Creative work as regular practice takes on a sort of agricultural ethos. Instead of “making a thing,” you start to think of an ongoing group of things you’re growing over time.
It doesn’t look like much at first, but at some point you see things are as big as you are. Then they get bigger, as you add to them. A bit like Lego or Minecraft, piling element on top of element until something takes shape.
It’s easy to get caught in the thought that we aren’t really doing art, but it all grows if we keep steadily feeding—and watering—the ground.
A couple of links:
If you’ve felt you can’t remember that book you devoured last week at all, there’s a reason. The Atlantic has a concise article on Why We Forget Most of the Books We Read
[Jared] Horvath and his colleagues at the University of Melbourne found that those who binge-watched TV shows forgot the content of them much more quickly than people who watched one episode a week.
“Reading is a nuanced word,’ [Bakshani] writes, “but the most common kind of reading is likely reading as consumption: where we read, especially on the internet, merely to acquire information. Information that stands no chance of becoming knowledge unless it ‘sticks.’ ”
Or, as Horvath puts it: ‘It’s the momentary giggle and then you want another giggle. It’s not about actually learning anything. It’s about getting a momentary experience to feel as though you’ve learned something.”
Slow and steady, the trope that keeps making comebacks.
The world also lost a great light of writing and art this past week. Ursula K. Le Guin was a genius who lived a long and creatively fruitful life, and she left us with so much. Margaret Atwood’s eulogy in WaPo was one of my favorite remembrances.
One of the things you have to discuss in any conversation about Prince is his staggering capacity to create music. He seemingly never stopped. There’s up to 100 albums’ worth of music he left behind, in addition to the 39 studio albums—and smaller projects—he actually released. And he was really, really good.
For me, it’s an unbroken string of brilliance from Dirty Mind all the way through the Love Symbol Album. And even the worst Prince record is pretty good.
What can you do in the face of such awe-inspiring making? Some people say they feel like giving up, confronted with any such prolific master. But I hope we’re inspired. It does help to be a genius, that’s for sure. But the faucet is always there, even if the pipes are not as big for most of us.
Listen to some Prince and make some things of your own.
Following on from yesterday, it brings to mind a common reason I have for being discouraged: not knowing where to start when things go wrong. When you have the habit, you’re swimming strongly, maybe you don’t know quite where you’re going, but you’ll know when you get there, and you feel confident. Then something happens, and the feeling that you’re lost comes to the fore.
But the only thing you can do, really, is start again, right where you are. It doesn’t matter where you were, or where you wanted to be. It only matters that you, in the words of the mighty DEVO, “get straight, go forward, move ahead […], it’s not too late”.
Now that I’ve put that song in your head for the foreseeable, go do your daily thing.
So, yesterday, for the first time since Nov. 8th, I missed posting. I even had a topic written down with a few ideas, but I kept running out of time to sit down and write it, and when I got home, I went straight to bed because I had to get up early. I’d forgotten to blog.
I could beat myself up for it, and be disappointed in myself for a nice self-pity session. And I probably will continue to do that, a little. But that’s not what I want to move forward with.
There will be times when life interrupts your daily practice, if you have one (or three). But meditation practice teaches us something about how to handle setbacks in our intention. When thoughts interrupt focus, we recognize them, acknowledge we broke off, and let them go by, returning again to meditation practice.
So it should be with creative work. “Huh, I fucked up yesterday and forgot the thing. Oh well, today.”
The nice thing about a daily thing is that today arrives anew, and we can just continue it.
Sometimes we get lucky, and a compelling concept drops in our lap from the ether. It’s like the idea knows what it wants to be, and you can hardly keep up with it, knowing where it needs to be shaped next. It’s like magic.
Usually, though, we just have to plow along and chop away at the stone, maybe a rough outline of . . . something. This is why we cultivate discipline. This is why we don’t worry about the day-to-day. In the long run, the self-revealing—and knowing that’s the illusion it is—and the steady hammer can produce a similar figure.
Carl Sagan was a seminal influence on my childhood. Well, teenhood. Cosmos (the original) still holds up as a joyful immersion in the mysteries of life and journey into space.
The need for contemplation and wonder is vital to art creation. Our curiosity to explore encompasses our need to create, the two are linked. And indulging exploration of any kind informs the work.
Keep searching, feeding curiosity, cultivating wonder.
Being derivative is a concern most of us have at some time, at least starting out. But if your goal is to be completely original, you won’t find many, or anyone, who can relate to your work.
Most artists want their work to be experienced, and the more relevant to other humans it is, the more likely it is to be liked, understood, desired, and shared. In order to make relevant, approachable work, we look to the past and those artists who inspire and enthrall us. Their vision, in turn, didn’t come from nothing, they looked back to those who captured their attention and thoughts and feelings.
Derive ideas from everywhere, but don’t be afraid to display your inspiration openly, and since taking inspiration from just one artist is lame or obvious, the more the better. It’s how we climb higher, see farther, cast longer shadows.
Song title parade continues! Getting low on enthusiasm is dangerous to the habit. So, too, is getting low on ideas of any kind.
Ideas are rightly thought of as easy to come by. It takes lots of work to transform one into a finished piece. But it also takes time and experiences to stoke the furnace they come from. Getting out of the house, trying a new path (to work, in routine, with your job), getting bored, even.
We’re working very hard at the moment to rid ourselves of boredom at every turn. There are emails to answer, texts to send, and games to maintain. Ideas tend to come faster and weirder—and you want those weird ones, for sure—if we let ourselves slip into boredom regularly. Try putting your phone in your pocket, closing your laptop, and giving yourself at least a half hour of, well, nothing.
I’ve done this a few times, and am trying for regularity. It works. It helps perspective, to lower stress, and to give your brain room to start musing. Try it out.
Forging ahead with all speed is great for productivity. But productivity is beginning to seem like an end goal, rather than a means to an end.
Along with checking in with yourself, now and again, to see how you’re feeling and catch bigger emotional issues before they start affecting the rest of your life, we should check in on our creative work.
Stepping back, getting the big picture, seeing the forest . . . whatever metaphor you’d like, make sure you’re going in a direction you like and building toward a thing that matches your vision for it.