Oct 262010

Acceptance. In simple terms, accept who you are. If you are an artist, let yourself be an artist. People try to force you to “grow up,” to give up your dreams, to do whatever it is they think you should be doing while your inner artist is screaming. Don’t let people tell you that your dreams are wrong, bad, not worth pursuing. In the end, it’s your life and your happiness that’s at stake. Do, be, create and surround yourself with supportive people.

I’ve had to walk away from more than one situation and friendship because I was being told what to do with my life, but there’s another aspect to this. I’ve often tried to be what I’m not. Writing what I thought people wanted to read, forcing myself to start projects for the sole purpose of approval when it wasn’t what I wanted to be doing. Doing things with my life that other people wanted me to do. It’s important to write and write what you’re itching to write. Placate the artist and it will let you write other things, like blog entries for example.

Back to simple. Write because you want to and what you want to. Allow yourself to suck. Don’t base your success on approval from others. Don’t base your success on a paycheck, size of a paycheck, or lack of a paycheck. Create and be rewarded by creating. If you’re in this to get rich, turn back now.

Lots of talk about movement and exercise. I agree that movement, getting out there and walking, running, horseback riding, and the like can help to break those blocks, solve plot problems, and be inspirational. I’ve come up with a storyline or two and solved a plot problem while walking, but I hadn’t thought much about it. The weather here doesn’t always lend to walking and being comfortable enough to free the mind. Sweating profusely and shivering uncontrollably do not do much for thinking anything other than, “Hot, hot, hot!” or “I’m turning into a momcicle!” I have to look for other ways to exercise or other places to walk. Maybe I’ll become a mall walker, but only if I can convince myself I have the self-control to not spend money while I’m there.

Oct 192010

Dangers of the Trail and Workaholism presented more information on blocks and how we use them. Food, alcohol, drugs, work can all be used to further block ourselves. I can relate to using food and work as “excuses” or “blocks” to writing. More than once I have turned to food trying to escape from creation. Junk food clogs the brain, makes the gears turn more slowly if not stop altogether. Work is an easy escape. There’s always more work to do and if you can’t find any, a creative person can easily invent more.

Why make these excuses or use these blocks? As petty and insane as it sounds, if I actually create something I might have to show someone and face possible rejection or ridicule. While I know I can’t please everyone, one rejection holds more weight than ten approvals. It’s something many creatives suffer from. I know I’m not alone, but it feels very lonely. It’s hard not to take rejection personally, especially at first.

Creative droughts were discussed this week. I’ve gone through my fair share and I completely agree with the author that they do end. If you do nothing during the drought, it does take longer for the ideas to flow again like water.

Some suggestions to keep going –

  • like The Artist’s Way suggests, do your morning pages (brain dump) every day. Keep writing something.
  • Write something completely different. If you write horror books, write a children’s tale. Allow it to suck.
  • Do something else creative: paint, draw, take photos.
  • Partake of other’s creativity: visit an art museum, read a book, watch an indie movie, go to a musical/opera/play, find a new and interesting indie musician online.
  • Talk to another creative. They often have stories about their own droughts and how they moved on.

Competition was another topic for the week. I’ve watched more than one friend, associate, acquaintance fly by me at the speed of light accomplishing more in a short period of time than I have in years. I’ve been jealous more times than I care to admit. That jealousy has caused me to waste more time and energy causing me to delay my own goals. Jealousy can be crippling and isn’t worth wasting time over. It’s easy to say, “Be happy for them and get back to your own work,” but actually doing it can be hard. When you start to get jealous, use that emotion to egg you on instead of letting it block you. “If they can do it, so can I!”  Again, easier said than done, but worth a try.

Oct 122010

The difference between a blocked artist and a lazy artist was first up this week in The Artist’s Way. Lazy is pretty self-explanatory, but a blocked artist actually isn’t lazy. Just because an artist is blocked doesn’t mean they aren’t expending tons of energy on fear, self-loathing, self-doubt, regret, jealousy, and so on. I’ve personally spent a large amount of time on all of the above, so I guess I can stop calling myself lazy now.

