June 29, 2009

Posted by Deborah Atherton

I’m guessing most creative people have a number of unfinished projects languishing in their basement, attic, or desk drawer. How many of us have half-written stories, treatments for never-written screenplays, still life paintings featuring a bowl and no fruit, unstrung guitars, unglazed pots, or scratchy renditions of songs that never got transferred from cassette to MP3 lingering somewhere in the background?

Well, dear readers, me too. It’s not that I can’t ever finish things. I’ve finished short stories that got published, opera and music theater pieces that got produced, articles, reviews, etc. etc. But. But. Sometimes it doesn’t happen; sometimes work gets lost or dropped or put aside. And sometimes – as for instance just a few days ago – it suddenly occurs to me that I am more than two-thirds of the way through my new project – in this case my novel – and a wave of – terror is too big a word for it – I suppose anxiety will have to do – a wave, or at least a current, of anxiety hits me. Finishing the novel seems too final, too scary, and not nearly as far off as it was 200 pages ago. And so my writing hours get postponed from morning to evening, and suddenly it is now or a whole day will be lost, and I force myself to sit down at the computer and promise I will let myself get up after a paragraph if I really, really can’t do it.

But if I can make myself do it – if I can force myself to push through the resistance and sit down and focus on doing the thing I love – the rewards are often great. When I finally sat down a few days ago, I didn’t get up after one paragraph. Time disappeared as soon I dove back into the story, and several hours passed quickly. A few more pages made their appearance, bringing me closer to The End. And I once more learned the lesson we all know, really, that nothing happens unless you sit down and allow it to happen. But only another creative person knows how great the distance is between standing and staring down at your desk, and actually sitting down to work. You could drive from New York to Miami, and it would seem short compared to the time it takes to get from the edge of your desk to sitting yourself firmly in that chair.

We all have to make that long-distance journey, every time we commit once more to finishing our creative work. It’s the distance between dreaming and doing, and no one can make it easy for us. But if we’re sure to pack plenty of coffee and water, and check in with friends along the way, we can usually complete our trip. And nothing feels better than arriving at the destination we set when we began.

About Procrastination and Being Creative

June 22, 2009

Posted by Leslie Zeigler

Tonight  I was talking to my older sister  Gail .  a special education teacher who lives in Charleston, South Carolina ,   about her creative projects.   I  know that she has a passion for writing children’s books,  yet has been having significant difficulty sustaining any continuity in actually getting a book written  and then hopefully published.

So I asked her why does she procrastinate ?    She replied,  ” I think it is because I secretly feel in my own mind that I am not any good and so why should I even start. ”  She added, “when you have other people , like Deborah spoke about in her Post, The People Blocks, that  laugh at you it confirms what  you feel about yourself.”  “I’m no good.  I  would rather do nothing than make a fool of myself.”

Her responses certainly upset  and frustrate me because I feel sad to think that she is holding herself  back because of negative internal messages.   So I asked her if she would be willing to let me work with her weekly, in telephone calls,   to begin to help her overcome this block.  She is receptive and I will  continue to report on this blog the process that we engage in  together  to hopefully help her complete  at least one of her  children’s book ideas.  And hopefully be able to sustain  in an ongoing way her creative interests.

Perhaps others who read this blog can either relate to a problem with procrastination even though the reason may be different than  the one my sister Gail has described.   Please feel free to leave comments and let us know  what stops you and whether you have found a way to move forward.

The People Blocks

June 14, 2009

Posted by Deborah Atherton

In a recent email exchange with novelist Andrew Washton, we pondered the dismaying fact that sometimes the biggest obstacles to beginning to live a more creative life are the people around us.

They may actively block us by making fun of our aspirations (“Picking up those drumsticks again at YOUR age? Are you kidding?”) Or they may resent us taking the time away from them and their plans for us.  (“But we were supposed to go visit my mother today! You’ve been working on that screenplay for years; it can wait one more Sunday.”)

Or, most likely of all, they will be completely indifferent to our aspirations and dreams. (“You have a photography show up in the gallery downtown? Oh, sorry I can’t make it this month – it’s just not inconvenient.”) You offer to make it easy for them by sending them the photographs on Flickr; but somehow, they just can’t get interested. Any success you have is met with slightly embarrassed indifference. The family and friends you would think would be your most enthusiastic audience are a great deal less interested in your work than total strangers who wander in off the street.

We can analyze their motives to death. Maybe they feel competition (Mom always liked YOUR finger paintings best.) Maybe they feel envy at the creative energy and involvement that is recharging your life. Maybe the very ideas of creativity, art, or inspiration are alien and uncomfortable to them, and they’re just a lot more comfortable with worrying about who won Celebrity Apprentice this year. Or maybe they’re afraid that your new creative efforts will inevitably pull you away from them.

