Refilling the Well

A little while ago I wrote a review of The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, after having “completed” the 12-week program. I put those quotation marks because whether or not I actually completed the program is actually up for debate. I did many of the tasks and exercises, but I also didn’t do a lot of them, if you know what I mean. If you read my review you’ll see that, in the end, I decided that the program was not for me. There were too many ideas and concepts that I just couldn’t quite agree with.

But there were a few things in the book that, when read, made me go “YES. Oh my flipping lord, YES.” One of those things was the concept of “refilling the well”. Basically, the idea is that we can wear ourselves out creatively. We can spend too much of our time and energy on the actual art, to the point that we’ve “drained the well”, so to speak. We run out of energy/ideas/creativity; we don’t know what’s wrong, exactly, but all of a sudden we find ourselves staring at a blank page without any idea of how to make use of it, or everything we create feels like complete and utter crap, or just the thought of working on our art anymore makes us want to burst into tears.

"Yep. Just as I thought. Dry as a bone." Image courtesy of Natasha Hanova
“Yep. Just as I thought. Dry as a bone.”
Image courtesy of Natasha Hanova

The suggestion, based on this phenomenon, is that creativity is a finite source, and we have to replenish it from time to time. It’s like calories; if we continuously burn more calories than we take in, we starve. If we use up all our creativity without shoring up our supply, we eventually run out and have nothing left to draw from.

So how exactly do we shore up our supply? Well, my experience thus far has been that the best way to rebuild creative stores is to allow yourself to experience other people’s creativity. Read books, watch movies, play video games. Allow yourself to enjoy and fully experience the creations of others. Say, for example, that you’ve been working on a science fiction novel. Take an evening and watch some classic sci-fi movies – you might just get some great ideas for that scene you’ve been stuck on. Working on something visual, like a painting, and not quite sure where you’re going with it? Spend a few hours on sites like Flickr and DeviantArt. Seeing how others have accomplished similar things might give you the spark you need to keep moving forward.

Why am I talking about this today? Because I am currently in the process of desperately trying to refill the well. Though I’ve finally gotten back to work on the last bit of manuscript editing I have to do (more on that tomorrow), I’ve been woefully disappointing in the amount of new writing that I’ve been doing of late. I just haven’t been able to push myself to sit down with a blank page and write something new; no new chapters to unfinished stories, no new drabbles or short stories…nothing new at all. Blogging, while important in its own way, does not count. I need to be writing new fiction. Lots of it. You can’t get better at writing unless you force yourself to do a lot of it, and you are seriously unlikely to reach a large year-long word-count goal if the only words you’re writing are for your blog.

And so here I find myself, staring into the well, tossing things in and hoping that soon I’ll be able to see the top of the pile. I’ve been (as previously mentioned) reading the most recent Sookie Stackhouse novels. I’ve recently completed (along with every trophy, thank you very much) the PS Vita game, Tearaway. I’ve been watching movies with my husband (most recently a horror and a goofy Grindhouse flick) and have plans to start watching the Doctor Who show right from the beginning original episodes. I’ve been using the books my husband gave me for Christmas to learn more about my favorite superheroes, their backgrounds, their villains, and their comrades.

Am I feeling more creative yet? Maybe a little. Maybe a little too much. I find myself actually drowning a little bit in the ideas. I’m not sure what to go for, where to turn next. There are so many areas on which I could focus, and I can’t tell which one I’m most interested in. While attempting to refill the well, I may have actually leaned a little too far forward and fallen in.

But it’s a good problem to have, I think. Soon I am going to be returning to my “day job” out West, a job that involves a lot of physical labor, moving about outside, and thinking technically. Therefore it is going to be a joy to go back to my room at night, curl up with my tablet or a new blank journal, and just write. Maybe I’ll choose one direction and aim for it with laser precision. Or maybe I’ll spin the needle each night and see where the winds take me. Either way, I suspect that 2014 is going to be an interesting year for seeing what pops out of my brain and onto the page.

 

Book Review: The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron

For the past twelve weeks I’ve been going through The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. I thought it only fitting, now that I’ve “completed” the program, I give a review of the book.

Image via Amazon.com…sorry, you can’t actually “click to look inside” ūüėõ

The Artist’s Way is a 12-week program meant to help a “blocked” artist restore their sense of creativity. Each week focuses on restoring a different aspect of creative life via a number of exercises and tasks. By the end of the book an artist hopes to have moved past whatever issues are keeping them from being happy, productive, and successful.

