The Sheer Joy of Creating

(This is the video that led to this blog post.)

What can I say? I’m a creativity junkie. There are fewer things that are more fun for me than creating something that didn’t exist before. When I think back to times in my life when I had minimal responsibility in terms of how I could spend my time (I’m thinking back to my teens and college-age years, long before I was married with three kids), guess how I spent lots of it? Writing music. I pulled many, many all-nighters (and many, many all-dayers, too!) working on songs and learning how to play instruments. Was I trying to impress anyone? No. Was I being graded? No. Was I making money off of it? No. Fame? None of that stuff. But, I was developing a set of skills and enjoying the hell out of it.

Here I am about twenty years later and I have many more responsibilities. And, I’m pretty sure that if I didn’t have any responsibilities that I would probably regress to the days of spending virtually all of my time creating music. Still, over the years and through various jobs and careers, I’ve generally always found a way to spend time writing music. Often it’s very late at night or very early in the morning. Or when the kids are playing nicely and I can steal away for a few minutes into my home office. Or, for those 30 seconds where nobody is noticing where I am. (Or, like now, when I’m holding one daughter in my arm and typing frantically with the other before her sister finds her and tries to hurt her). Does this passion of mine make me a better or worse parent? Better or worse spouse? Probably both.

But, here’s the thing: I still get that crazy rush of excitement when I create things , just like I remember from my teens and 20s when I was just starting to understand how music worked. I certainly don’t feel that rush every time I pick up my guitar, but I often feel it when I find myself up during those special nighttime hours when I’m working on something and the hours are flying by. And, just like when I was younger, the motivation is the same: creating for the sake of creating, that basic foundation of what it means to be alive in the image of the Infinite Creator.

Last night I was working until 5:30AM producing the song and music video featured above. Left to my own devices, I would have pulled an all-nighter and slept all day. But my kids are off from school and I knew that I was going to have to sleep for at least a few hours so that I could be functional enough to spend the day with them (Yes, we went swimming. Yes, I was planning on being asleep an hour ago, but then I somehow started writing this blog post and now I’m all jazzed up again…). And, here’s the thing: I loved working through last night. I love it when I’m up in the middle of the night writing a song, editing a music video, building a website. It doesn’t matter so much what the project is. It’s that deep joy of creating something new that wasn’t there before. It has absolutely nothing to do with what anybody else thinks about what I’m producing. It has absolutely nothing to do with whether it bring me money or recognition, or anything. It is the sheer joy of bringing something new into the world that never existed before. For me, that never, ever gets old.

And I hope it doesn’t for you, either.

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Reflections on Three Years of Creating Monthly Music Videos

Last week I reached the three-year milestone of releasing monthly music videos. What began as a one-year challenge to myself is still going strong. The video that I released last week was “This is Your Life,” which is a setting I wrote for the Holstee Manifesto. We crowdsourced the entire video, which I think worked really well. Here it is:

And this is the Holstee Manifesto:

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These words were written by three twenty-somethings after they left their jobs to go out on their own and start a printing company. I read about them in a magazine, and then cut out the tiny picture of the Holstee Manifesto from that magazine and pinned it up on my bulletin board. One day, I was walking around my studio with my guitar and trying to come up with lyrics to a tune I was writing. The tiny picture of the Holstee Manifesto caught my eye and I started singing those words as placeholder lyrics. Before I knew it, I had set the whole thing to music. It stuck.

So, what have I learned from releasing over 40 music videos (so far)? Here are my favorite gems:

  1. It’s made me unafraid to fail. It’s just art, after all.
  2. Music is moving. Words are moving. Images are moving. Music+words+images = the possibility of creating something enormously powerful.
  3. I never know how a video is going to be received. Here’s what’s cool: The more videos I make, the less I care.
  4. Why do I do this? It’s fun and challenging and I learn new things every month.
  5. Making music videos requires an investment of either time or money. These days you don’t need both. I spend a small amount of money and a large amount of time.
  6. And finally, here are some (until now) closely-guarded secrets:
    1. I shot seven videos on an iPhone 5
    2. A lot of those videos were shot by son, who was 10 at the time.
    3. I learned how to make music videos because I couldn’t afford to hire anyone else to do it.

Have you ever sustained a long-term project of any sort? What did you learn from it? I’d love to hear about it.

