Tags: making time for creativity, procrastination, Stephen Pressfield, The War of Art, where do I find the time
by Leslie Zeigler
But there is another way we stop ourselves, without input from anyone else. We say: I just don’t have the time.
I know I have been procrastinating writing this blog post for the past four days, maybe longer. I told myself I just have too many other paperwork demands. And truth be told, I did have an unusual number of forms that needed my attention. But could I have found the time on Saturday or Sunday and not Monday night at l a.m. to write this?
Probably. So what resistance was I facing?
In my favorite book about resistance to being creative, The War of Art: Break through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles, Stephen Pressfield says, “We don’t tell ourselves ‘I’m never going to write my symphony,’ instead we say, ‘I”m Just going to start it tomorrow.’”
Sound familiar? I know I certainly can identify with that sentiment. I have been telling myself since Friday I am going to write my blog post. But I didn’t tell myself I am in the throes of a resistance. Yet I was.
So what now? I’d like to continue where I left off in my last blog post–I had just begun to talk about Mindfulness as a tool for dealing with creative blocks. I offered in that blog post the first step, which is to just become aware when you notice your inner naysayer is going negative (I guess that is an oxymoron).
The next steps in mindfulness are to, as Dr. Susan Orsillo and Dr. Roemer in The Mindful Way through Anxiety, say, ”observe your internal states …with gentle curiosity and compassion through a clear wide-angle lens.” In this way. you can begin to learn how to detect and increase your awareness of when you are stopping yourself from doing what you love .
Tags: Creative Blocks, Decluttering, finishing your book, picking up where you left off, rejection, Sallie Felton
by Deborah Atherton
There are some creative people who live and work in pristine environments,
who can maintain a space where there is a place for everything and everything is in that place. They function beautifully in these spaces, and sometimes even thoughtfully raise a bonsai tree or two.
I live in a space that is full of my family furniture and four generations of books, photographs, art work and random Tibetan prayer shawls. I have my great-grandmother’s tea table, my grandmother’s theater playbills, my mother’s seashell collection, my father’s backgammon set, and the next generation’s collection of comic books and manga, not to mention the entire family genealogical archives in my walk-in closet.
Recently, I participated in a decluttering workshop run by the wonderful lifecoach Sallie Felton, based on her new book, If I’m So Smart, Why Can’t I Get Rid of This Clutter? I thought I was in it to get the books and files off the floor in my office/bedroom but as it turned out, Sallie, who has a genius for this stuff, addresses not just physical clutter, but emotional and mental clutter. And in the process of going through her exercises (which I recommend highly to all of you!), I realized that the clutter that was bothering me most was not the physical clutter around me (although that may well be what is bothering my family and friends most) but the clutter inside my head and my computer: the books and stories and songs that were completed, or one intensive edit away from being completed, but not out circulating in the world where they should be.
We all have reasons for not sending stuff out: it’s not perfect yet, or we don’t have time, or it maybe got rejected once or twice and we don’t want to experience any more rejection. But until I took this workshop, I hadn’t fully realized I had TWO FINISHED BOOKS sitting idly on my computer.
One of them was a collaboration with my sister, friend, and collaborator, Susan. We had finished it in the last century, but two rejections, and moves, caretaking, and deaths in the family had led us to put it on the back burner. I called her in the midst of my decluttering effort and suggested we pick it up again, and publish it, by any means necessary. We are now in the midst of the required intensive edit, and are going to get it out the door and make it stay out there, no matter how much it pleads to come back in.
Another is my literary novel, which grew out of my “dating stories,” and captures a certain kind of New York social life in the first decade of the 21st century (you see I was moving along.) I sent that out exactly once before it ended up back in my computer. And out the door it will now go this fall, after a less-intensive edit, before another century has passed.
We talk a lot about rejection on this blog, and I thought I was at least mostly over it, and in terms sending out my short stories, maybe I am. But apparently the novels are another story, and one I somehow shut out of my mind and pushed to the bottom of the pile. With Sallie’s help and encouragement, I am on it.
And, you will now ask, how about those piles of books on the floor?
Well, some of them have gotten into boxes, but apparently, I am not yet ready to clear the decks and bring in the bonsai trees. But that’s okay—there’s obviously another decluttering workshop (or maybe ten) in my future, and another thing Sallie will tell you is that you have to start where you stand, and change is always incremental. I’ll keep you posted.