There are a number of pros and cons with the book, in my opinion, but I can basically boil them down to four main points:

Pro: Several interesting topics that really make you think

The real gem of this book is the way it makes you think about certain important topics that probably never crossed your mind before. For instance, in one of the first chapters the author talks about the bad influences in your life that may be keeping you from following your dreams as an artist. This chapter gets you thinking about bad experiences as children, friends and family members who you might fail to recognize as emotional vampires, and lots of other psychological blocks that could be keeping you from reaching your potential. These types of topics, when they arise in the book, are great because they’re the kinds of things that a person doesn’t usually just recognize on their own.

Con: Surprising lack of creativity concerning the exercises and tasks

For the first 2-3 weeks of the program I genuinely enjoyed the exercises and weekly tasks. Some of them were quite amusing, fun, and telling. The problem is that after the first few weeks, new, creative tasks disappeared almost completely. Sometimes they were reworded or had a little something extra added to them, but for the most part you’re just redoing the same several tasks over and over again. It’s really quite disappointing because the first batches of tasks are quite good and helpful, but once you’ve done the “5 Imaginary Lives” task the fourth time you start to wonder if maybe the author had a bit of a creative block going on while she was writing this book.

Pro: Loving, positive support from the author

I have to admit, the author of this book, Julia Cameron, writes like a big sister or an older cousin. The book is nicely written in the tone of a woman who is genuinely concerned about you and your creative “recovery”. She gives lots of personal examples, as well as examples based on real people in her life and students she has had in her classes, and she just makes you feel like you’ve got someone on your side, even if nobody else is.

Con: Everything is about God

When I first started the program I mentioned that Cameron mentions God as being the “Great Creator” that is the source of all creativity, but she also goes on to say that you don’t have to believe in God for this program to be helpful. As an atheist I was quite relieved, because there’s nothing worse as an atheist than being told that all your problems in life are due to not believing in God. My relief lasted about four chapters. It quickly became evident that even if you don’t have to believe in God for the program to be helpful, it would be a pretty damn enormous boon. Every chapter seems to mention at least three instances where believing in God is your greatest tool. If you believe in God, he will send you creative skill. If you believe in God he will provide the financial necessities for you to exist as an artist. If you believe in God all the things that are holding you back will magically disappear. If I sound like I’m exaggerating it a bit, know that I’m not. While there are also many topics in the book that focus on inner strength and personal accomplishment, every chapter at some point says (if only in a roundabout way) that as long as you believe in God (or the “Great Creator”) everything will work out. And I can’t honestly say that this attitude didn’t start to sicken me after a while.

In the end, I’m glad for having read the book, but there were definitely a few issues with it. I’m certain that it would be much more helpful to people with spirituality as an important part of their life, but even then there could be quite a bit of work done to the exercises and weekly tasks to keep them fun and interesting. Personally I found that what this book helped me with was recognizing and accepting myself as an artist who must create no matter what…but it did absolutely nothing to actually help bolster my physical creativity.

My final say, therefore, is that it’s worth a read for some of the inner truths it can help unveil, but if you’re more interested in actual creativity than the spiritual aspect of creativity, this might not be what you’re looking for.

Have you read The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron? What did you think? Did it help you at all? What other books have you read that have helped you with your craft? Please share!

Faith, Trust, and ART!

Last, but not least, week 12 of The Artist’s Way focuses on “recovering a sense of faith”. On this topic the author speaks about trust, mystery, imagination at play, and escape velocity.

The “trust” part speaks for itself, I think. In order to be an artist of any kind you have to put a lot of faith in yourself and trust that things will fall into place. This can be especially difficult because of the nature of the world we live in…there is a formula to life in this century, and part of that formula is getting a “real” job where you work regular hours and receive a nearly identical paycheck every so many days. Trusting yourself to be an artist is trusting that you’ll be able to survive without that piece of the formula. Sure, at first you might follow the formula to a tee and worry about the artist stuff in your spare time, but if some level of success should roll up to meet you, if you make that leap to becoming a full-time, professional artist, a lot of things are going to change and you have to be able to trust that it will all work out somehow.

“Mystery” refers to the strange, slow, creeping nature of creativity. It refers to the fact that ideas (for a story, painting, screenplay, etc) rarely appear fully formed in the artist’s mind. Ideas are slow to build, elusive, ever hiding in the shadows. An artist has to be willing to let these little hints and glimpses come to them without rushing to flip on all of the floodlights. Forcing an idea can be the thing that murders it violently. You have to start with that little taste, allow it to simmer in the pot for a while until the flavors begin to emerge. If the idea is truly great, the details will come to you as they are required. Forcing the idea out before it is ready is akin to forcing a smile in a photo; everyone who looks can see that something is not quite right.

