The love for painting, in the case of Van Gogh, was the key to the creation of such beautiful art.  

This brings me to another precious lesson I got from Lynch: as an artist, you should never try to impress others, but only do what you really believe in. In other words, do what makes you happy and be true to your ideas.  

Can you see the bigger picture now? Can you see why Van Gogh was a great artist despite his suffering? 

What you believe in and makes you happy might not conform to rules and trends. If you ever watched a movie by Lynch, you might notice his work is very far from anything else ever done in cinema and TV. That's not only ok, though, but that's also desirable.  

David talks about finding your own voice, which is the most important, however mysterious, step to becoming a true artist.  

What happens next? 

Once your creation is completed, your job is over.  

Yes, as independent artists we know way too well we have to put a lot of effort into promoting our work. However, we can't predict how well it will go. We don't have full control over its success or failure.  

As a control freak, I really appreciate Lynch's lesson about this point. His suggestion reminds me of a parent letting his children go out to the world, once they've reached full maturity. The mother, or the father, might have nurtured and guided them, but now they just have to let them go. All she or he can do is believing their kids will be healthy, happy, successful. 

That's it.  

All we can do after we finish our creation is believing in it. The job is over. We can start a new one. 

 

Thanks for reading! If you prefer audio content, check out the podcast. 

Useful links

David Lynch on Creativity (Where Great Ideas Come From): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dNufijIDD-Q 

David Lynch: Where Do Ideas Come From?: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fxr-7O1Bfxg 

David Lynch's Top 10 Rules For Success: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pftJ407jcDI 

David Lynch - Meditation, Creativity, Peace: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BH4qD5Fzyjk

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