Creative U-Turns was another thing I could relate to this week. A creative u-turn is when artists sabotage themselves. As an example, I thought I had an agent for a time. After discussing what this agent was doing, several colleagues told me I was probably being set up for a scam and to walk away. I talked to the agent and he was indeed setting me up the way they described and I ran away with my tail tucked between my legs. I was hurt. I felt used and unworthy because I didn’t recognize the signs.

A couple of weeks later, an opportunity practically fell in my lap. Instead of jumping on it, I decided to continue to brood and lick my wounds. I wasn’t sure I could trust anyone and I wasn’t sure I trusted myself anymore. Instead of doing a little research to find out if the deal was legit, I turned it down. I scoffed at the idea. Turns out it was legit, of course.

Another example, a short story I wrote was offered publication if I made a few changes. I didn’t even contact them back. I was afraid, but I have no idea why. Afraid of success? I don’t really think so. I think I was more afraid that this one editor was insane and would be the only person in the world to actually like my piece. I remember having a vision of the magazine collapsing after publishing my piece because everyone hated it that much. As if I really had that much power.

The next section, Blasting Through Blocks, was designed to help to identify anger, resentments, and grudges. For some people, simply identifying problems can lead to resolution. When you actively write down these resentments, they can instantly seem childish, unwarranted, and silly.

Oct 052010

Time is something I struggle with every day. People that are exceptionally productive are a mystery to me and sometimes I believe they’re like Bigfoot; either rarely sighted or completely exaggerated. Mourning the lost time or time that I did not spend being creative when I should have can be devastating, distracting, and counterproductive.

I often feel like the years are slipping away and my goals get further and further out of reach. It’s like the dream where you’re running for the exit and it keeps getting further away no matter how long and hard you run. The truth of the matter is, I didn’t run long and hard. I took a nap in the middle of the hall. That nap cost me time that I can never get back and it’s hard to forgive myself for that.

In the text is the question, “Do you know how old I’ll be by the time I learn to play the piano?” and the answer given is, “The same age you will be if you don’t.” This is rather poignant. There’s really no reason to put off doing something creative. Neither age nor time constraints are a good excuse for putting off your dreams until a tomorrow that never comes. While I still argue the money factor to a degree, I do agree money is not usually a valid excuse either.

While this week was about time, I didn’t feel like the text really helped to identify immediate changes I could make like the introduction suggested. The tasks at the end of the week also didn’t feel like they were aimed at dealing with time. It’s a difficult subject and one that cannot be solved formulaically for every person, but some ideas or suggestions or time saving devices or time finding devices would have been a nice addition to this section.

I realize the check-ins have become more like a review of the section and my personal thoughts about what I learned rather than following the outline provided in The Artist’s Way, but I hope they are more useful. Reading about how many days I did my Brain Dump/Morning Pages and what I did for my Artist’s Date seemed to be boring and uninformative.

Sep 282010

The first section was about listening, but what I found interesting in the text was the difference between “thinking something up” and “getting something down.” Thinking something up is always more difficult and while we might strive to think up something brilliant, the easier and more productive route is getting something down. When you get something down, you’re writing something that’s already there just waiting for you to put the words down on the page. I’ve heard people call it “not testing your limits” but just because something comes easier doesn’t mean it’s not worth your time to write. On the contrary, it’s probably what you should be writing or were meant to write at this time.

Perfectionism was defined this week, much to my displeasure. I suffer from perfectionism to such a degree that I stopped posting on my blog for a very long time because what I wrote was not perfect. It wasn’t interesting enough and didn’t say exactly what I wanted it to say no matter how many hours I poured into a simple post. I haven’t gotten “over it” or “passed it” but I’ve been forcing myself to post no matter what. I just type, hit post and walk away instead of spending hours going over and over it. So, I’ve actually been working on my perfectionism problem for a while now.