The concept of “imagination at play” is quite simple: imaginations want to play! Artists – though they may deal with all the same stresses and daily frustrations as everyone else – are naturally playful people. We don’t just write a novel or sculpt a statue; we sing in the shower, and scribble in children’s coloring books, and collect pretty rocks, and plant flowers around our houses, and bake immaculate-looking treats, and build lovely websites for ourselves, and use our craftiness to make gifts for others. Everything that we do simply because we enjoy it is part of our playful imagination. We are not “wake up at the crack of dawn, eat a bowl of flax seed cereal before going to my 9-5 job, come home and do the chores, get a shower and crawl into bed” people. We may have to do all those things, but we also need to be playful, to do silly things that other people may find strange. We need to be creative and imaginative and weird. Imaginations must play; you do know what happens when there’s “all work and no play”, right?

“Escape velocity” is a final, interesting topic. Relating to physics, “escape velocity” is when the kinetic energy from, say, a rocket ship, becomes equal to (and therefore cancels out) the energy from the gravitational pull of the Earth. Until these two forces balance, there is no way for the rocket ship to move forward and “escape” the Earth. Concerning artists, the book suggests that the “escape velocity” for an artist is a Test…test with a capital “T”. As the artist builds up their kinetic energy and aims for escape, inevitably a Test will arise to meet them…the Test that they have to overcome in order to pull away from the Earth. For example, a very talented artist may finally have built up the courage to quit their day job in order to work full time on their art…and the moment they do their boss offers them the first raise they’ve ever received. Do they stay or do they go? It depends, of course. This is a Test of dedication to the artist’s dreams versus dedication to the “formula”. That extra money could help you pay off your bills faster, get further ahead, build up some savings…but you might be miserable the entire time because you’re not doing what you really want to be doing. Do you hit escape velocity and pull away into the stars, or do you let yourself fall back down to Earth?

In the end, the “sense of faith” that you’re meant to be recovering is the type of faith that very few people seem to have these days: a faith that things will work out if you want it badly enough. It is very difficult to allow oneself this kind of faith because there are so many outside factors shouting, “NO! That’s NOT the way the world works!” And yet we must, at least in some way, have this kind of faith if we are to reach for the dreams we hold dearest.

Acceptance, Success, Exercise, and Altars

Week 11 of The Artist’s Way impresses upon us the importance of “recovering a sense of autonomy”. I’m not entirely sure that the word “autonomy” is the right one to use in this sense, but we’ll ignore that and simply move forward.

There are a few steps, according to this chapter, that help us to recover our “autonomy”. The first is to accept that we are artists. That may seem a little redundant at this point of the game, but I do understand what the author is getting at. The thing is that artists tend to be a little different; we’re odd, we value different things, we prefer to use our time differently, we see beauty where others do not. The result of this is often a lack of support from those around us. People think we’re weird for wasting our time on our art, they see us as immature or socially awkward. These reactions can encourage us to “straighten up and fly right”, to change ourselves to suit the image that those around us want to see. We teach our kids to be themselves, but as adults we expect everyone to adhere to a certain set of rules. Artists have to accept that this is the way people will be, but that we don’t have to put up with it. Put simply, if I want to paint murals on my bedroom walls, or wear ridiculously flamboyant clothes, or spend all my time sitting in the park and scribbling in a notebook, that’s my choice as an artist. Other people will think that there’s something wrong with me, but if I want to be an artist I have to accept that others aren’t always going to be accepting.

The second step is understanding what “success” truly means. First things first, not all artists will ever attain what the outside world sees as success (namely, making good money). It’s a sad but simple fact that all artists have to deal with…they may never make a good living with their art. There are simply too many factors. For instance, I may write the greatest novel the world has ever seen, but if it happens to be on a topic that people are not currently interested in reading about, it simply won’t sell. Understanding that, we have to look at success in different terms. Success for one may simply be achieving publication. For another it may be selling a certain number of books. The end game isn’t important, because there is no end game. Art isn’t something that comes to a finish because you achieved what you set out to achieve. I may publish a book and call that success, but the moment that happens it doesn’t mean that I’ve succeeded in becoming a real artist; it just means that I hit a goal. There will always be more to do. I can’t just write one book, publish it, sell a million copies. That would be great, but if I want to continue to be an artist, I have to write another book, reach new goals. In other words, enjoy life’s little successes, but know that there will always be more to strive for.

