As found here. Happy Friday.
The Canadian painter Robert Genn writes a terrific, twice-weekly newsletter. While Genn writes primarily about painting, his thoughts apply to any creative pursuit, including writing. The gem below, which looks at ways to stop wasting time in the abyss of decision-making, is reprinted by permission.
Choreographer Twyla Tharp’s The Creative Habit describes her morning routine of rising early and going through the same morning rituals; same coffee, same bun. She puts on the same leotards, goes down the same elevator to the same street corner, puts her same arm up in the air and gets into the first cab that comes along.
By the time she gets to the studio she has made no significant decisions. Stepping out onto the dance floor, her dancers await. It’s eight in the morning and her first decision is yet to come. It will be a creative one.
We painters also need to save our decision-making for things of importance. “Don’t,” as they say, “sweat the small stuff.” I figure an average 11″ x 14″ uses up several hundred thousand decisions. Compound that over a day of painting and it’s in the millions. Even the small decisions in a painting, some of them so micro and seemingly insignificant, are the building blocks of what we are to become.
Fact is, some lives are so filled with impedimentary drama and ancillary decision-making that there is little time left over for work.
While I sympathize with those who find it difficult to eliminate some workaday decisions, the idea is to step ASAP into the happy hunting ground. Here are a few ideas:
PS: “We cannot directly choose our circumstances, but we can choose our thoughts, and so indirectly, yet surely, we shape our circumstances.” (self-help pioneer James Allen)
Esoterica: The cosmetics tycoon and women’s advocate Mary Kay Ash said, “There are three types of people: those who make things happen, those who watch things happen and those who wonder what happened… You can decide which type of person you want to be.” We artists, in particular, need to be among those who make things happen. Self-starting, self-motivating and self-critical, we focus our energy on thought, planning, observation, quality control and production. Difficult decisions–lots of them–are both the joy and the burden of creative folks. “Those who avoid the tough choices of life,” said author Robert Brault, “live a life they never chose.”
Don’t miss the treasure trove of Genn’s letters here.
During August, I’ll be sharing a few choice tidbits from the archives. Enjoy!
Warning. This post contains an unusually intense degree of navel-gazing and otherwise raving on and on about one’s home library, books, and related minutiae. If you find such material nauseating, turn away now.
Recently, I posted this on Facebook:
I’m staging a serious overhaul of the home library/office today, with Mom’s help. The question is — and please don’t cringe, fellow bibliophiles — shelve the books by author last name, or by jacket color? I know, I know….but I peruse and admire many design blogs and must admit that books shelved by color look fabulous. Although I’m not sure I can bring myself to mix genres…..help!
I was amused by the considerable volume of responses. People feel VERY strongly about how to organize their books — as well they should. This is serious business, people!
When I first heard of organizing books by color, I thought the premise was among the most ridiculous things I’d ever heard of. Not to mention sacrilegious. The whole idea sounded like “book as prop,” in the way that a professional decorator might buy small decorative things for a client’s room simply because they look nice against the wallpaper; nothing whatsoever to do with the item’s meaning or symbolism or its emotional value to the owner. Just “stuff.” Books, of course, are not “stuff.” Ew.
But over time, I came across more instances of books organized by color that really looked beautiful. Not just a stack of three yellow books next to a yellow vase, but shelves organized wholesale by color. Still, how would you ever find anything if you didn’t organize all of your books by genre and then by author last name?
When we moved into our new home, I was thrilled to unpack my books and various possessions into our new library. I very vaguely segregated the books by nonfiction and fiction, intending to properly sort out the shelves, alphabetize my collection, and arrange all of my non-book items in the near future. Eight months later, the time finally arrived. My mother had given me a birthday coupon for a day’s worth of organizational help (and, most importantly, moral support) so I booked my sitter for an extra day, and on Friday my mother and I tackled the library. (It seemed indulgent to pay for babysitting in order to overhaul my library/home office, but considering that my mother and I worked all day long on Friday, and then I spent the better part of the weekend finishing the job myself, I know that this never would have happened if I hadn’t paid for the extra help.)
So, alphabet or color? I was intrigued by the color principle, and I had to try it. (Obviously, by the photo I ran above, there isn’t much question about which way I went.) I can’t believe HOW LONG it took to sort all the books, but we did it. (All those “taupe” books — are they gray? Are they brown? Are they off-white?) It was a LOT of fun, I have to admit. And I came to realize fairly early on that finding a specific book was not going to be a problem. But more on that later.
I also went through ever drawer and bin, sorting out all of my office supplies. I weeded out tons of stuff I don’t need or want. I filed every stack of paper. I found (or created) logical homes for all those little things that you pick up and say “what do I do with THIS?”
