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.
A Little Push Against Your Comfort Zone Is Good, and Helps Any Expansive Goal
If you want to get better at a thing—your thing, let’s say—you have to get out of any routine where you’re comfortable. It has to hurt a little, be annoying, a bit hard. The muscle metaphor is spread around a lot regarding this principle, by any number of experts in motivation or self-improvement: no pain, no gain.
But I’m not talking about being so sore you can hardly move. I just mean a small amount of discomfort. See, I don’t think you have to push your limits all the time. Steady progress can be had with the smallest nudge against your present abilities.
What matters is that you notice. That you recognize breaking out of easy routine, or you look ahead to where you’d like to be with your thing, your work. It can be discouraging to hurt a lot, even if you know the gains will come faster. I’m for whatever keeps moving you forward, and outside of the gym, it’s perfectly fine to go slow and get better in very small steps.
It’s still getting better.
A Wonderful Video Shows a Little of the Intricate Forging and Shaping of Seth Gould’s Lock Box
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.
I’ve Been Obsessed With This Song, Since I Tend to Obsess
For the past couple days, all I can hear in my internal soundtrack is Kacey Musgraves’s “Slow Burn,” from Golden Hour.
It’s a terrific album, on many Best of 2018 lists, and for good reason. There isn’t a bad song on it. But this one in particular feels very close to me. Late bloomers and older artists can tend to get caught up in negative spirals of feeling like we aren’t getting anywhere, that our time has passed. But it’s always possible your time hasn’t yet come, at least where recognition or attention of some kind that will expose you to a new audience or group.
It’s a precious message: it’s okay to do you own thing and let whatever’s going to happen, well, happen in its own time.
The thing to concern yourself with in the moment is that you’re doing your best work and it’s filling some need within you. You need to be okay with slowly burning while you wait for the fire to spread.
Maybe Repetition Is the Way Forward When Nothing Comes to Mind
Think of it like a generic writing practice: we’re told that we just need to keep writing. If that means writing the word “solo” over and over, so be it.
But that doesn’t last long. Thoughts come. Ideas meander. You feel like writing them down. It’s the same in other media. You can only doodle or play a C7 so many times before you’ll think how to change it. And that’s moving forward.
Not Yet With the Best Ofs, there’s Still Year Left.
Getting sick is a strange sensation when it creeps up on you. I tend to run worst-case scenarios in my head, but almost always it’s not as bad as I think it might be.
Probably a lesson there for our creative lives, too. However bad we think our work is, there’s good in it, there’s effort and expression. That’s enough for a small piece of what you’re working to make and to be.
The Boring Reasons Get More Done and Further the Journey Better Than Desire and Dreams
Desire is the tool most of us use to motivate ourselves into creating, whether it’s an experience or a thing, your thing. We want something and that moves us to try to get it. But desire can be deceptive and distracting.
That’s because desire isn’t real. I mean, yes, it’s real for us inside our heads and hearts. But it isn’t reality, the stuff outside our private thoughts and feelings. Sometimes we’re lucky and what we desire syncs with what we feel. And often it doesn’t, or doesn’t quite.
Here’s when two vaguely Buddhist ideals come in handy. First, ignoring or casting off desires as unimportant can help get over things like wistfulness and hesitation. Those are roadblocks to creation. Fantasy is always easier than boring, cold reality, after all. But nothing happens if we spend too much time in dreams—cue that Dumbledore quotation that was such a key moment for me.
Second, the crazy simple Zen notion that plain, ordinary work—not noble aims, not high ideals, and not really backbreaking work, just work—gets us a little closer to the end of whatever we need to work on. And that’s the habit, see? The daily thing, a chunk chipped off of the big block. It’s enough.
Doing Is Being, and Other Vague Aphorisms Used in Place of Ordinary Explanations
There’s another approach to a daily work habit, and I thought of Yoda again—as any decent Gen X geek does—but specifically of putting a twist on a popular worn-out phrase:
Do, or do not. There is no try.
Which is kind of bullshit. Of course you have to try. Doing is a process and an observation, post-completion of a task. Once you finish a thing, you can say, “I’ve done that.” It’s logically impossible before you start. All too often, that phrase above is implemented as a substitute for any number of lazy coaching slogans, Vince Lombardi style: “everybody’s got to give 110%!” These logical impossibilities are supposed to manufacture confidence and assuage doubt. Yoda was doing this to Luke, who was too headstrong and impetuous to hear something more subtle.
But I think confidence is overrated, up front. Tricking yourself into it might be okay sometimes, say, when you’re going into a firefight (or even an actual fire). But for making art, it’ll come later. At first, all you need is to trust your own discipline. If you can get yourself to start, and then do that again tomorrow, and then again and again, day-after-day, you’re doing it. And doing is being: you’re the title you seek, artist/musician/writer/actor/dancer. Doubt is irrelevant, which is good, because there’s usually going to be a lot of it while you get started. This is normal. The work is what’s important, getting it going is the main goal. Then finishing. You should finish things.
So, the twist? I think I’d rather say, stepping in for a much wiser and shorter and older person, “there is only try. And the same again tomorrow.”