The third step, apparently, is exercise. I have to admit, I was a little surprised to see this topic pop up in this particular book, but the author is not enforcing a physically fit lifestyle. Rather, she is letting us know that exercise can be a helpful tool toward creativity. We live in a fairly sedentary world, and we find every possible reason not to engage in regular exercise (how many of us “don’t have time” for exercise, but seem to find plenty of time to spend on Facebook every day?), but regular exercise can be a great way to de-stress, clear the mind, and bring creativity to the forefront. Even a ten minute walk in the sun can make us feel calmer, happier, and ready to get to work.

And the forth step, another surprise, is to build an “artist’s altar”. That seems terribly religious, I know, but it’s really not at all. An “artist’s altar” is simply a special place that makes you feel happy and productive. As an example, a painter might have a special room that is only for painting, that is filled with tons of supplies and fun stuff. The painter may even splash random colors of paint on the walls if it suits her fancy and makes her feel more creative. A photographer, alternatively, might have a particular wall in their house on which they display their favorite photos in lovely frames. Or a web designer might have a large corner desk with multiple screens and some interesting designs pinned to a cork board above it.

These four steps, apparently, are the key to “autonomy”. I don’t know if that’s true, but I know myself.

Myself, I accepted a long time ago that I’m an artist and a lot of people aren’t going to “get” that. It doesn’t matter. Writing makes me happy, and I don’t need other people to understand that.

Myself, I’ve made peace with the fact that I may never be conventionally “successful” as a writer. It’s enough for me to work toward one goal at a time and see where the wind takes me.

Myself, I don’t always get as physical as I should, but I do what I can and I can vouch for the fact that exercise makes a lot of other parts of my life come together in a god way.

Myself, I don’t currently have an “artist’s altar”, but I’ve been working toward one because it’s something I’ve craved for a long time, so hopefully I’ll have one in the near future.

I don’t know if these steps make me “autonomous”, but they’re definitely all things that I can agree are important parts of being an artist, so I guess that’s what matters in the end.

Have you “accepted” yourself as an artist? What is your version of “success”? Does exercise help you to create? Do you have an “artist’s altar”? Please share!

Focus in a Sea of Distractions

We’re on the homestretch, and Week 10 of The Artist’s Way is about “recovering a sense of self-protection”. I’m not sure that “self-protection” was the right choice of words…I’d have said something more along the lines of “recovering a sense of focus on what’s important”.

Basically, week 10 talks about a number of issues that we deal with (and sometimes enforce upon ourselves) that cause us to lose our focus and drift away from our dreams. One such issue is not given an actual title in the chapter, but I would refer to it as the “I’ll Do It When…” syndrome. This is when we set arbitrary limits for ourselves that don’t really mean anything in the long run, but make us feel as though we’re protecting ourselves from pain. For instance, I might finish editing my manuscript this month and have it all set for self-publication and then suddenly turn around and say, “No, you know what, I’m not well-known enough to sell a book. I’ll wait until I have, hmmm…say, 200 followers on my blog before I publish.” The limit is completely arbitrary (what’s so special about the number 200?) and means positively nothing (number of blog followers, in the end, has nothing to do with whether the book will sell), so the only point of it is to hold myself back, and why would I want to do that? As we’ve mentioned before, the name of the game is fear. We impose limits on ourselves because we’re terrified of the unknown. In this example I might be terrified that if I self-publish I won’t sell any books, or worse, I’ll sell a few and then get a wave of horrible reviews. So I (hypothetically) give myself these little limits that I have to reach before I’ll be willing to make the leap, and then when that moment comes I find another reason to limit myself. The cycle continues.

procastinatorThe other issues addressed in week 10 are workaholism, drought, fame, and competition. Workaholism is exactly what it sounds like; the artist in question lets their entire word become awash in their day job, to the point that they can never “find time” to work on their art. This isn’t simply the normal situation where an artist has a day job and thus has less time to work on their craft; this is actively seeking out more work to do because the artist is scared to work on their craft (for any of the reasons previously discussed). And this doesn’t necessarily have to involve a day job with an employer; a house wife who longs to be a painter may insist that she has no time to paint because she has to vacuum the floors for the second time today, and remake all the beds, and cut up and wash all the fruit and veggies in the fridge, and…well, you get the idea.

Drought is pretty much exactly what it sounds like…writers might call it “writer’s block”. This is when you have no ideas, everything you create seems like crap, and you have no idea how to move forward. You begin to doubt yourself. Drought is a state that every single artist deals with at some point, but depending on what kind of artist you are and what kind of person you are, you could push through it and come out stronger on the other side, or you could give up entirely. Drought has been well known to be the end of many artist careers.

