Beethoven’s Trick for Inspiring the Creative Process

Beethoven inspired me. I was having trouble coming up with a topic for this post. That’s when I remembered something that lit my creative fire. A couple of weeks ago I attended the Senior Piano Recital of a good friend. Incredibly, he played by heart three movements of a Beethoven piece (as well as two other compositions). It got me to thinking: What was it that inspired the great masters in their creativity? For Ludwig von B it was a very simple thing: He took walks.

Beethoven discovered that he needed the time for his ideas to incubate into something concrete. So he took regular walks through the wooded valleys of Vienna (that’s modern day Vienna in the above photo). He took along with him a pencil and a few sheets of paper. When he came up with solid musical thoughts he would jot them down.

It’s such a simple lesson, but it’s one that I so often fail to do. The whole idea is to feed your creativity by putting yourself in a different environment. It’s giving yourself time to create. Psychologists tell us that we are more apt to be creative outside of our regular work environment than inside of it.

Let’s take the example of this very post. The idea for it came while I was listening to incredible music played live by a skilled musician. I’ve been letting the idea for a series of posts on the creativity of creative masters ruminate in my head since then. Just now I came inside the house from a short time sitting on our delightful front porch with my wife. As I came inside the idea began to crystallize. Sitting outside in a different environment helped the idea take root and grow.

This whole concept of taking a walk, and “differentiating” spaces, is also true in the creative work I do in my vocation. Most every week I have to write numerous pieces for work, not the least of which is a sermon to preach. I have found that when I write my sermon in my office at church, it’s often like pulling teeth. The background work has been done, but creative ways to communicate the message are difficult to come by.

But when I write in a coffee shop, or in my quiet home, the ideas seem to flow much more freely. In these environments I see different things, I think more freely, I feel more relaxed. More ideas are hatched and they come to fruition on a much more consistent basis.

So thanks to Beethoven, I’m going to try taking more walks and writing in different environments. Why don’t you try the same. I bet it’ll get you off the creative dime. And, as I’ve said many times before, the world needs your art…whatever it may be.

What inspires your creative process?

This is the first of an occasional series of lessons in creativity from creative masters. 

How Nashville Hot Chicken Brings Out the Best in People

You can find Prince’s Hot Chicken in a beat up old strip mall in East Nashville. Nashville Hot Chicken has become quite the phenomenon in recent years, but Prince’s has been around since The Great Depression. Going there for lunch on a Thursday afternoon is one of the finest social experiments you’ll ever see. It’s not only the food that’s great. The people watching is, as well.

Thursdays are the only day of the week you can get four chicken fingers and bread for $6.00. When we got there near noon on a Thursday, the line was almost to the door. There are about seven tables in the restaurant and every one of them was full. As people waited in line they chatted, or waited patiently. Everyone seemed to be in a good mood. Who wouldn’t be? They were about to eat Nashville Hot Chicken.

The restaurant doesn’t exactly seem like the cleanest place. But they scored a 93 on their last Health Inspection. In fact, the place is so popular that the two guys in line behind us drove all the way from Chattanooga to have their tongues burn with cayenne goodness. Tourists took photos in front of the window outside. Mixed in were locals who are obvious regulars.

And everyone got along. There was no pushing or shoving. People of all political persuasions and ethnicities enjoyed their chicken — and each other — just the same. When tables became available there was an unwritten rule that the people waiting first would get it. Some even shared tables. An older out-of-town couple from one place occupied a table with a younger out-of-town couple from another. There were obvious Christian references all over the walls and the t-shirts workers were wearing.

We probably waited an hour from the time we entered the place until we began eating our chicken. It was worth every minute. The food was great (I’m still sweating!) and the people were pleasant.

Nothing fancy. Just good food. Decent customer service. Hard working people putting it all together. And friends, neighbors, and tourists sharing a local delicacy.

Is Nashville Hot Chicken what it’s going to take to mend some of the fences we’ve built? If so, maybe there should be a Prince’s Hot Chicken in every city.

We could use a whole lot more of that good-natured spirit in our country today. What do you say we make a concerted effort to do it ourselves, even without the chicken?

Where have you seen people of all persuasions getting along?

What Chocolate Cake Taught Me About Art

If I can help it, I’ll never eat cake someone makes out of a box from the grocery store. I’ve been spoiled. My birthday comes around about this same time every year (!). When it does, my wife treats me with a made-from-scratch birthday cake. The recipe is her grandmother’s. It’s handwritten by Granny herself. And it includes things like buttermilk (when was the last time you bought that?!) and chocolate baking squares. To top it off it’s covered in buttercream frosting. To. Die. For.

I dare you to bake a cake from a grocery store box. Then bake one from scratch. Do a taste test. There is no question in my mind that you will much prefer the one that’s made from scratch. The grocery store box cake will be dry and lifeless. The one made from scratch will be moist, dense, and filled with flavor. It’s a work of art.

When I ate that deliciousness again this year it taught me something. A little extra effort, care, and fine ingredients make a world of difference. It could be compared to coloring in a coloring book as opposed to drawing freehand. Or paint-by-number instead of an original painting. Paint-by-number never looked good to me. There is no blending of the colors.

Here’s the lesson: In your daily work — in the art that you create — don’t paint by the numbers. Whenever possible, don’t use a box cake. Be daring enough to start from scratch. Even a little bit more effort can make a big difference in quality. More love and care in your project will set it apart. Ingredients that are a step above may be more expensive, but the quality will bring back your customers or consumers.

Seth Godin likes to talk about the fact that far too many corporations are on a “race to the bottom.” They use the cheapest labor and materials to get things to market and sell them. Quality and creativity are lost.

You don’t have to be that way. You can put extra effort, care, and fine ingredients into your work and art. You can bake a cake from scratch. The people who eat it will notice the delicious difference.

When have you noticed a home made difference?