Tags: Dealing with Criticism, inner critic, mindfulness, naysayers, overcoming internal blocks, People Blocks
by Leslie Zeigler
We often talk on this blog site about naysayers - you know who they are - the people in your life, either from your past or your present, who are are ever-so-skilled in delivering that critical message. The message that has the power to be worse than a bee sting in its lingering sting. It may not matter how confident you are about your creative endeavor – this message feels like just the opposite of an encouraging comment. It can make you doubt your own talents and abilities. The person may even think they are being helpful by saying: ”Perhaps you are wasting your time trying to write. You must know you will never win a Pulitzer.”
Another form this naysaying might take can be silence about anything you do that is creative - a complete absence of comment, as if these people had selective amnesia when it comes to your creativity. Sometimes this type of naysayer style can hurt even more than the overtly negative comment.
But what about the naysayer inside of you? Are you aware that you might be your own worst naysayer - the one who has the greatest power to stop you from pursuing your creative dream? It can occur in a very subtle way - a brief occasional internal message that you may barely notice, like ”Are you sure you write well enough to keep working on that short story?” Or perhaps you tell yourself you are wasting your money on those workshops you are taking to become a better writer or classes to become a better painter, photographer, actor, etc, etc., etc. Or maybe it is not subtle at all - maybe it a a loud, repetitive, internal voice that says you are really a fraud, you really should just stop whatever passion you are directing towards your creativity and give up and focus your energy on anything else but being creative.
So what can you do? First of all, understand that you cannot easily get rid of this kind of internal message. Just trying to order it to stop it does not usually work. It is rare to meet someone who does not struggle to some degree (the operative words) with self-doubt and harsh self-critical messages.
But there are things you can do. The first step is to become your own detective of your internal naysayer messages. As you do this, begin to raise your awareness that the message is negative and just that – an internal message - not a fact.
In the book The Mindful Way through Anxiety, by Susan M. Orsillo, PhD, Lizabeth Roemer, PhD, the authors say “The human mind is like a movie theater that never closes -always prepared to show films of what we fear.”
This is a beginning step to take in using mindfulness as a way to help cope better with these understandably upsetting messages. In my next blog post I will describe Step 2 in using mindfulness.
Tags: artists and day jobs, creative ritual, day gig, day job, making time for creativity, where do I find the time
by Deborah Atherton
Most of us have them. They may not be full time; we might be able to do them from home. But relatively few of us are able to support ourselves purely on our creative projects. Some of us teach the art we practice, but although it’s wonderful to share what we’ve learned with others, we all know that this is not the same thing as doing your own work.
I am truly inspired by fellow writers and other artists who accept the lower income and lack of health insurance that often comes with pursuing your art full time. I wish we lived in a country where health insurance and housing was affordable for everyone, and more of us could work at what we love 40 or 60 hours a week without penalty.
But given that we don’t quite live in that world, how do we handle our day gigs?People striving to make time for creativity take widely different approaches. I work for a nonprofit whose work I believe in that offers me an opportunity to do some writing and research. Some people prefer to work jobs that have absolutely nothing to do with their art. I know a writer who is a locksmith and another who is an iron worker. The actor or filmmaker who is currently a waiter or barista has become an American cultural icon. We are postal workers and lawyers and bankers and taxi drivers. We teach grade school and work in giant box stores.
But whatever our day gig, balancing it with our creative life is a perpetual challenge. People often ask me the following question: “How do have the energy to work on so many different projects? I’m exhausted when I come home at night!”
Well, me too. Honestly, 50% of the time I come home from work, eat dinner, and flop in front of the TV. I know far more about criminal investigative techniques (as least as presented by CBS) than any honest person ought to.
Most of my creative work I do, not at night after work, but in what I think of as little pockets of time I extract from the rest of my life. I have developed the habit of keeping a notebook or netbook by the bed so I write for a little while last thing at night and first thing in the morning. Lunch time is sometimes social, but at least a few times a week I find a place and moment to myself to do some work. Weekends offer many little pockets of time, although perhaps not the luxurious stretches you might hope for—after all, there’s the rest of your life: laundry and grocery shopping and going to the drug store and hanging out with your family and friends and picking up the dry cleaning.
The biggest trick (and one that often eludes me) is keeping yourself open to creative ideas and opportunities while you are functioning in the rest of your life. Keeping the notebook or sketchbook or camera (or handy double duty i-Phone) at hand for random inspiration. And never letting go of the idea that your creative life is at least as real and important as the one that supplies health insurance and groceries and maybe even helps save the world. There’s more than one way to save the world, and, at least in my eyes, staying on course with your creative goals and projects is one of them.
