If you’re both shy and often exhausted by your day job, it’s tempting to never go outside (except Tito go back to work) and never have guests.
But sometimes a cow-orker or friend says they’re thinking about stopping by.
Do it. Tell them to come on over. You need the practice, artist person. Keeping up your ability to be engaging even when tired will help future interactions when it’s about you and your work, not just the weather and how annoying everyone is at work.
That’s an old trope, made prominent by some New Age guru types. “It’s when you feel you aren’t making any progress that you’re growing the most!” It’s a good thing to tell yourself, especially when you’re feeling down about how slowly your work is going, or how terrible it all seems, right now. Conversely, it’s good to stay a bit humble about it when you think it’s brilliant (and I hope you do, sometimes!). An even temperament is the machine that drives a steady flow.
And there’s some truth to the trope, in my experience, but I’d say it’s more true that you don’t know how well your work is progressing in the time you make it. Look back on last year’s work and you can see good stuff and not-so-good.
But we are poor judges of today’s work, yesterday’s work, even last week’s work. It’s not important how you feel about what you just made. Remind yourself that future you gets to evaluate. Present you has one job: keep making it.
When you’re dead beat, there’s zero motivation to work on a project. It happens a lot after the day job for me. There’s not a lot you can do, but even a little effort can get you to the metaphorical—or actual—drawing board.
And that’s what you want. A page a day gets you a novel in a year. A line a day gets you several paintings, or a series, or a lot further along than you would be waiting for fresh energy, a full work day, or the lightning strike of inspiration.
A piece of something every day is you putting up a lightning rod.
As related in this article about the current Tolkien exhibition at the Morgan Library & Museum in New York, J.R.R. Tolkien thought of his drawings and paintings were of a piece with his writing. He didn’t do either as afterthought. They went together.
“As he was writing the story, he would draw the scenes to help him create the textual description…and, in turn, what he was writing would inform his illustrations.”
— John T. McQuillen, Ph.D.
There’s a place for these kinds of media combos, outside places where they work together, as in animation. There are worlds to explore, still, and genius that will spring up and give us new ways to work and explore. All art is remixing.
What we want is to be different in some essential ways as we move our work along. We’re aiming to be better than we were yesterday, to change and to grow.
Actually, it’s best not to be specific about day-to-day progress or lack of it. There may be long periods where you feel like you’re getting nowhere, or even getting worse. But in the grand scheme, better than before.
But if you only ever do what you know how to do, you risk ruts and stagnation. It’s great to thoroughly explore mediums and idioms, but it’s in trying new things and new ways that we gather a storehouse of future possibility and potential.
Try new tools, new methods—your other hand if you’re not ambidextrous. Keep trying when you’re better, too. No dinosaurs. Art should be just as challenging and open as when you first started on your 100,000th piece.
On its own, change isn’t good or bad. It’s just inevitable. Time does, indeed, march on, and the bell tolls for thee. We don’t have a say in whether there will be change, in the world or in us.
But our choice is how to approach that existential reality. We can despair and give up—or become apathetic—but we can learn to value changes that are coming. There’s something different that’s going to happen. It means there is always something new to work with and incorporate.
Getting nothing done on a day off is often frustrating. It means I didn’t get enough done I was supposed to.
But deliberately doing nothing is good for your soul—metaphorically. It’s a delicious oasis amidst a chaotic project or work week. It’s a defiant middle finger to the productivity gods.
We need replenishment regularly, different states of mind than focusing on tasking, and one way to do it is to shove everything aside and try to get none of it done on purpose. Tomorrow, you’ll get to work. But just every so often, break the rules.