My only advice is, walk away and get involved in something else. If you find yourself correcting or rewriting the same line or paragraph over and over again, put on some music and go bake some cookies, paint a model, read a book. Do something that gets your mind off your writing and doesn’t let you easily come back to it. Give it some time and when you go back to writing, do not read what you’ve already written. Tell yourself you can do it later and write on. Do not let yourself stay stuck in that line or paragraph.

The biggest danger you face when editing and reediting or writing and rewriting is what you have in the end is actually worse than what you started with. I’ve seen this with my own work. I’ve published blog posts that were edited so many times they became disjointed and lacked flow or cohesiveness. I still do it, but instead of trashing everything and not posting at all, I post it anyway. Maybe if I see the mistakes I’ve made, I’ll learn to edit at the end once and leave it alone.

Hand in hand with perfectionism is risk. Perfectionists have a hard time taking risks because they’re afraid. Whether it’s fear of looking like an idiot, fool, or that we aren’t good enough, aren’t perfect enough, taking risks others would take easily is something we would never do. I can honestly say I have a hard time letting anyone read my work because I know it’s not perfect. It’s not going to be praised, published, become a #1 best seller, and so I don’t show it. If I can’t be guaranteed that good things will come from letting someone read it, I won’t take that risk. Even writing anything at all was taking a risk not so long ago.

I don’t know who said it first but anything worth doing is worth doing badly. It’s taken me a long time to believe this and even longer to act on that belief. Now, I’m writing blog posts and taking the risk of posting them for all to see regardless if anyone even sees them or gets anything out of them. I’m also writing again because I enjoy it and don’t worry about what anyone else will think when it’s done. Most days I actually pull that off now.

The biggest problem is, we tend to compare ourselves with the seasoned artists out there. We don’t compare our starting work with their starting work, but rather with their best seller that just hit the market and that often leads to jealousy. While jealousy can often be the success of someone in our field or genre, you might be surprised to find that jealousy can simply be masking fear. While I don’t agree with the author on all points about jealousy, I do agree that jealousy can cause us to believe there’s no room for us on the stage with that seasoned artist. Yes, there is only one Stephen King, Joss Whedon, and Neil Gaiman, but they are not the only ones in their field or genres standing on that stage of greats.

There is room for you, too.

Sep 212010

This week’s reading in The Artist’s Way was about using money as an excuse. It’s one of the easiest excuses and the easiest to rationalize. I’ve heard it from other people. I think I’ve heard, “Money always comes first and everything else is second,” more often than I’d care to admit. Those may not have been the words, but the sentiment was there.

Money is great. Money makes life a little easier, but money isn’t everything. Money doesn’t have to take every ounce of your time and energy. The more money becomes the focus the more tired you become and the less you will enjoy yourself or do other things that you enjoy.

Pampering yourself was another theme this week. When I think of pampering myself, dollar signs tend to pop into my head. Expensive things that aren’t in my budget are what I think of first, like spa treatments and nights out on the town, but pampering can be small things as well. A new candle in your favorite scent that you’ve been denying yourself could make you feel pampered. Even taking a walk by yourself, especially if you have children, can go a long way to making you feel like you’ve done something for yourself and thus feel pampered.

Some of us aren’t wired to think of ourselves first and this week’s reading will be hard for those people. It feels wrong. It feels like the author is saying, throw everything else out the window and live only for yourself! We just can’t do that. Taking time for yourself, to treat yourself, and to pamper yourself even with small things can not only improve your mood and your art, but it can help to keep you sane as well. I’m not wired this way and this week’s reading was hard, but I do believe it to be true. I can’t and I won’t put myself first all the time, but I think I can manage to do something nice for myself every once in a while. I means more that way anyway.

