Where Discipline Meets Freedom in Creative Practice | Lifestyle.INQ

OCTOBER 27, 2022

discipline and creative practice
Cover art by Ella Lambio

Creative freedom will always be tied to how much time and work you invest in your craft



I noticed that discipline is often linked to dread or boredom. Simple things like sticking to a routine, working out, and doing writing drills each day aren’t things I find all too exciting. However, isn’t mastering something what makes it liberating? Like how a guitarist with years of practice is free to write his own music, or how a committed designer can create classic yet the most unconventional pieces. 

As a kid, my parents put me in ballet classes at the early age of 2. They tell me it’s because I struggled keeping up with a beat, but I digress. I continued to train ballet until I was 10 and my ankles couldn’t take the pressure of dancing en pointe anymore. After a few years, I was introduced to street dance. What I find interesting is that to this day, I’m 23 without having had formal dance training in 2 years, and I can still dance to music like I’d been training to this day–both classical and pop music, by the way. 

Now, let’s compare that to my piano journey. At age 5, I was enrolled in piano lessons. I took lessons on and off for 2 years, and you’d think that at this point, I could easily read notes and understand a piece of sheet music if placed in front of me. To this day, I can only play 2 songs– the Up theme song and Moonriver – and I can’t move around to play anything else. This brings me to my point – creative freedom is only a product of creative discipline. Hear me out.

Dancing is something I loved to do and I could spend hours on end practicing a single move until I’d mastered it. A pirouette, a split, a body wave, a dougie–it didn’t matter. What mattered to me was that I came back to dance class having nailed it in one go. On the other hand, I may have taken enough piano lessons to be good at it, but outside the classroom, I didn’t touch a single key on my piano at home. I couldn’t be bothered to build that discipline, and because of that, I can only play two songs (perhaps due to muscle memory and nostalgia).

My mom worked as a fashion designer for 20 years. My earliest memories of her would be drawing and ideating collections, even doodling on restaurant placemats and table napkins when we’d eat out as a family. To this day, though she hasn’t worked in fashion in a while, she can still draw exactly what she wants to have made, identify what kind of fabric would do justice to the piece, and specify the kind of stitching and pattern work that needs to be done to bring her idea to life. 

My good friend Tala was classically trained in piano for 11 years and is a self-trained guitarist for 13 years and counting. She told me she’s been singing since she could begin to speak and hasn’t stopped since. Today, she can freestyle on both instruments and write songs under the sun, often taken from the honest pages of her diary (and occasionally, stories she’s heard from her friends, too). She’s a Spotify artist, by the way, with her number one song boasting over 2 million plays.

People tend to think that discipline and creative freedom are mutually exclusive, standing at opposite sides of the spectrum. Perhaps even that discipline hinders freedom altogether. But if you think about it, the more free you want to be in your creativity, the more discipline you need to acquire that. The more hours you spend learning the basics of things, the more free you are to experiment with what you think might work best. The more time you spend toying around with beats and bars, the easier it might be to come up with a mesmerizing song. The more art you study and understand (in whatever form of art that might be), the more ideas you might have to integrate into your own art, too. The more writing drills you do, the more books you read, the more natural it will be to tell your stories in the way that you want them to be told. 

Creative freedom will always be tied to how much time and work you invest in your craft. And that, in my opinion, is the best kind of creativity: Creativity that is candid, wildly inspired, and a product of daily discipline and clarified passion.

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