Eleven Secrets to Getting Your Creative Juices Flowing

For a long time I felt stuck creatively, and that’s no fun. Luckily, it’s been a number of years since I’ve felt that way.  For the last number of years, I’ve been consistently writing musicperforming concerts, teaching, producing music video, and blogging. So, I recently sat down to reflect on all that I’ve learned about living a creative life, with the intention of helping you invite more creativity into your own life.

Here’s what I came up with:

1. Make Your Unconscious Your Partner
Your conscious brain is awesome. It can come up with basic ideas and it can be a good editor (as long as it doesn’t go overboard!). But, the best, juiciest, most creative stuff is way beyond your conscious brain’s comprehension. To access that , you need to partner with your unconscious. The great news is that your unconscious brain is at work while you go about your day and even while you sleep. My M.O. is to work on a song until I get stuck and then I set it aside until a later point.  In the meantime, I let my unconscious work with it. Sometimes I even go to bed with an intention for my unconscious to sort through the problem at hand while I sleep.  Often, I wake up with the answer to my query.

2. Those Are Excuses
Yes, I know your partner isn’t supportive of your creative endeavors, you don’t have the space, your job leaves you no time, and you have a houseful of kids. Guess what? Those are all excuses. If you want to create badly enough, you’ll find a way to do it.  Before I was a full-time musician, I would often write music late at night after I put my kids to bed because that was the only pocket of time I could find. These days, I’m still often working long before the sun is up. It’s up to you alone to make it happen.

3. Be Imperfect
This is huge. If you want to produce a lot, you absolutely cannot be a perfectionist. Being a perfectionist is another way to say, “I’m afraid to fail.”  Not being a perfectionist is another way to say, “I don’t care if I fail because I’m learning and having fun, plus I don’t really care what everybody else thinks about what I’m creating.”

4. Focus on the Process, Not the Outcome
When is creating fun? When you don’t care how it turns out. I write at least twice as many songs as I release. Why? Because I love songwriting. But some of the songs don’t turn out well so I don’t release them. Writing a bad song often helps me work through what I need to work through to write the next good one. It may even heal something in me. Remember: process, process, process.

5. Trust in Abundance
There’s more out there that can be created than all of humanity could possibly manage to create over many lifetimes. How many love songs are there out there? And, how many millions more are yet to be written? There’s an infinite amount of creative work to be made. It doesn’t run out. Just because someone else created something doesn’t mean there’s nothing left for you. There’s plenty.  The songs and ideas are not going to run out.

6. Exercise
Most of my ideas come to me when I’m running. I don’t know the science behind it but I know that it works. Get your endorphins pumping, get some fresh air, and treat yourself to a change of environment. In fact, I came up with the idea for this blog post on a run last week. Truth be told, it’s rare that I go for a run and don’t come home with a new creative idea.

7. Set Aside Time to Work
Can you find an hour in your week to devote to your art? How about two or three? Maybe you can swap out an hour of TV time to work on your screenplay. Or, maybe you can get up an hour earlier once a week. The point is that nothing’s going to change for you if you don’t set aside and plan for dedicated time to do your art. 

8. Have a Dedicated Space in Which to Work
It doesn’t have to be big or fancy. Clean is terrific. Having a door that closes is amazing. One year my music studio was in a walk-in closet.  Boy, did I write some great music in that tiny room. These days, my office/studio is a bit bigger but still nothing fancy.

9. Set Deadlines and Stick to Them
When I’m killing myself to get something out according to the deadline that I myself set, my husband will often ask me why I don’t wait a few more days rather than working like crazy to meet my own deadline. After all, would anybody notice if my new song came out a few days later than planned? No, but my being consistent ensures that a) I honor my commitment to myself and my fans to create one music video a month, b) I don’t fall into the perfectionist trap (see #3), and c) I keep challenging myself to grow and try new things.  If you need an accountability buddy, find a friend to hold you accountable to stick to the deadlines you’ve set. 

10. Honor the Creative Impulse
That piece of you that wants to express something about being alive? That’s your soul. Don’t brush it off.

11. Creativity Begets Creativity
The more you create…the more you create! Allow yourself to get into the groove.

Have a trick of your own to share? Please add it to the comments section below.

DSC00241Julie Geller is a singer/songwriter who is saving the world one song at a time by writing original, uplifting music. She has been releasing one new music video a month since June of 2013. Find her on Facebook and Twitter and sign up for free monthly music at www.JulieGeller.com.