Fame is synonymous with ego in this case. Even if I’ve been successful so far (say, by self-publishing and selling my first hundred books), I get caught up in the fact that I’m not famous yet. There are certain things that we equate with being successful, and unfortunately “fame” is one of them. By becoming the artist we had hoped to become, we also expect to start being adored by the public, receive fan letters, get asked to do book readings or get invited to a convention. If these things don’t happen, we assume that we’ve done something wrong. It’s not enough to meet our dreams and maybe even make some money at them…suddenly we want to be a celebrity too, and now we’re focusing on that instead of our art. Our art gets shuffled to the background.

Competition is based in good old fashioned jealousy. It boils down to seeing others succeed and feeling as though they somehow beat you. For example, say I have a close friend who is also a writer. We began writing around the same time and we often write in similar genres and the like. Now say that I’m stuck in the editing process, while she has already pushed forward, self-published, and has recently landed on the bestselling e-book list on Amazon. My sense of competition kicks in and I begin to feel like I’ve “lost”. The possibility of succeeding becomes moot because I’ve already “failed”. I lose the will to keep moving forward.

This is a chapter that I actually found quite interesting because I have, in one form or another, experienced each of these issues. I’ve played the “workaholic” by finding a million other things that “had” to get done that weren’t my writing. I’ve created arbitrary limits for myself, like telling myself that my zombie novel has to be the first thing I publish, even if it’s not necessarily my best work. I’ve put myself down because others are out there achieving what I’ve always dreamed of…they “beat” me to it. I told myself that I can’t be successful because I’m not “famous” enough (via, not enough followers, never getting comments, etc). And I’ve definitely gone through the drought process…many times, in fact, and every time I consider that this might be the time I quit all together.

These are all things that I expect every artist deals with, because they all boil down to human emotion and instinct. We want to be the best, we want to be loved, we feel that if we’re doing things right they should be easy, and we hate being afraid. The key, as with many things, is to recognize the issues and move on from them, and it helps knowing that others are going through the exact same things. That’s why communities (like the #MyWANA Twitter community for writers) are so great. No one has to suffer alone.

Have you ever dealt with workaholism, drought, “fame”, competition, or a raging case of the “I’ll Do It When…” syndrome? How did you get past it? Please share!

Compassion is Key

Week 9 of The Artist’s Way is about “recovering a sense of compassion”. I was a bit confused about this one at first, but it turns out that the “compassion” we’re supposed to be recovering is compassion for ourselves. See, as the author explains (and as I have, myself, mentioned many times on this blog), artists tend to be a very self-depreciating bunch, and usually it’s for no good reason. We call ourselves untalented, lazy, undisciplined, and a whole host of other terrible things that we don’t deserve, because usually it’s a giant steaming pile of BS.

Let’s take laziness, for example. Lots of artists label themselves with this one when there’s been a lack of work being done. They tell themselves that they’re terrible artists because they haven’t been able to force themselves to get up early, stay up late, and work all day on their project. In reality, that same artist that is labeling himself as lazy is probably just scared; scared that the project is going poorly, scared that it won’t be received well, scared of failure or success, scared of being held accountable to his work.

I giggle every time I get to use this picture.
I giggle like a fool every time I get to use this picture.

Here’s where the compassion comes in, you see? A compassionate person would recognize the fear under the mask of “laziness” and be sympathetic. Someone who recognizes that their true problem is fear can work past it. Alternatively, masking your fear by calling yourself every cruel name under the sun just drives you further and further from the task at hand.

I’ll admit that I am rather bad for this, myself. If I go through a 24-hour period without writing a blog post or getting some editing done, I get down on myself. I tell myself that I was too lazy to sit down and work, that I’m too easily distracted by stupid mobile games and social websites, that I never sit down and assert myself because I have concentration problems and that I’m always tired. I do everything except admit the truth…that I wasn’t sure exactly how to move forward and was scared of screwing up, so I just avoided doing the work.

The trick, of course, is to get over yourself, to push past the fears and uncertainties and whatever else is holding you back, and propel yourself forward. The problem is that this isn’t always as easy as it seems. Some people are more self-depreciating than others, some people deal with depression or other illness, and some have lots of responsibilities that make everything twice as difficult to deal with. Therefore the key, I suppose, is simply to try. The next time you find yourself thinking negatively, calling yourself horrible names or putting yourself down, consider for a moment that you might just be masking the real problem. Give yourself the benefit of the doubt and show a little compassion for your inner artist. A little compassion can go a long way, even when given to yourself.

