Ooh, clickbaity. You know the answer, right? Here’s where I say, “There isn’t one. Only hard work and determination can move your art forward and to fruition,” and then I smugly sign off.
But no. That’d be some kind of cheesy cop-out. It’s not that there’s any single, simple secret to whatever anyway, there are heaps, piles, loads.
I was well involved in the New Age movement of the 80s & early 90s. Most of it I later tossed aside, but one thing quickly became abundantly (see what I did there?) clear: we are really good at coming up with prescriptives, keys, aphorisms, solutions, directives, proverbs, and maxims that sound like and feel like they’re true.
And they may be.
But they aren’t some holy or benevolent revealed wisdom, they’re from the same place any intuitive process comes from—inside us. And any one of us can make them into personal affirmations or principles.
Go ahead, make up a universal truth about creativity, and apply it to your practice. Irony abounds, because maybe this is the one true secret to unlocking your inner genius.
Or probably not. But it will keep you thinking about your work, and how you best accomplish it.
Things that made me cry this week:
- The fierce, selfless love Vetch had for Ged in A Wizard of Earthsea (which I finished for the first time yesterday. It’s a fantastic book)
- “Ruthie,” Season 4, Episode 9 of Bojack Horseman (written by Joanna Calo)
- Remembering my mother
- About half the posts on r/HumansBeingBros
- The aching beauty of Mark Hollis’s solo album
It used to be called, of course, “working.” Management and clients didn’t request our attention to be split several ways and to try to do more than one thing at once. Multitasking—which is more accurately task-switching—though, is inefficient and draining.
Research is clear about it. There’s a cost in time and in brain function.
I’ve been going through Note to Self‘s Infomagical series from 2016 the past couple days, and the first challenge is to spend a day only working on one thing at a time. Try it, you’ll probably find, as I did, that you spend a lot of effort thinking about your distracting digital life: social feeds, email, updates, notifications. Doing one thing until it’s done is harder than you might think.
WNYC’s Infomagical page
How very human it is to desire rituals. They’ve been part of who we are as long as history, and almost certainly from the dawn of us becoming human in the first place.
We’d love to be iconoclasts, smashing the stuffy conventions and customs of the past. But it might be detrimental to be too enamored of the new. We still find truth and connection in our traditions, and that desire for them may well fill a biological need.
There is such a thing as going too far, creatively, if we lose a work being relatable.
A woman I didn’t know hugged me at work the other day. She had mentioned the card scanner always says, “approved,” at the end of a transaction, and said she liked how it validated her. This devolved into some jokes about how we rely on machines so much now, downplaying the need for validation.
I said, “We all need approval now and then, especially during the holiday season.” She immediately moved around the counter and opened her arms to hug me. I gratefully met her embrace.
When we separated, she said, “aw, you guys are gonna make me cry.”
We can’t forget our need for human contact. We need each other sometimes, the introverted and the extro-.
Remember we usually make things for other people. We aren’t sending objects into the void, we need reactions, responses, takes.
We need to connect. We don’t have be wary of that need.
It’s inevitable we will fail at some point. Your will falters, your power goes out, your life’s emergencies take precedence. This is all okay.
What’s important isn’t succeeding always and forever. It’s persistence. Tenacity is more powerful than success.
It’s even helpful to get knocked down, here and there. There’s value in how much we have failed, since we learn the most from it. Getting up again to keep going is what matters. Soon, we’ll have left the disasters and the disappointments far behind. Learning allows growth, and growth leads us to greater potential. Fail faster, and with grace and joy.
We’re well on the way to full Christmas music saturation. At my job, the Xmas soundtrack channel is de rigeur until the fateful day itself. That level of constant jingling all the way can be oppressive. But despite the hammering of tunes popular during Boomer childhoods, there is zero shortage of new to newish Holiday Season music to revel in. Some of my favorites are
- Tracy Thorn – Tinsel & Lights
- Said the Whale – West Coast Christmas EP Collection
- The 8BitPeoples – The 8 Bits of Christmas
- Low – Christmas
They’re weird, melancholy, and even at their oldest (1999,) refreshing. I tend toward humbugitude, but I can’t deny there’s a sizable part of me that indulges in this most sentimental of holidays. My mom was especially good at a gentle transition into Xmas madness, and I have a cadre of core albums from my childhood we used to listen to every year as we wrapped up dinner and my brother and I headed off to bed. We drifted to sleep to strains of Glen Campbell, Barbra Streisand, Andy Williams, The Carpenters, and Fred Waring’s Pennsylvania Singers. But those have a special time and place. We have lots more to saturate the season with, and it comes with some measure of surprise, of sparkle. Tradition is meant to be comfortable. But the new comes with promise and possibility, as well as the change that life offers with the renewal of the year.
We often don’t feel like doing things. I’m talking specifically about the work, here, you know, The Work. Whatever it is you think you should be creating is, maybe bafflingly, sometimes or often hard to start doing.
We’ve long established that waiting to feel inspired doesn’t get work done. The only thing that matters is (tautology alert) doing the work. Ideally, you decide on the thing you’re doing and engage the habit. “This is what I do every day,” you tell yourself, and for the next ten or thirty or three hundred minutes you do it.
And it’s usually fine once we’ve begun. Habitual creation is magical in its ability to strip away feelings of inadequacy, uncertainty, and plain old fear. You just start making, and soon it takes over and you’re lost in it.
Editing, culling, rewriting, finishing, detailing, tweaking can all be done after the stuff is created, but nothing matters until things are brought into the world. Lazy days when you don’t want to do shit are fine. They’re still days when, because you’ve spent effort building your habit, The Work happens.
The idea behind breaks is, in part, that effective work is bolstered by leaving the task aside for brief periods so as to refresh and invigorate the person working. But (and you knew there had to be a but, didn’t you?) much of the time, we use our rest periods to do other tasks. Mostly checking social media.
I’m going to suggest we try doing less during our breaks. It’s easy to let the pile of Things to Do bully us into trying to take action on uncrossed-out items. It’s harder, counterintuitively, to just rest. I have a notion that if we could do this for one or more days, it would be even more effective.
It may be that, like meditation, a short period where focus is on just resting can enhance our reinvigoration. Further, it might then unchain the burden of being made to be something else. A break gains meaning in this way, not because of the number of things we can accomplish outside our work, but because it isn’t trying to become something else. It’s no longer just the absence of work. It, like us, when we live in the moment, is its true self.
Gratitude is free. But expressing thanks enriches our lives in many real, if intangible ways. We sometimes feel humility, and subjects of our appreciation feel appreciated, as we take time to remember what requires our thankfulness. Those effects of thanks are to be expected. The root of the word incorporates both thought and emotion, “to think” and “to feel” all in one.
I’m thankful for good friends and family, a world full of curiosities and knowledge, the ability to wonder. To live is to hope. To give thanks is to reflect on life and revere things which give it meaning.