If you’re coming to the end of NaNoWriMo or any other herculean creative work this month, a big hug and kiss to you! (From Ryan Gosling, of course.)
If you’re coming to the end of NaNoWriMo or any other herculean creative work this month, a big hug and kiss to you! (From Ryan Gosling, of course.)
I double-guessed my creative impulse for far too many years. I’ve always been “crafty”; always decorated the edges of my school notes with complex designs that were far more interesting than what I was writing down. I studied art, particularly ceramics, all the way through high school, but was told quite seriously at the age of 15 that creativity was something that I would “grow out of” and so being a good girl I shelved it away and studied to become a lawyer. (That was an absolute disaster — its own saga.)
But now, 25 years after that unhelpful advice, I find myself struggling back towards that creativity — back towards a creative life, a life in which I take my creativity seriously, in which I listen to it and honor its impulses. This is how I found Studio Mothers — looking for someone who could help me with this re-focusing while homeschooling three energetic little boys! I found the advice to do something creative every day, even if it’s just jotting down an idea on an index card, to be incredibly helpful and inspirational. I find it very hard to find and honor my creative impulse and this is a way of acknowledging this part of my life on a daily basis.
I often liken my creativity to listening for a faint sound of music on a windswept beach. I need to turn carefully to hear the thread of sound and to follow it. I’ve found that the second I try to force something — to do what I “should” — the sound dries up and I have to start at the beginning again.
Some people are born with the equivalent of full-blown marching bands: they’ve always known what they wanted to do and have never doubted their calling or their path. For the rest of us, particularly those of us who have had our creative leanings deliberately discouraged, the process is a little more tenuous. I’d like to add that that discouragement isn’t necessarily cruel. It’s simply that most people don’t understand how a living can be made from artistic pursuits, and so assume it can’t be done and try to discourage the budding artist “for their own good.”
Leonie Dawson has a wonderful, and quite different, way of describing the creative process. She calls it Riding the Wild Donkey. Actually, being Leonie, she calls it “Riding Ze Wild Donkey” and it’s a much more robust way of framing the issue than “Listening for the Windsong of the Universe.”
Her take is that a Wild Donkey of an idea shows up in your paddock and you jump on and ride that thing until it’s done. She has periods of intense creativity and yeehahs her way through until the project is finished, then has periods of recuperation. She calls the stuff she’s tried to do slowly “Mount Project” as it’s piled up into a heap on her desk and slowly gets bigger.
I think that the key to this approach is that you just go at it until it’s done. This may well work better with e-books and courses than with 15-foot canvases or epic photography series. In those cases, you have to find a greater depth of stamina and commitment to see the project through. Or, alternatively, you may need to find some way of chunking the project down so that you can throw yourself at each part with mad abandon.
This approach also has echoes of The Cult of Done Manifesto, which is, as it sounds, about finishing work. I don’t agree with all of it. Number 5, for example: “Banish procrastination. If you wait more than a week to get an idea done, abandon it.” That wouldn’t work for me. I tend to pick things up, do them for a bit, put them down again, then pick up something else. Eventually, I work my way back around to something that I put down and finally finish it. This is where the bit about honoring my creativity comes in. The urge is to finish at all costs, but I just don’t work like that and I need to trust in my process — that I *will* circle back around to those pots and finish them; but right now I’m sticking seashells to my collage (isn’t acrylic medium AMAZING?!).
I’ve also found it unbelievably annoying that the second I try to monetize my art, the creative impulse just dries up completely. I have an Etsy shop that has held the same scarves for the last year. I have a studio FULL of art that I keep putting off photographing and popping up for sale. I have a wide selection of rather cute ceramic dishes (if I do say so myself!) that have been waiting for 4 months to have their bottoms waxed and to be dipped in clear glaze and given their final firing.
I’m lucky in that my family is not dependent on my ability to make money from what I love. I have the opportunity to experiment widely both within and across genres and media. In the last year I have experimented with photography, stamp carving, reduction lino printing, ceramics, acrylic and watercolor painting, needle felting, and collage. In the past I have also experimented with papier-mâché, mosaics, garden design, acid etching, dying, and sewing.
Without a supportive partner, I’d currently be working as a librarian and checking out craft books from the library on the weekends! When I was working fulltime, I had absolutely no time or energy left for my art. Homeschooling has its own set of challenges, but I can set the boys up with paints and paper and they can splosh away while I try to get some painting or glazing done.
Actually, while I have my librarian’s hat on, I can highly recommend the book “Creating a Life Worth Living” by Carol Lloyd. It’s not a quick read, but the book is worth dipping into and out of as Lloyd covers a huge number of the issues to do with both having a creative life and paying the bills at the same time.
She’s also a great believer in daily creativity — whatever that may mean to you. I find Morning Pages a bit daunting these days, but can always find time to do a Zentangle. I also find needle-felting in the evenings while listening to documentaries (I MUST get into podcasts!) to be both relaxing and a good way to express my creativity. It’s turning to winter here in Australia and so I suspect that I will circle back around to my knitting needles and start again on the Bolero I put down last October.