“Trade”ing in Your Dreams

Week number 8 of The Artist’s Way is about “recovering a sense of strength”. This chapter addresses a number of topics, but what they all boil down to in the end is the concept of having inner strength and refusing to let outside forces dictate the course of your artistic career. In this vein the author talks about unsupportive family, teachers and mentors who only point out the weaknesses, never the strengths, and any number of inner turmoils (“I’m too old” or “I can’t afford this” or “I’m not good enough”) that beat artists down and keep them from reaching their true potential.

Since this topic just happened to come up at the same time, I thought I’d take this opportunity to share something I overheard while at the hardware store the other day. I was getting some paint mixed when a man came up and started chatting with the woman behind me. I wasn’t really paying attention at first because they were strangers to me, talking about their families and the like, but then my ears happened to prick up on the woman talking about what her kids wanted to take in college. I don’t recall what she said the girl was going to do, but she said that the boy wanted to be an author. She then went on to explain that, “I told him, that’s great, if you want to be an author, but you have to take a trade or something to fall back on.”

I found myself more than a little annoyed about this.

3uv0cSee, on the one hand, as a mother, I can see her point. The arts are such a cruel and difficult world to make a living in, and we hate to imagine our children failing, so we encourage them toward fields that we know they will at least be able to get some sort of job in.

On the other hand, people who haven’t tried to be an artist have no concept of just how much time and energy such a thing entails. Writing, in particular, takes vast amounts of time and energy just to get words to paper, and that doesn’t factor in the time it takes to learn how to write properly, take courses and read books on the craft, research information you might need for your story, research information on the different forms and methods of publishing, research people and services you’ll need along the way (critique groups, editors, agents, cover designers, etc), and all those extra little niggling things. See, people who don’t write imagine that it’s just as simple as that: you get an idea, you write it down, you hand it to a publisher, and it becomes a book. But nothing could be further from the truth. Art may be looked down upon by people studying hard to become doctors, lawyers, and scientists, but just because the subject matter and the path toward art are a little different doesn’t make them any less difficult and time consuming. People don’t just become artists in their spare time, because spare time is not nearly enough time.

To say that I wanted to turn around and give this woman a talking to would be putting it lightly, but I’m not that kind of person. All I could do was sit there and seethe quietly, thinking that this boy of hers will probably never become an author like he wants. What will likely happen is that he’ll take a trade and try to write in his spare time. He won’t bother with courses or craft books because he’ll be too busy in his trade courses, and doing labs and homework and exams. When he graduates from his trade he’ll go off and get a job in that field because he’s an adult now and he needs money to support himself and his adult life, and because of that job and all the other things going on in his life he’ll write less and less until he’s barely writing at all, if he even is still writing at all. He’ll never become an author because instead of using his time and energy to work on writing, he’ll use it all up on the “something to fall back on”.

I know this is what will probably happen, because it’s exactly what happened to me. All I can hope for is that this kid, like me, realizes a few years later that he needs to work twice as hard now to recover that lost dream of becoming an author, and that he does it because it’s truly what is in his heart.

I’m not saying that we should all accept point-blank whatever random career choice our kids pull out of the air…at 18 not many kids actually have any idea what they truly want to do with themselves. But it’s worth taking into consideration that your kid might actually know. This woman’s son may have been writing stories since the third grade. He may have dozens of mini-manuscripts under his belt. He may have even had something published in the newspaper or as part of some kind of contest. He may have real talent. And he may squander that talent on a trade because his mother doesn’t believe in him enough to give him the strength and encouragement to follow his heart.

What would you do in the son’s position? In the mother’s? Do you believe that all prospective artists should have a “back-up plan” or that they should focus their energy on their real goals? Have you found yourself in this position before (either the son’s or the mother’s)? Please share!

Perfectection is Meaningless if it’s Never Seen

Week 7 of The Artist’s Way covers a few topics, some of which I skimmed over. The chapter as a whole is dedicated to “recovering a sense of connection”, which is a bit broad.

The first topic is “listening”, which I skimmed through because what we’re supposed to be “listening” to is a higher power guiding our creativity. As previously mentioned, this isn’t exactly my bag. I do agree with a few concepts, such as “get your story down” rather than constantly trying to “make stuff up”, which basically means to listen to your internal creativity rather than constantly trying to “come up” with the next great American novel. You’ll be amazed with what will willingly come out of your own imagination if you just relax and let it happen.

Another topic that I skimmed through was “jealousy”, in which the author goes over the concept of poisoning ourselves by being jealous of those who have made it, those who are living the dream that we dream for ourselves. She talks about how jealousy is an evil that keeps us from our dreams, but that it can also be a useful tool in helping us to achieve them. An exercise she suggests is to make a list of people you are jealous of. Next to the person’s name, write the reason you are jealous of them, and next to that write a constructive idea for how you can better yourself now that you know what you’re jealous of. For example, I might say that I’m jealous of so-and-so because they have a real writing office where they can work in peace, and for my constructive idea I might say that I’ll find a way to section off a small area of my house just for me, in which I can make my own little office. Jealous becomes constructive enhancement, you see?