Tags: beginning the creative process, creatng rituals, obama, obama daily letters, where do I find the time
A few months ago, one night while watching TV, I watched a story on President Obama sitting down every night and answering ten letters that he had received from the public. I became curious , and found a more detailed New York Times article (by Ashley Parker in the April 19, 2009 issue). The article described the tens of thousands of letters, e-mails, messages and faxes that arrive at the White House every day. Each weekday afternoon, a few hundred end up in the office of Mr. Kelleher, the Director of the White House Office of Correspondence . He then chooses ten letters, which he slips into a purple folder and puts in in the daily briefing book that is delivered to President Obama at the White House Residence.
The real question is: what did it mean to me? It was really quite simple. If he can take the time to do this task , why is it so hard for me and other people to find the time to be creative? He found the time to do something he clearly felt passionate about.
This daily action has become a source of Inspiration for me. Brian Tracy in his book, Eat That Frog 21 GREAT Ways To Stop Procrcrastinating And Get More Done in Less Time says “There is never enough time to do everything you have to do.” He adds, ”you can get control of your tasks and activities only to the degree you stop doing some things and start spending more time on the few activities that can really make a difference in your life.”
So is writing that poem, novel, screenplay and/or signing up for that photography, pottery, dance, writing class a priority? If the President can make time for ten letters a day to people he never met, can you devote the same amount of time to launching (or sustaining) your own creative projects?
Tags: Creative Blocks, Creativity blockers, Dealing with Criticism, People Blocks, should I have heard of you, writing blocks
If you say to one of them, “My photograph just won an award!” Or, “My poem just got published!” Or, “My film just got accepted into a festival!” they may manage a “How nice.” More likely, their eyes will glaze overand they will start telling you about what THEY did last weekend.
Did You Get Much Money for That?
Or they may say to you, (and this is my personal favorite), “Did you get much money for that?” Please notice the “much” here, because no matter what sum, from 0 to 1,000,000, that you received for your hard work, it is clear that it isn’t much at all, in the creativity blocker’s scale of things. Sometimes they offer comments like, “I don’t know why you work so hard on that (painting, blog, musical).” “How many years have you been doing that?” Or better yet, “Do people still do that?”
Are You Famous?
And of course, we’ve all heard this at parties or events: “Should I have heard of you?” “Are you famous?” Once upon a time, I thought it was all innocence and ignorance. Maybe they really did think that people no longer wrote books, or painted pictures, or (in my case) wrote operas. Somehow these things were generated from a Great Computer in the Sky, and descended full blown upon us.
But now I realize that it’s not that, or it’s more than that. Many people aren’t comfortable around poets, or playwrights, or musicians, because even in this age of YouTube and America’s Got Talent, creative efforts are not perceived as something regular people do. And if you are successful at it: if you make a living, or part of a living, at it, you’re even odder. Somehow, you’re cheating. You’re taking a step away from the way most people live their lives; you’re going into a back room, or out on the street, or even to the bar around the corner with your band, and creating something brand new in the world. And if there’s one thing people aren’t really comfortable with, it’s change. (There does seem to be a gadget exception to this rule; everyone loves their new cars and smart phones. I do wonder, however, how much they’d have to say to the person who designed them?)
No Point. No Time. No Good
It’s discouraging. We’d all like a little acknowledgement for our efforts. We’d like the people around us to be thrilled with our success, and sympathetic to the disappointments that line the road to any successful creative effort. We try hard to get them interested in what we’re doing, and sometimes their disinterest seems like a global rejection. We’re not just hearing “no” from the people who could open doors for us, we’re hearing it from our friends and colleagues and sometimes even our families. “No point.” “No time.” “No good.”
So what do we do?
We find other people to talk to. We’re lucky, in 2012, that the world is open to us through the Internet. But we can also seek out other people in our communities, even in our workplaces, whose eyes actually spark with interest instead of dulling with dread when we start talking about what we love to do.
And we don’t try and interest people who we terrify with our love of what we do. The more you succeed, the more you keep going, the less happy they will be. The jabs and disinterest might turn to something more hostile. Ever notice how fast people turn on performers who don’t meet their expectations? (Just try a half hour of any celebrity reality TV show.) Deep down, they may not feel really normal people are out there acting and singing and making movies and games.
Getting By With a Little Help From Your Friends
We get pretty good at insulating ourselves within circles of friends and fellow creative people as we get older, and find ways to hold some of this at bay. But for those striving to create something in a hostile culture or community or family situation, this can a life-long problem. And the best solution is finding the people who will support you, even if they are 8,000 miles away and can only IM you at midnight. Creative people do their best when they can ignore (or go around) the blockers, keep working on their projects, and get a little help from their friends.