Whether you believe in God, an afterlife, that life just ends, or that you’re reincarnated, you have a finite amount of time to live the life you have. When you get to the end and you’re looking back over your life are you going to regret the big things you didn’t do or the little things? So you never had the money to visit Scotland, but how many little things did you miss out on because what you enjoyed always came last? Spending time with your children, taking a long walk on a spring morning, sitting outside and watching the sun set, indulging yourself with some fresh strawberries, taking a long soak in the tub, listening to music and dancing around the living room like a fool; all these things are small pleasures that can be enjoyed for little or no money if you just let yourself come first for a few hours. Not everything takes money and often times we can find something fairly cheap we can treat ourselves to that makes us feel as good as something expensive.

Remember to pamper yourself from time to time and I’ll try to remember to do the same. On that note, I think I’m going to go take a long bath. I haven’t done that in ages.

Aug 312010

So I’m back on track now after playing catch up. I did my brain dump pages five out of the seven days. I find that if I don’t do them soon after I wake up in the morning, I find other things I need to do more that prevent me from doing them. Then, by the time I get around to writing the brain dump pages, I’m running low on writing time for the day so it’s the only thing I get accomplished.

I had a conversation with a friend not too long ago about “chasing rabbits.” Chasing rabbits is where you start to do something, then get distracted by something else and something else and something else until all you’ve haven’t gotten anything accomplished. Not only do I suffer from pouring myself into one thing, I also suffer from chasing rabbits. Sometimes, if I don’t remain focused, I’ll sit down to write and remember that I need to start a load of laundry. So, I start sorting laundry and remember that I need to make a grocery list so I can go to the store later. Half done sorting the laundry and in the middle of making out a grocery list, I’ll remember that I need to call my mom about something. An hour later, when I get off the phone usually forgetting what I called about in the first place, I remember that I need to pull the meat for dinner out of the freezer. On the way to the kitchen, I see a present from one of the cats in the form of a hair ball and clean it up, completely forgetting about the meat until it’s time to make dinner. And so on and so on. In this example, out of the five things I was sidetracked with, I only got one accomplished. I cleaned up the hair ball.

It doesn’t happen all the time, but it seems I usually do one extreme or the other. I either get really focused on one thing or I become completely unfocused and accomplish nothing. So where’s the happy medium? I’ve tried making a schedule, but that never works out. Things always take more or less time and something always happens to completely invalidate the schedule. I’m just not good at adjusting when things I didn’t schedule for are thrown in my path, I guess. I’m still working on how to fix this. I need to get into some kind of routine and stick with it somehow. I’m going to have to force myself into one even if it means leaving the house to write where I cannot be distracted by other things I need to do. The only problem with that is my laptop doesn’t have a very long battery life. If I can do it for just an hour and a half every day, maybe I can start to condition myself to a happy medium where I don’t work too long on one thing and I don’t get distracted thus accomplishing nothing. If anyone else has had these problems and solutions that worked for them, please let me know.

This week was reading deprivation week. This is an excellent exercise, but I’d have to argue with the author of The Artist’s Way that anyone can go for a week without reading. College assignments, work duties be damned! Any creative can creatively wriggle out of reading for a week? I’m sorry, but not completely. Not in this day and age. I did manage to cut it to a minimum. I didn’t feel one bit bad about not completely cutting out reading because I have to read to answer emails and fill orders if nothing else. It wasn’t easy, but without the distraction of reading, my own imagination jumped into overdrive within a couple of days. I made some large strides in the plot of one of the projects I was working on and it was exciting.

I understand now why many of the tasks in The Artist’s Way feel like a waste of time for me. I didn’t really need help with creativity, I needed help managing my time and getting my butt into the chair. Doing these exercises will help further down the road and so I keep doing them even though I’m itching to pour more time into the projects I’m actively working on. The biggest thing I need help with only actively writing can fix. I need to get better at writing again. I need to be at the point I was ten years ago and then surpass it. I can only do that by writing and writing and writing.