But the topics I paid most attention to were “perfectionism” and “risk”. Risk is pretty obvious, I think…we’re all afraid of taking them, but sometimes risks are required in order to achieve our goals. For instance, if I send my manuscript into a publisher, I risk receiving a scathing rejection that feels like an arrow through my heart. But if I never take that risk, there’s no chance that I’ll ever receive a glowing acceptance that rockets my writing career forward. That’s life.

Perfectionism might be a little more vague, because depending on who you’re talking to it might be a good thing or a bad thing. I’ve worked with people who were perfectionists, and to the big bosses that seemed like a good thing, because of course they want everything to be done perfectly, but to the people working with those perfectionists on a daily basis it was a constant source of misery, because with a perfectionist you can never get anything done. This is especially true of writers. If there are any writers reading this right now, I’d be willing to bet that if you’re completely honest with yourself, you fall into this category. This was my biggest hindrance for years. I was the writer who re-writes the first chapter over and over again, always coming up with ways to make it better, always trying to make it absolutely¬†perfect¬†before moving on. But the thing is, as any professional, successful writer will tell you, no matter how many times you re-write something, it will never be perfect, it will never satisfy you, and it will never be¬†done. I’ve heard it said that a book is never done, the author simply chose a place to stop. And it’s true. Any story can go a bit further, be shined up a bit more, be added to or changed to make it “better”, but if you move forward with those thoughts in mind, you’ll never end up with a book…you’ll always just have a collection of words in a notebook or a computer file, dying to¬†become a book.

I could finalize those red-lines, then red-line up the red-lines, and just keep going and going until what I've got looks nothing like what I started with, and then keep going some more...
I could finalize those red-lines, then red-line up the red-lines, and just keep going and going until what I’ve got looks nothing like what I started with, and then keep going some more…

None of the tasks for this week actually coincide with the “perfectionist” topic (which I found a bit annoying) so I don’t have anything of the sort to share for this post, but I will make a suggestion of myself for anyone who struggles with perfectionism:

BLOG.

It doesn’t have to be a professional blog, it doesn’t have to be about any one topic in particular. You can treat it like an online diary, or you can address topics you care about. You can share things you think bear sharing (recipes, parenting tips, book reviews), give your opinion on big events happening in the news, or just talk about your day. Whatever you do, do it on a regular basis (three times a week, minimum, seems to be a generally accepted number of days) and make it public. When you write a post, make sure people know about it through Twitter, Facebook, or what-have-you. Gain followers, even if they’re just a scattering of family members and online friends.

I suggest this because blogging is a different beast from writing novels (or painting portraits, or running marathons, or whatever else it is that you’re trying to do with absolute perfectionism). Blogging requires you to get the words on the page and get them sent. If you want to adhere to your schedule (which you do, because you have readers now and you don’t want to disappoint them!) you will get your ass in the chair, write the post, and get it sent. There’s no time to sit there for days at a time, picking at each paragraph, trying to turn your post into a literary masterpiece. You write, you maybe proofread once to make sure you don’t have any terribly embarrassing typos, and you post. Nothing will beat the perfectionism out of you faster than being forced to ignore it on a very regular basis.

Do you fight with perfectionism in your day-to-day life? How do you deal with it? Has it kept you from making headway on your goals? Have you tried blogging, or are you going to try? Have you thought of any other ways to help beat the perfectionism out of you? Please share!

An Abundance of Disenchantment

I have a confession to make: I’m becoming disenchanted with The Artist’s Way.

I still plan to continue the program…I want to be able to say that I finished it…but the past couple of weeks have been difficult for me to swallow, for a number of reasons.

For one thing, do you remember me speaking kindly of the author when I first began reading the book, because she believes in God and the spirituality of creativity, but also insists that you don’t have to believe in God for the program to be helpful? Yeah…I thought that was great when I first read it, because us atheists are creative people to, but it seems as though the author forgot about this proclamation as the book went on. For example, week number 6 is about “recovering a sense of abundance”, and the “abundance” that the author is talking about in the first half of the chapter is “abundance as provided by God”. At this point in the book she seems to have completely given up on the moniker, “The Great Creator” and just regularly talks about God all the time. Specifically, in this chapter, she talks about money and how we worry about it so much (especially because of the “starving artist” image), but if we just accept that God wants us to be happy and successful, He will provide for us.

