Cusk is a writer, but what she has to say here about her creative process and her growth along the path of it can apply broadly.
Just a periodic reminder and pep talk, here, to say you can get started on your thing at any time without judgment or expectation. Your art is your own, and starting work is the hardest bit. Once you’re going, it gets easier.
Give it a solid five minutes, that’s all. Anyone can do five minutes on a project. The trick is that five minutes is hard to cut off. Once you’re even a little into the work, you can often keep at it for an hour.
But any creation is good. The important thing is to start.
I did it again, left the blog too long and it was a little too late to post something yesterday. But it’s not that big a deal, I just resolve to be better in the future. Sometimes we miss.
I have a tendency to consider how much I haven’t done, rather than the opposite. But the only thing I think matters is what gets made. It doesn’t matter later what didn’t happen.
Optimist or pessimist, viewing how full my creative glass is misses the point most of the time. in the end, we only have this moment to make things and a possibility of making more in the future. What has passed can’t be re-lived. Recognizing I messed up a goal of mine—in this case daily blogging—is fine, as long as I leave it there and try again.
Humans are social creatures. We have advanced knowledge and achievement collectively by being able to interact. Humans don’t do well in solitary confinement, and we need some measure of contact with others to stay healthy and sane. To this end, we have parties.
Long story short: we had a party tonight. Friends came, some were shy, they engaged in the end and made a new experience for everyone by doing so.
Parties exist to lubricate networking and enhance acquaintanceship. They’re the place to let loose and freely express yourself. Hm. Sound familiar?
Well, of course, these metaphors applied to creation are what we expect to find when we work on projects, when we practice our craft. But you can’t force it. The stuff happens or it doesn’t. The piece comes together or you spend the evening in the corner watching the tv. The cool thing is, there’s always another party. And another day to work on a thing. Don’t sweat it if it doesn’t happen the first time.
There are a many small things that keep me from doing things i want—or in some cases, need—to do. One is looking foolish to others, and I’ve overcome that in large part. Another is worrying I’m not adequate to the task. And that one’s a bit harder to deal with.
Feeling “not good enough,” or imposter syndrome, or any other inferiority fear is common, and for artists it seems to afflict even masters. There’s something to be said for humility. There’s also failing to start or finish projects because of this fear, and that won’t do.
What’s seemed to help me is to not fight the fear when it comes. But also not to immediately distract myself with something else it avoid it. Just exist with it for a bit and tell myself it’s okay to fail. It’s okay to try. What matters is that a thing is brought into the world, not that it’s great. Usually I can start, at that point.
In the above photo, my friend, Chris, is playing a little Star Wars Battle Pod. Video games are a prime source these days for feeling accomplished—provided we have some sense of progression in skills and scores.
Making art has it built in. I just finished editing the 100th episode of my show (plug: available on Tunes and at itsjustcalledtwobrothers.com) and it seems impossible we produced even this simple podcast for a hundred straight weeks. But most of the things we make come embedded with some sense of accomplishment. This makes us proud, confident, and capable.
It can also make us anxious, wondering if we can pull off a thing in the future, thinking we’re hacks, and that what we’ve made isn’t as good as the stuff we admire. The only solid advice I’ve taken to heart that seems to work for getting past too much of either good or bad feelings is to eschew both extremes and start working on the next thing.
It’s a Zen or Taoist approach, to be sure. It’s nice to feel the good things. But if we indulge in them, it stops the work or leads us to second guessing ourselves. Humility is helpful. If we care less that the things we made aren’t pleasing everyone, we can keep moving to the next piece. And when we feel proud of the things we’ve made, it’s better if we simply move on sooner rather than later and let that feeling motivate us to make more.
Sometimes is failure. Sometimes is success. Usually more the former than the latter, but such is creation, maybe?
But one success you can count on is doing the work. Skipping out a day here and there is sometimes just life intervening in your best laid plans. But when we get lazy, hoo boy. Guilt and depression are my punishments, whatever my justifications.
But work now is a gift to future me. And motivation to push past anxiety and get something worked on is easier if I can remember how it feels to not do it. We remind ourselves what it felt like the last time we neglected the work.
On especially rough days, we can begin the Rule of 5: tricking monkey mind by promising we’ll just do 5 minutes on a project. The trick is that it’s never just 5 minutes, you feel the familiar pull of creation and the bliss of flow just a short reach away. Bam, you’re making again.
That’s him, lying in wait for an unsuspecting leg to pass by. He’s a curious boy, natural for a cat, of course.
But he does something with his curiosity. It’s easy for us to have whims, to imagine just checking something out on impulse, and sometimes it’s the real world around us, but now and then it’s a creative idea. Easy to imagine doing it, harder to get to work.
But for the cat, everything is potentially play. The closet seems mysterious when someone opens it unexpectedly, and even though he’s been in there before, he starts a game of it: the tiny room is rife with possibility. There could be anything in there, you never know. It’s brave to walk in and explore it, somehow.
Try approaching that creative curiosity the same way. It’s a game, it’s mysterious. Maybe others think it’s just a piece of paper. For you, it could be anything.
Above is my contribution to Inktober for yesterday. It brought back the genuine pleasure of drawing from reference, near to drawing from life, which itself is near and dear to my heart, close to the core of my artistic center. Because even though I’m not so much an observational painter in general, it’s where I learned how it feels to find the zen place that envelops you in a stasis field of no time and facilitates the process.
This is very cool. Because once you know how to drop into that sensation, you can get back to it easier the more you practice it.
The downside is that you know when you aren’t there. That’s a bit of what’s happened with the daily blog: I kept putting it off until it was past bedtime and therefore easy to put aside.
So. Here’s a renewal marker. It’s easier to keep going than to restart.
Work upside down, work with your left hand, or your right if you’re a lefty—with your feet if ambidextrous—with your whole face.
Try things. Work outside. In a window. On the floor. Do it differently. Even if you still think you aren’t going anywhere with this weirdness, you are. Because you’re still working, and you can’t stop for long.