I made the mistake of showing a few people what I was working on even though The Artist’s Way explicitly says not to at this stage. It didn’t matter what those people said about what they read. Some of them were positive and some of them were critical, but I wasn’t to the point where I was comfortable enough and confident enough to really show anyone. I started feeling self-conscious before I ever received a response back. I wished I hadn’t done it. I will not make that mistake again, but hopefully I’ll know when I’m ready.

Aug 172010

I did my brain dump pages five out of seven days. With school getting ready to start, everything was shoved to the back burner for several days.

I did manage to find time to do my artist date. I decided to try a craft and made candles this week, which caused me to realize something. When I do something, I do it in a big way. A few hour project, making candles, actually took several days. I couldn’t just make a few candles. I made dozens. I have the same problem with just about every facet of my life. I don’t cook for three. I cook for ten. I don’t do what needs to be done. I overdo what needs to be done. The same thing applies to writing. When I sit down to write, I’m not happy until I’ve written for hours and hours.

Doing these tasks for The Artist’s Way has brought this problem to light, while doing the daily writing, brain dump, has started to show me that I can accomplish something a little at a time. It’s hard to learn this lesson and then keep implementing it. Overdoing things is how I’ve lived for so long that it’s a hard thing to change.

Aug 102010

I did my brain dump pages (morning pages) six out of the seven days this week. I was feeling awful one of the days and just couldn’t make myself do it. I found myself writing about such a variety of things that I can’t really pin down a pattern. I wrote about everything from projects I’m working on to personal issues to mundane matters. I think the brain dump pages are helping to free my mind a little. I’ve found myself both looking forward to writing them and running out of things to write about. We’ll see how it progresses.

For my artist’s date I tried to take a walk. I was going to take a camera and shoot some random pictures along the way, but I didn’t get very far before I started dying in the heat. Realizing I’d forgotten to bring some water with me, I decided to go back home. So, the artist’s date was a bust, but when I got home I started turning pictures I’d taken into backgrounds for the laptop, which was fun. I found a couple of pictures that started some creative juices flowing, so it worked out for the best. Taking a walk in the over 100 degree weather… not my brightest idea. I really felt like taking a walk though.

Some of the tasks we’re supposed to do for the week don’t seem that helpful, but I’m still doing them anyway. It’s possible I’m getting something out of them and don’t realize it. Still, listing things I enjoy doing and then doing one of those things takes away from time I could be spending writing and doing all the have-tos in my life.

Affirmations still feel fake and weird, but today I noticed less objections from my critic/censor. I felt more apathetic about it. Positive step or step towards ignoring it? I’m keeping an open mind.

Aug 032010

I did my morning pages or “brain dump” pages as I call them every day. Morning pages (brain dump pages) is a tool used to get all of crap out of your head, making it easier to focus on your work. I’ve been exceptionally tired this week, which generally causes me to dump my brain anyway. I have no idea at this point if the brain dump pages are helpful as I’ve had two things happen afterwards; I either find myself dwelling on things I wrote about or the opposite, I let them stay on the page, freed from the torment of my own brain. Hopefully, the more I do it, the more the latter will occur.

Artist dates are periods of time where you do something for yourself, with yourself and your brain. For my artist’s date, I did something I’ve been putting off. I started working on CafePress again. I’ve put so many things ahead of CafePress I often forget about it. I felt like there were other things I should be doing, but it made me feel good to look through some of the better photos I’ve taken. I started wondering if I shouldn’t be doing more with photography. I’m not great, but I sometimes wonder if I could be a great photographer.

Affirmations are a positive statement of belief. In working with affirmations, you turn negative statements that others have said to you or you’ve said to yourself and turn them into positives, then read or say the positives every day. Working with affirmations just feels weird, awkward, and fake. Maybe I’ll feel differently after the twelve weeks are over, but trying to convince myself of something by reading it over and over just feels like I’m trying to self-brainwash. My inner censor or critic just kicks into higher and higher gear and I feel dirty afterwards. I’m not wired to accept brainwashing I guess, not even when it comes from myself.

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