Its difficult to trust in this process — to accept that its not an efficient way to get art done, but that it’s *my* way to get art done and if I don’t honor it, the desire to make art at all just dries up completely.
I’d be very interested to hear of your approaches to honoring your creativity. Do you work slowly or do you get things done fast in a fury of inspiration? Does getting paid for your art change the way you approach it? If you get paid for your art, do you approach paid and unpaid work differently? If you are a mother, how does caring for your family impact on your ability to honor your creativity? If you work, what affect does that have? We all have so many roles to play that it can sometimes be difficult to honor our creativity and still get everything else done! I’d love to hear how you do it!
The quilt is finished! Phew!
And Toots is very happy.
crossposting from musings in mayhem
Why is it even when I have several projects I could be working on, narrowed to two that I am working on (read procrastinating) that I generally have at least part of my writer’s eye on The Next Big Thing?
This is also true in the home improvement arena, you should see what I’ve come up with for the addition now that we are paying a mortgage and have a yard of our own rather than renting a condo.
I mean I could also be focusing on getting those wonderfully folded piles from last week into dressers before starting this week’s loads. But I’m already a day late anyway, and have no earthly idea how it is that I wash the same five outfits per family member twice a week and there are still piles of folded and sorted laundry sitting from two weeks ago.
I’m planning next spring’s gardens while the plots are currently filled and continuing to fill with weeds. I really need to buy more sand to add to my clay soil which needs to be turned and covered, with compost, too, before I start plotting next year.
I am also dreaming baby names, when I know, logistics and physicality have set in stone that C is the last of my progeny. I am thinking of new baby names instead of being present with the three kids I have now.
I can use the baby names for characters, but that is the only technical resolve I have for this dilemma I have that the next thing is better than the present. It’s sparklier, it’s as tempting as a dessert sitting on the counter while I’m preparing dinner.
Something about the new, the imagined, the dreamed is much easier because I can keep my hands clean thinking about it while the dirty work of the present is a constant.
Maybe I just have trouble with finishing, with letting go, with saying finally, for the last time, that this version of the poem, the children’s novel, the article is good enough just the way it is.
I’m sure there is a psychological disorder with a big fancy name for this. It has conveniently slipped my mind.
I’ve been so wrapped up in the idea that I need to finish my manuscript, that the feeling has resulted in much the same as shooting one’s self in the foot, can’t win for trying, or a hundred other clichés. So when I saw the opportunity from Elizabeth Beck to be a part of Do Not Leave Unattended! by Judy Beckett of run4istrun.blogspot.com, I jumped at it.
It reminded me of last spring to summer when I discovered Kerri Smith’s Wreck this Journal. I was so stuck, I hadn’t worked on the manuscript since about three to four years prior, even though it had never left my mind. I had let life get in the way of art, and I needed to find a way back. I discovered the way back to art through Wreck. It has everything to do with being able to be free about it, make it messy, have fun with it and play. Because of that little tome and my use of it, I was able to return to the manuscript with a renewed sense of fun and inspiration about it. It didn’t matter if I made it work, what mattered was that I was writing about kids and what they go through in sixth grade, and that even if some of it is hard, it’s also fun to be a kid, have a family who loves you, even when they’re a pain, have friends who stick by you, even if you’re not exactly sure why, and that no matter who you are, you can do something great, maybe even change the world a little.
So, now that I really am right at the end of the ‘first’ draft (which has already been through practically word-by-word edits), like two to three scenes from the end, I find myself trying to make it work, or avoiding doing so, or whatever so that I won’t finish. I took a moment to breath, to get messy, to create something completely different and let it go out into the universe, especially not perfect. Here is the result:
I wanted to feel like a kid, so I played with markers, I wanted the sense of youth and fun and something new and had been thinking a lot about spring because it’s spring. On my dog walks and in my gardening, I’ve been noticing lots of itty bitty wildflowers, like confetti all over my lawn and around the public areas in my subdivision. I thought about them being fairy footprints left behind after a night of dancing. I wrote a haiku. Then I free wrote in the journal about spring, how it’s about change and new and color…
So it looks like a kid did it, and I’m glad. I needed to feel more like a kid to finish writing about one. And I put a lot more productive hours into my manuscript the week i did this page. Letting go and playing in creativity really can set you free.
Who wants to be next?
Good news! Friday, I worked out a kink of a catalyst in an earlier chapter of the manuscript that I had conveniently skipped in my attempt to write the book chronologically. I had prior plans that day that had been cancelled, so as I showered, the ideas actually flowed with the water. My self-imposed pressure to write was off. It felt good to not just get that part out of the way, but to really feel inspired and write an idea into it I wanted to get across, besides get from point M to point Q. I’m really enjoying third-tier characters’ personalities these days, and truly believe I only have about 3-5 more good sit-downs to complete the plot line.
In the meantime, S’s room is slowly coming together. It had to come apart further before it could come together. I am staying away from it by weekdays, so I am not thoroughly frustrated with the one-step-forward-half-a step-back progress. This Saturday morning, my hope was to finish it so that I can move the monster of his bed and the mess of the bookcase to opposite walls. Pulling ye olde switcheroo. But I didn’t. I lounged. I enjoyed my coffee, my kids, and some low-pressure time. Then I drove out in the beautiful weather and went to my salon appointment. How much shorter that excursion is without the coloring time! Snip-snippity-snip, and a fifth of the previous visits’ price, then out the door. We took a family excursion to the giant home store and bought a ladder that was on sale.
