The Old Game Artists and Creative People Play and 5 Steps to Help You Stop
Are you a creative person? Is making art a daily or regular thing you need to do? Heck, are you making a living partly or completely from art? If you are, then you have played this game many times. Maybe you are very good at it or starting out as a newbie.
The truth is, what we all need to do is stop playing the game – the one where insecurity and mental struggle keep us from our art. But sometimes that’s almost impossible. I have tried. Instead, we must be on our guard and reduce our game time. Your art and mine depends on it.
An Example of How We Play the Game
This morning I wanted to wash the breakfast dishes. My wife said no. She was doing the dishes and I was to leave them alone. She was a tad too firm in her tone, to be honest, and I was a little miffed about it.
Does this sound rational to you? What sort of guy would want to wash the dishes when he gets a free pass?
Okay enough of being coy. The reason I wanted to wash the dishes in the first place was to delay working in my studio. There. Happy now? I was trying to procrastinate.
Yesterday, I started a large painting and it is going well. I am pleased with the progress so far. Excited, actually. And now I am nervous about messing it up. You would think I would jump out of bed and get working. Sadly, that is not how the game is played.
This situation reminds me of that delightful movie, Dodgeball. A classic everyman’s movie, which, in my opinion, did not get the official recognition it deserved.
The five rules of dodgeball are dodge, dip, duck, dive and dodge. It’s a game creative people could play very well. If we could turn our excuses into dodgeball moves, we would be untouchable.
The five rules of dodgeball apply to creative pursuits too, but not in a good way. So, we must stop playing the game. But how?
Step One: Awareness
My first suggestion is to read a book. Another delaying tactic? Not this time, my young Jedi. But thanks for asking. No, this time the book will help you identify the enemy. I speak of Steven Pressfield’s excellent book The War of Art.
In this book, Pressfield describes the artists’ habitual struggle against the Resistance, the force that tries to stop any creative endeavour. The resistance applies to any attempt to move to a higher plane of existence. New art, creative business, writing. The list can go on.
But if you want to opt out and move to a lower plane of existence – it’s an easy job. No problem. No resistance.
Pressfield introduced the idea that you will know what it is you need to do by the extent of resistance you face. Each of us has faced the resistance. Each of us has caved now and then. It does not feel good. No. It is miserable to give in.
But like every good tale of heroic deeds you can rise up and throw yourself back into the fray. Whether your name is Balboa, Baggins or Bob from accounting. You have the hero within.
Step Two: Hero or Zero Is a Choice
After reading the book it is time to make a decision. We are not floating along life’s stream, powerless and clueless, though it does feel like it at times. In the grand scheme, we can make decisions – big ones and little ones that determine our day, year and our life’s trajectory.
Decide to go pro, as Pressfield exhorts us. Get up, show up and start the work. It can be as simple as walking into the studio, picking up a brush and putting paint on the canvas. Do you feel the impulse to head into the kitchen and fix a snack? Smile and wave as you walk into the studio instead.
Step Three: The System
Now it is time to turn this pattern of work into a system. Forget goals. As Dilbert creator Scott Adams says, goals are for losers. Winners have systems.
Did Rocky simply set a goal to become the champ? Or did he get help to follow a step-by-step training system? A system that had a support structure to hold him accountable. A system that had a focussed and methodical process, day by day. One he knew will deliver the result if he followed it. Bit by bit.
“Oh, but goals are so important,” you’d say.
Remember that the resistance will take your goal and move it, twist it and distort it until you give up. You will reject the goal as delusional. But if you have a system for today only, an easy step to follow, then you have a chance.
Work out a system. Write it down and put it into your calendar. Make sure everyone who can derail you knows you are serious. If anyone undermines your system, disinherit them forthwith. Or unfollow them – you know what to do.
Step Four: Hit Publish
Now remember to finish. To publish you work. Announce it, share it and submit it to the powers that be. This is not a secret mission. The resistance plays its game for keeps right up to the bitter end. Even with the work done you will experience self-doubt. Fear.
Oh, but you showed your work to your family and closest friends! Surely, that’s enough.
If you are serious about your art, then this does not cut it. Friends and family will lie to protect us. So, you must put it out there to the world and declare victory.
Step Five: Rinse and Repeat
Then start the next work. Creatives create. This is not a once off deal. Completing your book does not make you a writer. Writing makes you a writer.
I see this script play out often. An artist suffers deeply with his first painting. Finally, he completes it amongst much drama. He has the painting framed. Then he packs away the painting gear for good.
Now, in fairness, if you discover that painting is hellish, then fine. It is not for you. But if you tell everyone how you love painting then point out your single framed work you did six months ago… Sorry, that will not do. That is not honoring your creative spirit. Start the next work promptly and follow your system.
I have tried to show you how subtle the resistance can be. Also, how you can overcome the hurdle to become a consistent creative.
I know that not everyone needs to make art all the time, but chances are that there is some higher plane you would like to achieve – be it in health, wealth, art or relationships. All these areas will benefit when you create your system and follow it.
If you are in doubt and not sure where to begin, you may decide on a coach to help you. Or lessons, or workshops. These are fine but apply what you learn. Create a system for continued work once the lessons are over. The potential for meaningful and life-changing opportunities that follow are immense.
If you are a creative person, how do you take action and stay focused on your projects? Do you play the game of dodging with the creative projects you are working on? Please share your system and what you do to stick to it.
Malcolm Dewey is a professional artist and writer. He is passionate about painting in oils and watercolor. Malcolm loves landscape painting. He teaches painting to artists of all levels. Working online on his website and in personal lessons Malcolm helps other artists paint better with structured painting lessons. His Facebook page can be found here.