In this, they may not be entirely wrong. As you pursue the projects and ideas that truly interest and involve you, you’ll find other people who do support your work and the way you are using your time. Some of the strangers who wander in off the street and admire your photographs or your songs or your stories or your paintings will become fans, and even friends. Your Facebook page might start having fellow artists and creatives on it, as well as your cousins in Minnesota and your old high school buddies.

The people you see on Thanksgiving may never care about your next exhibit or your new book, but, as time goes on, other people will. And you’ll learn how to admire pictures of the new baby or gas grill without expecting appreciation of your creative life from people who, for many reasons, have no appreciation to give.

Although you may notice, as the outside world begins to pay more attention, that interest on the home front will also pick up, and requests for tickets, free copies, or prints begin to mount. And then it will be up to you to decide just how gracious to be.

Why do many of us have difficulty making the time to be creative?

June 8, 2009

I know that I, too,  like the personal examples Deborah mentioned in her June 2nd Post,  sometimes put off doing something creative.   I’ll say to myself  “I just don’t have the time.”  And yet, I know that I  ALWAYS ENJOY  the creative activity   that I engage in.   For me being creative almost feels like ordering a second dessert at a fine restaurant. And I am a health nut who rarely orders even a first dessert!!  So for me it feels like I’m sneaking into my already overcrowded to do list a  very special treat.  I wonder if other people feel like I do.  I often feel like I have to first do the necessary tasks of daily living like we all do – getting the dishes done, the bills,  stuff like that – the boring stuff. And yet what I finally realized was that I’ll never really have the time to  do something creative. I have to decide to COMMIT  to myself that I deserve to be creative and therefore it makes it easier to set aside the time. It is really like  making an appointment with the doctor. We all know that we have to go to the doctor even if we don’t  want to or have very busy schedules.

In his book, Happier, Learn the Secrets Of Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment, by Tal Ben-Shahar   that Deborah and I both read , he talks about the importance of  setting up rituals.  All he means is assigning a task in your calendar to a specific day and time.  It really is an appointment with yourself.  It will probably be alot more fun that a trip to the dentist!!

I Just Don’t Have the Time

June 2, 2009

When we ask people what stops them from launching a creative activity that interests them, the excuse we hear most often is: I don’t have the time.

When we ask them how they use their time, they tell us: I have a full time job. I’m exhausted when I get home. I need one day a week for shopping and chores, and then – don’t I deserve one day a week to do nothing? And I never get through my to do list on Saturday, anyway.

Okay, some people really don’t have the time. Mothers with three children under five are probably going to have to wait a while to take up painting again. If you’re sitting in the West Wing trying to solve the problems of the automobile industry, this may not be the moment to start your novel.

But ordinary people, with ordinary workdays, can probably squeeze a little more time out of their days to undertake something that will expand and energize their lives.

The trick is, it doesn’t have to be a lot of time. We often stop ourselves by making our plans for our creative work so glorious and grandiose that we can’t possibly live up to it. “I’ll wake up every morning and write ten pages,” we tell ourselves. Or, “I’ll come home and before I even eat dinner, I’ll find my saxophone and do scales for an hour.”

Well, no you won’t, most likely. It’s too much to be starting with. Most likely, you’ve been putting this off for a long time, and you’re in a rush to DO IT NOW! Because in your heart of hearts, you’re afraid if you don’t do it quickly, and do it all at once, you will never do it.

So next time you start thinking about it, try thinking small. Don’t think about waking up every morning and writing ten pages – think about making an appointment with yourself on your “free” day to write for half an hour. Or maybe fifteen minutes, if half an hour is too much. Everyone has fifteen minutes to spare. You’d spare it for a friend who called you with a problem, wouldn’t you? Okay, this time, be your own friend. Just give yourself a little time – a very little time.

Get the piano that’s been sitting in the corner unplayed for so long tuned, and just sit down at it for a quarter of an hour, once a week. Don’t worry if it needs to be refinished, or it doesn’t hold its tune as long as it should. Just sit and play for fifteen minutes a week, and see what it feels like.

Maybe, after a few weeks, you’ll find you’ve actually been sitting for half an hour. Maybe, after a few weeks more, you might find yourself setting another quarter hour after you get home for work. (But please eat dinner first!) Maybe after a couple of months, you’ll have a series of sketches, or a set of photographs, or a completed short story, that you feel good about.

No working person has a lot of time. Almost everybody has a little time. And your creative dream is worth a little time.