Now, if you believe in God, that’s all well and good. I can see how someone who truly believes in a higher power could take these lessons and gain something special from them.

But if you don’t believe in God, it starts to sound like so much hooey. It makes it very difficult to push through the chapters when you’re gritting your teeth and your eye is twitching every two seconds because the author keeps insisting that an almighty being you don’t believe in is going to magically make sure that everything you do works out in the end.

I have nothing against anyone who believes in that, but I don’t, so it makes the book a little difficult to read.

In addition to that whopper, I’m finding myself getting a little bored with the book because the tasks are starting to all look the same. In fact, some of them are exactly the same. For instance, do you remember the “Imaginary Lives” post I wrote a while back as one of the exercises? That exact same exercise has popped up in two more chapters. Literally, the exact same exercise. Lots of the other tasks are similar as well, basically asking you to look at the same issues over and over, answer the same questions over and over, and take the same ideas into consideration over and over. The author dresses things up by, for instance, asking you to find pictures or drawings to illustrate a particular point…but it’s still the same point that you dealt with in the previous chapter.

With all that said and done, I will however admit that there are still parts of the book that are clinging to my interest. For instance, in this “abundance” chapter, after the several pages talking about how God will provide, the author goes on to talk about “luxury”…specifically, how we tend to deny it of ourselves.

Luxury, in this case, does not mean expensive trips, a new car, or season tickets to a popular sports team’s games. It can mean anything, from the very small to the very large, that we deny ourselves for a number of reasons. One of the ones that rang out for me (because it’s so common these days) is time. We deny ourselves the luxury of time. We say that we can’t have a moment’s rest because of all the work we have to do. We say that we can’t have five minutes to ourselves because we have to deal with the kids. We say that we don’t have time for that because oh my god look at my to-do list, it’s three miles long!!! In reality, we could have a bit of time to ourselves if we were willing to look for it, or willing to do what it takes to obtain it. We can set the least important of our tasks aside for a day in order to take a nice long bath. We can pawn the kids off on a friend or relative every now and then in order to have some alone time. We have the time, we just need to see it, grab it, and force ourselves to use it, which is something that we naturally rebel against because, oh hey, it’s the Virtue Trap again!

Other luxuries might be little things that we shy away from because we feel we shouldn’t be wasting money on them. For instance, someone may love blueberries, but never buy them because they’re so expensive. In reality, that few dollars is probably not going to make a difference in the long run, so it’s worth it to give yourself a little ray of sunshine. But we deny ourselves these little things because we have a disproportionate sense of how luxury affects us. We’ll spend lots of money on things that don’t really matter to us just because society tells us that’s what we should spend our money on (lots of people spend thousands every year on satellite tv to watch two or three shows), but we deny ourselves the little things that we could spend a few bucks on to make ourselves happy (the twice-the-cost super-silky shower gel that feels so awesome and makes you feel like a million bucks).

We could all stand to have a little luxury in our lives; little things that perk us up and give us a little shot of happy in our lives. What could you give yourself today that you normally deny yourself? What little thing could you pick up for yourself that would make your day a little brighter? Go get it! Go get it right now!

Traitorous Brain

Have you ever felt as though your brain just up and left you, walked away and abandoned you to be a drooling, ignorant mass of thoughtlessness?

That’s how I feel today.

I woke up, first off, feeling as if every allergen in the known universe had crawled up my nose and made a camp. So I munched some cereal and hunkered down, stuffed and half-asleep, to play my Vita. I’ve been playing a game that requires a great deal of thought, and I was near the end where all the secrets are revealed and the big surprise-ending conclusion takes place. I wandered around the house, trying to comprehend the extraordinarily confusing game story line while also fielding questions, requests, and demands from the baby. I felt like my head was going to explode from a combination of physical ailment, mental confusion, and outside stimuli.

And then the game ended, I put down the Vita, and I looked at the clock.

12 noon.

12 noon on a Monday.

I’d forgotten to write a blog post. I’d forgotten that I was supposed to exercise today. I’d forgotten that I had planned to try and finish up my notebook transcriptions before the next Accountability Tuesday. And amongst other things I’d forgotten that I needed to run out and buy more milk for the baby, check the mail, pay some bills, and prepare the blog posts for the rest of the week. Also, I haven’t even LOOKED at the next week of The Artist’s Way yet.

Clearly my brain has gone on vacation. I’m currently in the process of trying to call her back, but she’s being a stubborn mass of mush, and even if I manage to convince her she might have a transatlantic flight to deal with first.

So until further notice, here’s a lazy kitty:

inspiration