In the afternoon, we gathered all but the teen, already off doing his own thing with his friends, and MIL was ready for a rest. We had a leisurely dog stroll through the neighborhood. S was in fine form with his very interesting questions, very loud. We walked by our neighbor who taught me how to make authentic Chinese fried rice, and he asked, after our chat, “Um, I forget. Are you Japanese or Chinese?” He has an obsession with Japan because of his obsession with Godzilla. We walked by his brother K’s best friend’s house, whose parents were also outside doing yard work, and he said as we walked away, “I always wondered why K2 wasn’t like African Black. Then I saw his father was married to a white woman. Since African-Americans got their Civil Rights in the sixties, is it legal?” I reminded him of the Supreme Court case of Loving v Virginia, which federally stopped states from prohibiting intermarriages between blacks and whites. Another obsession of his is the Civil Rights Movement. I think it’s hard for him to believe that any one group of people had that much power over another group. He’s been trying to wrap his brain around the concept since it was first pointed out to him in school while studying Martin Luther King, Jr., in kindergarten. I believe he’s asking perfectly innocent questions but my husband and older son think he sounds racist when he’s asking the things he asks. To me, I think he’s just trying to figure out the world in a concrete manner. Human relations are not a very concrete concept. This boy is just doing some digging.
Also on the schedule for the weekend was weeding and tilling the rest of the garden plots, doing something about the sprouts of crabgrass that have cropped up everywhere all winter. But Sunday was spent pruning instead. S’s room was put somewhat on hold for outside work, but I motivated him to do some of it on his own with the bribe of a new Calvin and Hobbes collection. I guess we have week five to complete the excavation of his room next week. The weather is supposed to chill down again, so I might actually return to the excavation site.
The February Finish-a-thon has been a great tool for all of us to realize where we fit in setting ourselves deadlines, what project we’re working on, how far we have to go, and whether can we finish it in a certain time frame.
For me, it turned my otherwise small penchant for analysis of why I’m not writing as much as I set out to into a life’s purpose in a public forum. I spent more energy on thinking about not writing than I spent on writing my manuscript. In the meantime, and it took 21 days of this, to realize that I was actually keeping the same pace I had been keeping on the manuscript since I re-opened it last spring: exactly the same pace. The six weeks around the holidays were taken up with the holidays and everyone in the house being very ill in long phases, including me. Otherwise, I have written a small burst of between three to six pages on one day per week, while Baby C naps in the morning, since the beginning. Those naps are rare these days.
There are reasons for this, not excuses. I am incredibly sleep deprived, and can barely function on normal household stuff, let alone have a clear thought for continuity in a novel. I am now on the older baby chase besides her usual kicking keyboard cuteness. She motors everywhere and I follow. We don’t have baby gates up or cabinet locks on, etc. I am all for letting her learn her world. The rest of the world doesn’t have baby gates, why should I here, except it would make my life easier in getting basics done. I am vigilant, and how will she learn to cope on her own, if she doesn’t understand how to get around safely. She needs to learn the stairs, so we teach her, when she wants. She wants to now, so there I am, following the climber up, and keeping her from repelling to her doom. I hold her hand while she scoots down on her butt. We do this over and over, and she laughs and learns a little more each time. The dog and cat enjoy it, too. We’re having a blast.
In the meantime, the little nagging voice in the back of my head tells me I’m making excuses to go fly kites, tend the baby, and bake cookies to avoid the writing. Once, it was a huge voice in the front of my head that told me who the hell do I think I am to write? Who wants to hear what I have to say? The voice shrinks and fades into the background, because, yes I am almost done with this novel. Now it’s just the voice that still wants a voice as I gain my own. During Feb-Fin, I let it out and let it inhale deeply in order to spout through my all my public analysis of not writing. Well, it’s time to show that voice the back door. I won’t give it anymore fanfare.
I will escort it back to where it belongs, as the distant echo in the back of my head. I will get on with writing, my little bit as I can. I will tend the baby, bake cookies, and fly kites. I will enjoy my kids, my husband and dare I say, the housework. I will do so without the dread that the time I am doing something else, or better yet, nothing at all, is time not writing. If my ideas percolate away from the keyboard, so be it. They will form better in the single two to three hours I really have to hobble all those ideas together.
As for the writing itself, I have blogged before that I can’t set a schedule for it. That’s just an axe at the throat of my writing. I can set a maybe schedule, but have to be realistic that if I “set aside” three mornings a week, really only one will serve for the possibility. John Updike may have written six days a week, but that’s just not how my muse works. Mine sprints and recoups. She’s always been like that to an extent. She’s never been a marathoner. Since motherhood, it’s her modus operandi. Regardless of my whining online about not writing, I really have been pretty good about recognizing this pace and letting the writing happen in its own time, and Baby C’s.