Three weeks ago I finished a three piece commission that I labored over for over 2 months. They are three 12 X12 acrylic paintings of the two dogs and one cat of my late Father’s wife, my dear “Ma Penny.” I was pleased with them and so was she.
Completion is a good thing. You’ve put in the time and effort and then you find yourself done! After the initial feeling of euphoria and accomplishment, however, there you are. What now? It can all be a bit disorienting. There is a favorite John Lennon saying I have “It’s better to travel hopefully than to arrive.” What next? Where was I with my own personal trajectory?
Luckily I’ve been in this spot all too many times before. Here is my recipe when you wind up in a “grey zone.”
Don’t panic. Be still.
Write in your journal
Do some cleaning/tidying in the studio.
Look for inspiration from the work of others. Pinterest is my favorite source of visual inspiration.
Do some warm-up exercises- no expectations. Scribble, splash, write lists of words that fascinate. Dedicate them to the gallery of the recycle bin or the collage box.
Eventually, the creative fairies take the bait. Like seagulls when you throw a piece of food to one, another will come until you have a flock of them around you.
I finally came up with the following work (after cleaning out my paper files & filling up my garbage can full of warm-ups…….)
I was not an English major. My heartfelt essays in high school often came back redlined, oblivious of the content. My love of reading and journaling came from the only English teacher I liked, Mrs. Geselschap from my junior year. She let us read what we wanted and often suggested great books. The journaling habit continues to this day.
I could always write decently when required, yet it was not something I chose to do, especially majoring in the natural sciences. So I’ve wondered as I have become a writer in my 60’s, with words oozing from my core, where did the ability to express myself in poetry and prose come from?
I’m a huge fan of Elizabeth Gilbert. She became instantly famous with her novel, Eat, Pray, Love but many readers don’t realize that she was a writer way before that and has published other noteworthy books. She writes a lot about creativity. If you haven’t read her book “Big Magic, Creative Living Beyond Fear” it’s a great read on the subject. Also, she has a riveting TED Talk that is well worth a watch.
A friend forwarded this essay of hers on writing. I enjoyed this so much and thought I’d share. You could substitute the words creative, artist, or musician for the word writer and it would still apply.
Sometimes people ask me for help or suggestions about how to write, or how to get published. Keeping in mind that this is all very ephemeral and personal, I will try to explain here everything that I believe about writing. I hope it is useful. It’s all I know.
I believe that – if you are serious about a life of writing, or indeed about any creative form of expression – that you should take on this work like a holy calling. I became a writer the way other people become monks or nuns. I made a vow to writing, very young. I became Bride-of-Writing. I was writing’s most devotional handmaiden. I built my entire life around writing. I didn’t know how else to do this. I didn’t know anyone who had ever become a writer. I had no, as they say, connections. I had no clues. I just began.
I have these two well-worn images tacked up on the way to my studio to remind myself not to get discouraged. Walk away, regroup, keep going one step at a time. They are also applicable to life in general……
I think it’s important to use one’s gifts and talents to the best of one’s ability in a lifetime. (If you are still not quite sure what they are, go back to what you loved doing when you were five or six years old and go from there.)
I’m a master of avoidance. Once I’m in my studio I”m ready to roll but getting there past all the distractions and excuses can be tricky business. Really, does laundry need to be folded and put away first? The “Thing” that needs to be manifested from your psyche in words, paint, ink, or whatever medium you work in is the priority. Here is a system that works well for me…
Make an appointment for an assigned studio time. The earlier in the day, the better. Your cell phone is not invited.
Enter studio, close door set timer and say to yourself “for one hour I will focus on nothing else but THIS.”
Do not answer the phone, check email, or do anything not essential to your project on your computer- NO EXCEPTIONS!
Work, work, work for one hour and then STOP. Continuing for more than this often leads to overworked material.
Take a break for at least a half an hour and do something mindless like weeding or doing the dishes. Stretch and get outside for a breath of fresh air. This acts as a reset for the creative part of the brain that’s been working hard.
Repeat steps 1-5 if needed
Most of the time I can get an amazing and satisfying amount of work done in a focused 60 minutes and I’m good for the day. If I have more to do, I find that by taking a break I come back to work reenergized with “fresh eyes”. I also use the timer method for unpleasant tasks around the house in 15 minutes increments (ex. cleaning out the fridge- ugh). You can accomplish great things in a small measured amount of time!
Being a creative type can be a lonely affair as one toils away at their desk and/or in their studio. To combat the negative, yappy little voices in my head that say “this sucks” I keep a good supply of reading material on hand to feed my “inner cheerleader” so that I may merrily stay the course. I just finished listening to a very good book that I would recommend to any person that needs to keep their inner critic at bay which is…
This 136-page gem is packed full of wise advice and anecdotes gleaned from the author’s interviews with other artists and from her own experiences. She covers such topics such as facing the blank page, dealing with criticism, jealousy, excuses, and blocks with humor and sensitivity. You’ll get advice on how to navigate through roadblocks with various exercises designed to make you stronger. Though I thoroughly enjoyed listening to the book and will listen again, I will be buying a hard copy so I may mark it up and enjoy the great illustrations by Martha Rich. Put this one in your toolbox!