What I Learned from Writing One Song a Week

I recently challenged myself to write a song a week for ten weeks based on the Torah portion from the Book of Genesis.

This was hard. And it took a lot of time.

And it was completely awesome. 

Here’s what I learned:

1. It’s Good to Experiment With Writing in Different Ways
I usually play with an idea in my head for days, weeks or months before I begin to put it to music. I didn’t have the luxury of doing that when I was writing a song a week. I would sit down in my studio and know that, within and hour, I would have to emerge with a song. It’s a different way of writing. It’s good to keep yourself on your toes and try new things. Now I have a new trick in my songwriter’s bag: writing quickly.

2. Perfection is Overrated
This is all about not being perfect and being comfortable with that. I’m never a perfectionist but it came out every more so on this project. By definition, with a project like this you are creating things that, like you and me, are not perfect. Embrace it. Who cares what people think of what you made? Seriously. NO, SERIOUSLY.

3. This is All About Getting the Creative Juices Flowing
Some of the songs I wrote are more like drafts. For example, I’m going back now to re-explore the song Put Down Your Guns Cause We Got Music. I loved the idea of that song but I didn’t really have a chance to write the lyrics the way I wanted to write them. I’ve now changed some of the lyrics and moved some things around. What I put out there initially wasn’t perfect but it got the germ of this song written and that’s the whole point. Now I’ve got some sketches that I can turn into full songs if I decide to do so later. Creativity begets creativity, so keep those creative juices flowing. 

4. Honor Your Commitments
Don’t make too many commitments but, when you do, honor them. Almost every week something came up that made it difficult to complete my song. So, I worked late at night or started at 5AM. So, I filmed a video at 6AM in my pajamas. The point is, commit to something a bit out of your comfort zone and see it through. That’s a great way to grow and expand the boundaries of what you think you can do.

5. Keep Your Eye on the Prize
No, the prize is not fame or fortune. It’s getting to practice your craft as much as possible. And, it doesn’t even matter what people think of what you create because you and I both know that the joy is in the creation itself.

6. Always Improve
My chops really improved during this process. I got to play with instrumentation every week and I grew a lot from that process. My confidence in my ability to write quickly also improved. Always strive to get better at doing whatever it is that you do. 

7. Pushing Yourself Inspires Others to Do the Same
My talented and fearless artist friend Lauren joined me for this whole journey, creating something beautiful and moving every week. Another friend of mine was so inspired by this idea that she decided to set her own ten-week goal.  When you challenge yourself, you give others permission to pursue their own dreams as well. 

Did I miss anything? Do you have anything to add? Please leave a comment below. Lo Res Head Shot

Julie Geller is a singer/songwriter who is saving the world one song at a time by writing original, uplifting music. She has been releasing one new music video a month since June of 2013. Find her on Facebook and Twitter and sign up for free monthly music at www.JulieGeller.com.

Want to Sabotage Yourself? Try These!

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Somebody recently asked me how I manage to have a music career while also raising three children.  This got me thinking about how I spend my time, at which point I realized that my life is less cluttered than ever. I have time to do the things I want to do, which in my case are mainly 1) writing and sharing my music, and 2) being with family and friends. This got me thinking about my twenties and early thirties where I could never find time to do what I wanted to do. There were just a lot of things taking up my mental energy, not to mention my actual time.

So, I compiled this list of everything I did for years that held me back from happiness and success. If you want to stay stuck where you are, I suggest trying most or all of these.
1. Gossip about Others. This will take all the energy you could be focusing on building your dreams and focus it squarely on other people, what is going on in their lives, and their shortcomings.
2. Be a Perfectionist. This will ensure that you never produce anything. You may eke out something every few months or years and it may be perfect but it won’t be fun and it will cause you a lot of anxiety.
3. Be Afraid to Fail. This way, you won’t have to do anything. Just stay in your small little box.

Perfectionism is the Enemy of Creativity

Photo credit: CoachCreativeSpace.ning.com
Photo credit: CoachCreativeSpace.ning.com

Perfectionism is the enemy of creativity.

Creativity is entering an unknown space and allowing something new to bloom forth. It is not about controlling that space, just keeping your eyes wide open for what is there, picking out what is meaningful and shaping that into something new. It is being a partner to that great mystery beyond us who drops down bits of beauty for us to notice.  The job of the artist is to notice them and draw them forth, not to create them wholesale.

