Different Ways of Working You Try, When You Feel Stuck

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.

A Certain Je Ne Sais Quoi Yada Yada

There are times when I don’t feel like working, and times when I don’t feel like what I make is working. It’s important to remember that you aren’t necessarily the best judge of what’s “good” in your work while you’re making it. Often it takes time to be objective. We can’t often see clearly right away. We can be too attached or too dismissive.

Your scintillating prose, deft brushwork, catchy melody can look amazing or awful in the moment, and the opposite later. Or vice versa: things you thought were coming out so-so can be brilliant on re-examination.

What matters is doing things, creating art, on a regular, or better yet, daily basis. Once you have a pile of things is when you can be judgy. Don’t bother as you make it up.

The Struggle Is Real, and Frustrating, and We Keep Doing It

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.

Everything Is Distracting and Indulgent

Indulging your distractions can be a comfort, especially if anxiety or fear is creeping up on you. But since it can easily turn into an additive substitute for doing difficult things, I’m trying to balance my fears and my determination this year.

I’ll allow myself a bit of distraction, but only if I’ve started something: drawing, writing, class work. Usually, if I’ve started, my fear melts and I tend to keep working for a while.

This goes back to the notion that we need to be making amazing things. No. We just need to make things, and some will have the opportunity to become amazing. We need to give ourselves permission to do some bad work, and let time do the rest. Make some terrible drawings, call on that kid energy, when it didn’t matter a damn you didn’t know what you were doing. Make the work, balance the fear, keep moving.

The Beginning of Rebirth and Renewal, Through This Devin Townsend Song

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.

Pooped, Spent, Out of Gas

I wonder sometimes what metaphors will fall out of use in the future. Most probably will, many have come and gone in the past. We’re (we in the West) reducing reliance on fossil fuels, and by consequence, the internal combustion engine, in general. Or vice versa, depending on how you view the push-pull of problem and solution. Time to really solve the big issues can seem short, indeed, at least to my sense of existential gloom.

“Gas” as a concept will likely go the way of the mammoth, and what then of phrases like, “man, I’m out of gas,” to mean, “I’ve run out of energy.”

That one struck me as I thought about the notion that we can feel burned out creatively. That we have no fuel, sometimes. Ideas are scarce or seem boring. Motivation to work something out is zilch. Time itself is leaking out at the seams when we need to get something made.

The difference is that we aren’t just machines. Not simple ones that operate on a no-fuel, no-run equation. There’s always something in reserve. If the gauge is truly empty, we cease to be, we are ex-parrots. But no, if you’re conscious, you can do something.

I like to keep reminding myself: something small is still something done, and many small things can add up to a big thing.

Getting Frustrated Is Only Half the Battle

I spent some time trying to figure out why my Firefox extensions suddenly stopped working. I tried endless permutations of wi-fi, browser/computer restarts, until finally searching and finding I’m not alone. So now I wait for the fix.

Frustration is a common emotion in both internet work (and time-wasting) and art. The thing you’re working on doesn’t quite measure up to your vision. The idea doesn’t work as well in reality as it did in your head.

It is good to recognize that frustration is normal and we all feel it sometimes. It can be motivation to do something else, or work on the problem. But you do have to keep working on the thing, until it’s finally finished. Art bugs get worked out in process. Or not. At that finishing point, maybe the frustration is still there, but you can move on. Getting caught in endless frustration leads to nothing. Let it alone in the bug fix queue and keep moving.

Falling Down and Quick Little Victories

It’s not pretty, this idea you should try to fail. Our culture in the U.S. in particular hammers the meme they everyone should desire materialistic success. It’s pervasive. We’re urged to be ambitious and driven, that modest desires aren’t enough, that hard work is the key to success. And so, get used to failing, embrace failing! You’ll find success quicker, goes the trope.

But I think that loses sight of what made us want to try at all. Failure isn’t fun.

I agree it’s important to try again, but not just because you weren’t successful. More so because it’s both not a big deal to fail, and because success comes in bits, almost never all at once, in blinding flashes of glory. The glory is piecemeal, the gilding takes years to apply, the lightning builds on itself until it seems like it’s always been intense.

Little victories are sometimes all you need. If you love creating, what matters is that you have enough ambition to continue. What matters is that you start again if you fall. The path is still where you spend all your time. Not the pedestal or the victory stage.

More From the Dept. of Monkey Mind Deception

Basically, any inch you give will let the dopamine-hungry part of you reach for the easy hits. It’s hard to convince my tired, post-work frazzled self that finishing a creative task will yield a way more satisfying wave of the stuff, but the Internet is heroin.

I just try to keep it in mind. Maybe gradually, pushing back as steadily as you can, you’ll gain a foothold. It feels better, man.