Sometimes it’s not easy. I feel tired, cranky, wishing I could get back home to keep working on projects, or more likely, reading a ton of articles and playing Minecraft. But these things are indulgent acts of self-comfort which, while soothing, aren’t very fulfilling.
Does that make sense? Acts that punch my dopamine button are addictive, and the feeling is a habit my monkey mind wants to keep getting. They’re easy, like getting drunk But the stuff that uplifts me more deeply, that gives me an abiding sense of satisfaction and accomplishment are hard. At least, they’re hard to start.
Similarly, withdrawing into my thoughts and flying on the autopilot of well-worn routines at work is easy. Engaging and supporting people around me is hard. But the former just leads to despair and ongoing dislike of my job. The latter can sustain me through a difficult shift and beyond.
It’s just like working on your creative thing: distraction is easy and a quick path to fun, but it doesn’t nourish you. It’s often harder to start working on creative work, but it nourishes you deeply.
The more you resist the urge to stop, the easier it is to keep finding your path. And maybe that path wanders a lot, but you will feel at ease on it, more often than not.
Lots of people talk about making art. Most don’t. Most who start making it at some point quit, or just dip into it now and then. If you aren’t one of them, you’re making things to put into the world, beautiful, affecting, amazing things. New things, that haven’t been experienced before. That’s the important part. It isn’t how brilliant everyone else thinks they are. That’s nice if it happens, but if it doesn’t, you’ll still feel a connection to your being in a powerful way.
That and staying mostly off social media. The never-ending feed of friends, family, enemies, and annoying friends-of-enemies can throw you off balance and out of whack, emotionally and mentally.
But you always have your thing, remember. You can always return to your center, your place of zen. The creative well is always available, whether we think it’s bringing up anything good or not. We’re not always the best judge of what’s good in the moment. If you keep at it, there will be good stuff you can build on and savor.
I’ve found it a bit pat when people say things like, “get to work!” But it’s just the simplest way to say all the foregoing. Keep a creative habit, do your thing, and the work will be good enough, often enough, to keep moving forward and—in the most renewable ways—detoxify you.
One of the advantages of the new year being in the winter is that is encouraged slowing down. The wild outdoors, so alive and encouraging in summer, is more asleep than any other time, especially the further toward the poles you go.
It’s good for you, the artist—the maker and creator—to slow down with it. Got some resolutions to uphold? They’re probably internal to your own psyche or stuff you’ll do inside, mostly. So let winter slow down your approach and process. Roll with the season and see how much easier it is to be deliberate and steady. You’re making progress and it’s fun, eh?
When it warms up and things around you come alive, it’ll be time to make a big, arcing dive into stuff. But for now, relish the world’s encouragement to stay inside and slowly build up a habitual head of steam.
The rush of fresh year ahead of you is enough to get you started on new habits. But it doesn’t last. What matters isn’t how you start the year, it’s how you keep going when late January looms and you don’t feel like doing anything.
It can help to keep in mind that these concepts are just things other people made up. In reality, nature knows no months, it just goes through the regular cycle around the sun, perigee to apogee, and the 182.625 days in between are mirrored by the same number on the backswing around to the solstice.
Every day is a new start. No matter what, when morning comes, it’s yours to do with what you like. Start a daily habit or continue one, everything is always in motion. You might as well join in.
I’ve been working my way through Jerry Saltz’s “How to Be an Artist.” It’s full of good things to carry away, in typically acerbic Saltz-style. There’s plenty to think about—and things to do!—within his 33 rules.
One of his early rules is just to work. You have to work to be an artist. You don’t have to be great, or even very good. But if you aren’t creating. . . something, you’re not what you say you want to be. The habit is one way to keep creating, to make it just part of your routines, the stuff you just have to do every day.
And here’s to overcoming fear to become what you want to be. It’s intimidating, starting out. Its also worth the cost in time and energy.
There are a number of people I know of—and friends I know—who are either decoupling from the endless social media feeds completely, experimenting with vacations away from them, or moderating down their use and intake of the same. It’s probably healthy to do one of those things if you find you’re not doing the things you think you want to, or feeling gross after scrolling feeds. John Green, no less, is taking a year off social media completely:
He takes time to point out the good things about social media, too, but overall, wants to spend some time being better at the things he wants and needs to do.
Similarly, Wheezy Waiter (Craig Benzine) and his wife, Chyna Pate, quit the internet entirely for a month and vlogged the results:
I think even if we don’t go the radical route, there’s a lot of food for thought in these vids, and tangible utility in understanding the brain hacks of social media and how we might benefit from circumventing them.
Don’t forget that breaks are your work’s second-best friend, next to habit. Before inspiration, before beauty, before structure.
If you don’t have time to step back and consider, or time to absorb new ideas from elsewhere, there’s going to be too much intensity or not enough—something.
You can fix things later, and there’s almost always time to, after the thing is finished, but you’ll have a better base and scheme for whatever it is if you’ve given consideration to a little rest between work sessions.
It seems like it’s become fashionable to make the amount of work we spend on a project the important part. If we’ve burned the midnight oil through and finished in one go, so much the better! But my experience is that a steady pace with time off between chunks of making is better for both artist and art.
Seems simple, but rare enough for those of us who are still trying to reach master status.
About the Author
Marcus is a maker of things and thoughts. He currently resides in Portland, Oregon.