What you create doesn’t start with you. It comes from somewhere beyond, somewhere much deeper than what you consciously know.

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What Mark Zuckerberg is Teaching us: Fail, Learn, Improve, Repeat

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Greg Satell’s recent article in Forbes, Why the Facebook Phone will Fail and Why It Really Doesn’t Matterwas a fascinating look at the difference between the working styles of Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg.  To sum it up, Jobs always presented us with something that was perfect, whereas Zuckerberg is building Facebook the “Hacker Way” (Zuckerberg’s own words) – creating thousands of smaller versions of the Facebook platform and constantly testing and learning from each of them. The Facebook motto: Done is better than perfect.

Perhaps the difference in styles is in part age-related. Jobs was born in 1955 and Zuckerberg in 1984 (the irony of that year is not lost on me given Facebook’s scuffles with its users in the past over privacy). Jobs was working with computers from their early days, whereas Facebook isn’t even ten years old.  And, it is exactly over the past decade or so that there has been an explosion of metrics available to individuals and companies in most, if not every, field. Simply put, Zuckerberg has tons of data at his fingertips that Jobs didn’t have in the earlier days of computing.

Let’s look anecdotally at the changes over the last decade or two in one field, the music business (I am a singer/songwriter).  Fifteen years ago, I would email fans to give them updates and inform them of upcoming shows. I sent out press kits to different venues, magazines and radio stations. I didn’t know who opened those emails and it was hard to keep track of all the marketing materials I was sending out.

Today, I have a metric (often free, usually from Google) for almost anything I want to measure and learn from so I can better understand what I can offer my fans.  It’s rare that I send anything out without being able to access at least basic information about how it’s being received. I can tell how many people are watching my latest video, what countries they are watching them in, when people are visiting my website, and how new fans are finding me. I can see who’s viewed my digital press kit.

All these tools make it easy, cheap and low-risk to try new things out, measure what’s working, and constantly adjust to give my fans a great experience. While sometimes too much information can paralyze us from moving forward at all, used wisely it can be enormously helpful for anyone building a business.

Jobs famously said, “People don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”  His job became delivering perfection to a group that came to expect it every time. Perhaps you’ve created a job for yourself like that and you don’t have much need for feedback. But maybe, like many of us, you find yourself employing the Hacker Way, throwing the figurative spaghetti on the wall, measuring it, seeing which pieces stayed up the longest, understanding what was unique about that batch and that part of the wall, and then tweaking it all and trying again.

Jobs was in love with perfection. I have a feeling Zuckerberg is in love with creation. Luckily, so am I.

Start Where You Are

ImageYes, the title for this post is stolen from Pema Chodron‘s book by the same name. A wise friend gave me Start Where You Are: A Guide to Compassionate Living just when I needed it. The gist of the book is that we can begin to awaken to life by embracing rather than denying the painful parts of our lives.  You start by embracing the muck rather then denying that you’re standing in it.

The same is true of the creative process.  There is only one place to start and that is wherever you are in the moment.

This morning I was in a tired, cranky mood.  I had my time set aside to write so I spent it in the studio writing obnoxious songs that will likely never see the light of day.  I found that I was wrestling with everything so I even started to work on a song about Jacob, who wrestled with an angel (though I’m not so sure that that’s who I was wrestling with).

The point is, bad mood or not, I still showed up.  I honored my commitment to create, did my best, got some ideas out there, and started work on some songs.

So, here it is: Start where you are. Don’t fight it.  Do some work.  See where it takes you.

What do you think?

Input vs. Output

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Building upon this earlier post of mine, I’d like to delve a bit deeper into the value to the artist of both input and output.

Sometimes we are in a place of learning, taking things in. We spend the day at a wonderful museum. We go for long walks. We spend time in nature. Those are times we are focused on input.

Other times we are focused on getting things out into the world. Meeting that deadline to hand over the manuscript, getting them the screenplay, finishing up the material for the album. Those are the times we are focused on output.

We need both input and output to live creative lives. On the one hand, we need time to soak in life and generate new ideas. On the other hand, we need dedicated time to refine our own artistic visions and send them out into the world.

It is important to clarify for yourself: Where are you now in your cycle of input vs. output?