I now have a desk that I can actually use! I paid bills sitting at the desk last night, and everything I needed was in arm’s reach. My art supplies are organized in the hall closet around the corner, as there just isn’t room for everything in one place. But it all works.
The basic footprint of the room hasn’t changed (months ago, we tried many different arrangements of the furniture, but nothing else worked). I did change out a yucky fiberboard bookshelf for a marginally better, longer bookshelf made by my ex-husband. (No, you can’t have it back!) Please ignore the hospital-style table on wheels (it’s one of the most practical things I own, and I use it all the time).
Desk corner before:
Desk corner after:
Considering that relatively little actually changed, aside from clearing out all the clutter, I can’t entirely explain the magic that this room now holds. I FREAKING LOVE IT. I want to be in here all the time. Yes, I’m in here now, typing on my laptop at my desk. I swear, it’s as if Mr. Roy G. Biv turned the room into a bowl of M&M’s. Very cozy at night, too:
So here’s my case for organizing books by color. In the first “after” photo above, fiction comprises the vertical shelf on the far right and the white shelf up the middle. That’s not really so many books. If I’m looking for a particular title, it’s not going to be hard to find even if I can’t remember the color of its spine. This is the only place I have adult fiction aside from my “to read” shelf on the other wall. The books to the left in the same photo are general nonfiction (biography, autobiography, and history). Again, these are mixed together, but it’s not a lot of shelf space for me to peruse if I need something. The fifth shelf is poetry.
On the other wall, books are broken down by genre. I have a shelf for editorial reference, a shelf for art reference, a shelf for books about writing, a shelf for books about creativity, a shelf for parenting, a shelf for self-help & metaphysical (yes, I have that many self-help and metaphysical books). There’s another shelf of semi-mixed nonfiction; a little chunk of current political books, a chunk of animal-related training books, a chunk of sports-related books, a section for gardening. Then there is the to-read shelf, as well a short fiction and plays. And so on.
For each of these subsections, I organized books by color and shape, depending on what looked best for each shelf. Again, I’m not going to have trouble finding anything because I know what each subsection is, and no single subsection is more than a shelf long.
So, now that I’ve dealt with the question of “how will you find anything?” I’ll get to why I think this is such a fabulous way to organize your books. First, a book is so much more than words on a page, or the author’s position in an alphabet. A book is a piece of art — even an old Bantam mass-market paperback — and to my mind, organizing books this way is something that honors each book as art. Positioning each book on a shelf in a way that maximizes its beauty (almost as “paint”) rather than by the name of the person who wrote it seems to me a more potent way to celebrate the beauty of a personal library. The shelves are pleasing and peaceful, without losing the vaguely chaotic and cozy look that is inherent in any library. The color progression is so eye-catching that I think it actually calls more attention to the books, not less — without dominating. What do you think?
The downside to having a dream library/work environment is this: There is pretty much no excuse left on the planet for not coming up with something brilliantly creative. I seem to have run out of excuses. And I DID just use an entire weekend’s worth of “free” moments to finish the room. Time to get to back to the writing 🙂
What do you think?
During August, I’ll be sharing a few choice tidbits from the archives. Enjoy!
Making space for your creative work is almost as important as making time for your creative work. When you have a work space that feels inviting and inspiring — even if it’s just the corner of a room — turning to your creative work feels like a delightful retreat, rather than just another item on your endless “to-do” list. We also know that one way to dispel resistance is to shape your environment to support your goals. The easier it is to get at your work and get down to business, the more likely you’ll be to actually follow through.
In her fabulous book The Creative Habit, Twyla Tharp notes: “To get the creative habit, you need a working environment that’s habit-forming.” When you have a space that calls to you, it’s easier to go there regularly. Regularity, as Tharp points out throughout her book (as the title would suggest), is the heart of creative output.
We all know Virginia Woolf’s famous dictum that “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.” Woolf was speaking about the feminist need for independence in order to create. Most of us probably feel comparatively liberated, despite the fact that we have children and Woolf did not — but her point is well taken.
How can you change your space in order to better support your creative work? Many of us don’t have the luxury of our own room or even the corner of a room to call our own. We take over the dining table when the muse strikes and then have to dismantle the work area when it’s time to eat. If this is the case for you, brainstorm ways to make this process as user-friendly as possible.
It’s also possible that there IS a nook or cranny lurking in your home that you could claim for yourself with a bit of re-thinking. Bring your creative skills to finding a space in your home that helps you return to your creative, authentic self as seamlessly as possible. And if you’re fortunate enough to have your own space, you might spend a bit of time this month editing out anything in this space that doesn’t work for you anymore. Clean it up, organize, bring in a few fresh visuals that speak to you. Make it yours. Then, dig in.
What works for you?