Many thanks to Eric Ember, the Intuitive Edge Photographer in Residence, for his portrait of Sam suspiciously eyeing Murray, the Intuitive Edge Creative Cat in Residence. And thanks also to Claudia Carlson for the idea.
In a prior blog post I wrote about how Maslow was a humanistic psychologist and believed that in every person there is a strong desire to realize his or her full potential. He believed creativity was an aspect of personality. Another interesting idea he had was that there are “two sets of forces–one that clings to safety and defensiveness out of fear and one that urges us towards wholeness and full expression of our true selves. . . One part of us is afraid to take chances …afraid to bother the status quo… …Another part is driven by a nagging sense of feeling unfulfilled, that our lives will be incomplete unless we express ourselves in some important way.”
He adds that growth forward takes place in little steps. He believed that this slow process made it safer for us to change and grow.
Perhaps you may want to ask yourself: What do you need emotionally to help you take that first small step or the next step in your current creative project?
Tags: Ben Dean, Chris Petersen, happiness and creativity, happiness experiment, Mentor Coach, To Do lists
Posted by Deborah Atherton
A month ago, renowned positive psychologist Chris Petersen said in an interview with Ben Dean of Mentor Coach that in the early days of his interest in researching happiness, he had kept a daily catalog of his activities on happy and unhappy days, to see what actually contributed to his own happiness. Since I am always excited about a new list, I decided to keep my own spreadsheet for a month on my happy and less happy days, and what, by the end of a day, in my mind made it a happy one. Chris Petersen said, to his surprise, that his own happiness depended on the completion of a task—that even finishing a big load of laundry was enough to make him happy. Ben asked if working on his book didn’t make him happier than doing the laundry. Chris replied, “Not really. I just like finishing things.”
Well, here I am, thirty days later, and it was certainly an interesting way of looking at your life. Usually, I am focused on my writing, my job, my family and friends, what I’m making for dinner, what’s on TV, what I have to read, etc. Sitting down at the end of the day, assessing how you feel, and just listing what you’ve done, turns out to be a fascinating personal exercise.
But just finishing things didn’t do it for me. I had one highly virtuous day of housekeeping, finishing everything from the laundry to washing the kitchen floor, which left me completely cranky at the end.
What did do it for me was working on something I consider creative. Which might be this blog, or a short story, or song lyrics, or working on my novel. Every day I did something creative, I ended the day happy, even if it was a difficult day in other ways, and even if I couldn’t get too far with what I was doing.
The other thing that worked for me was doing absolutely nothing–throwing the To Do list and all my projects out the window for the day and just ordering Chinese for dinner and reading or watching TV—or playing my favorite new video word game, Word Mole.
Despite my love of solitude, days when I spoke to people I care about tended to be happier, a lesson for the creative introverts and hermits of the world.
Of course, understanding what makes you happy and acting on it are two different things, which is one reason why the field of positive psychology is so popular right now. But I now know that if I spend even fifteen minutes sitting down and writing a few words, my whole day is happier—it’s like a free painkiller with no bad side effects.
Whether your key to happiness turns out to be finishing the laundry or polishing your prose, it might be fun to take a few minutes at the end of the day for the next month (or even week) and find out. I’m guessing that for you, like me, it might be taking a photograph, or painting a landscape, or finding just the right chord to end a song. Of course, it’s important not to confuse personal happiness with external approval or success—but that is a blog for another day.
Tags: authentic voice, Creative Process, nourishing creativity, Sheri Heller
by Leslie Zeigler
This is a second blog entry about Sheri Heller, a colleague of mine who is an Interfaith Reverend and psychotherapist as well as a writer, playwright and actor. She is the founder of the Philanthropic Theater Group Sistah Tribe. Sistah Tribe is a collective of women and men who bring to the theater the culturally under-served and disenfranchised.
In my conversation with Sheri, I noticed a thread that ran through much of what she shared with me – which is her deeply held belief that “when we connect to our creative impulses we are deeply authentic. “ She goes on to say “creativity teaches us about ourselves.” In her own deeply authentic voice she says, ”I always knew there was an artist in me, but I didn’t feel entitled to give her permission and in certain ways was afraid to give her expression for fear of my own power being allowed to shine and play.”
How about you? ARE YOU WILLING TO DARE TO ALLOW YOURSELF TO SHINE AND PLAY ?