That’s a Troy McClure quotation above. The relevant idea I was thinking of was that artists get things made mostly on their own, from the depths of their own personal being. You won’t find a lot of writing defining art as channeling. We tend to think humans do it from within ourselves, even if divine inspiration used to be taken for granted. Artists were still always praised or berated as creators, not the lucky or cursed vessels of other beings with the real talent.
And what’s the point of inspiration without the work needed to bring it into being? You’re the factory worker as well as the visionary—at least the vast, vast majority of artists. It’s very human to make art and still human to work hard at it. It’s ironic: a play is still a work.
Keep it up, because you get the work made, and only you can make your kind of thing.
Is it even worth it? The thing is, if it isn’t, how would I know? All I can tell is that I do—or don’t—enjoy the moment of creating something, and decide if I want to keep going. That might be all we can ask of life.
With that in mind, I’m figuring out where to go in the coming year, what plan to chart up and start, how best to make my way. The planning stage of anything is exciting, and a little unnerving, but it’s often the only way to avoid random floundering or too much time wasting. A little is good. A lot is fine, but not fulfilling. Given a choice, I’d rather work on a long hike with a spectacular view than an easy trail that circles back to the same place.
The Princess Bride is a favorite film, and lends its quotations to many instances of my life. But there’s one bit I think of when I imagine I should give up on something or get lazy.
The trio of Buttercup’s captors are sailing with their kidnapped victim. Behind them is the Man in Black, and Iñigo and Fezzik keep pointing out his inconceivable ability to gain distance on them. Vizzini, however, merely agitates “he’s no concern of ours! Sail on!” And, despite the villains needing to be defeated for story purposes, they do reach their immediate goal.
It’s not a bad strategy. Adversity can follow any endeavor. We can lose our wind, fall behind, worry we can’t make it. But never mind all that. Sail on.
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.
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.
What’s the motivation to continue? Why go to the drawing table—real or metaphorical—and start a new thing or work away on the one already begun?
This isn’t really meant to be a motivational blog. I find those inadequate and not just a little glib, also. Because when I’m looking for things to tell myself when I want to be lazy or even stop entirely, the meme equivalent of “hang in there, baby!” doesn’t cut it.
What I do do is try not to make big decisions in the moment, when I’m supposed to be using my time to make art. I trick myself. The number one motivator when I’m sulky, tired, or frustrated with the work is to tell myself I’ll just give it a few minutes and see.
Any work done is a good thing, but it’s never just a few minutes: if I start at all, I get sucked in and keep going. Tricked brain = lazy artist doing stuff. Give it a shot.
Let there be light
Let there be moon
Let there be stars and let there be you
Let there be monsters, let there be pain
Let us begin to live again
The video is a bit distracting, but I find the words a thrill, even as some make me laugh. This is a valuable, rare quality in art of any kind, and Devin is better than most at pulling it off.
It’s helpful to have a reserve of these kinds of messages, things to tell yourself that help you keep going. Discouragement is often part of making art, like frustration. There’s excitement and satisfaction, too, but those don’t need encouraging memes to return to work. Sometimes all I need is a simple nudge that it’s meaningful to be doing it.