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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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Wonderful article, Malcolm Dewey. I will share this with my youngest, my artist son, whom I haven’t seen for over three years due to covid, but we still catch up and talk about the artist experience and ‘the art of procrastination’. And isn’t it funny how we are inundated with inspiration when we’re busy working on a project or portfolio and in our down times and there’s no work or contracts on the horizon – and everything is in someway ‘seasonal’ – we no longer feel motivated to be creative!
I have a work around that seems to work for me. I am a writer, having made my living as such in high echelons. For me, writing is my art, whether for a client, as poetry or a novel. But when I get stuck – like really stuck – I’ll try something else. The trick is to find something for which you have no expectations. I’ve done pottery, taught myself flute and now, since retirement and recognising that the remaining dash is my own – I’m working with cloth as a humble emerging fabric artist. I’m finding I still get into the flow, where time no longer has meaning, and the joy of struggling to produce one’s mind’s eye. But, you know what? I don’t have any expectations of these forms of creative expression, so there ain’t no demons on my back!!!
Thank you for the article. I’m a creative person and a retired language arts teacher. I always struggled with finding time for my own writing while teaching middle school. What helped me is setting schedules and making writing a priority. It’s very easy to get sidetracked by family, friends, work, the laundry, etc. When I sit and write my stories, I feel so much better. I’ve also returned to doing watercolor painting, which is something I let go for a long time. Taking workshops at an art museum, setting up a “studio” in a guest bedroom, and planning to put time aside to draw and paint means a difference. I struggle with fear of failure, not being good enough, and I’m learning to let go and enjoy the creative process more. It has to be my priority now that I am fully retired.
Reading this article I thought, someone knows me well. While I am not a painter,i had “unfinished attempts”.
Which is fine, I really didn’t enjoy doing any of those crafts. I was trying to find my niche. For a long long time…..
I found refinish/refurbish, making something new or better than before. Be it rejuvenation of a trifold room divider into a beautiful floor lamp. Or using pallet wood to make a kids table and chairs for my grandchildren.
All my projects are used in my home or I made them for family and friends. I have not made the leap to go public despite all positive input from even people I do not know.
Hopefully now with the tools from this article I will! Thank you to the author.
May you all have a blessed day!
How timely! I have a renovation that I am working on. Somedays I see the amount of work that needs to be done and just fall prey to whatever distraction that pops up and my to do list seems to multiply exponentially. Last night I decided to make a list of doable jobs that I could complete today that would finish my work on one room. I am up and ready to tackle my day and know how pleased I will be to finally have crossed this room off the list. I will do the same tonight and get this job flowing at a pace that I can be happy with. Thanks for the article!
Exceptional article….for many hangups in life!