Archive for the ‘Creativity’ Category

What are you delivering?

It is essential to ask yourself this sort of question, whether you are doing knowledge work or physical labor. Knowledge workers don’t often immediately create a physical product as a result of manual labor. Rather, their work is more “virtual.” Physical work generally results in something tangible. They both deliver something. It sounds simple enough, doesn’t it? Knowing what you are delivering lets you know when you are done.

Some simplified examples of professionals and their deliverables:

  • Auto-body Mechanic/Technician - a fixed axle on a car, returned to the customer
  • Web Developer - optimized, valid (x)html files, uploaded to the server
  • Print Designer - high-res CMYK PDF, sent to printer
  • Marketing Coordinator - bulleted list of marketing mix strategy for next year
  • Novelist - 300 pages of manuscript

Now, art is a weird hybrid between manual labor and knowledge work. You can end up with a physical object like a sculpture. Or you can create something abstract like a song, experienced in the moment and described even more abstractly with coded marks on paper. Often enough, though, the final result reaches physical form somehow. The end product for poetry is likely to be some sort of bound volume with those poems in print. And music? Well, it can come in the form of a compact disc, a digital download, or a concert with concert-goers clapping their hands enthusiastically.

If you’re still with me, I realize you may be saying, “All right, Captian Obvious, it’s pretty plain that a painter will end up with a painting and a novelist will end up with a novel.” Right. But this kind of thinking will help you focus on your end product and not get sidetracked, as we artists are wont to do.

The bottom line is, this is outcome-based thinking. It helps you know when you’ve reached your goal because you were specific about it. You have created the promised deliverable, whether that promise was to yourself or someone else.

Showing Up

Chuck Close at WorkWhen you’re creating things, you can’t rely on inspiration alone, only painting, writing, sculpting, whatever, when the mood strikes. You have to show up on a regular basis, day in and day out. Creative efforts require a lot of commitment and professionalism. When you do this, you will be “favored by the Muse(s),” if you follow a more mystical viewpoint a la Stephen Pressfield or Julia Cameron. I like how Chuck Close puts it:

“I always say that inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work.”

In an interview with NPR, Chuck Close talks about how his modular marks (I think of them as hot dogs) wind up becoming massive nine-foot self-portraits just through hard work and dedication.

Put this practice into action by setting specific times to work, then stick to it. It doesn’t necessarily have to be 8:00 am to 5:00 PM, but it does need to be consistent and regular. (I know one artist who goes to bed at 8 or 9 PM and gets up at 3 AM to paint, and he does some pretty amazing stuff.) Personally, I try to set aside Tuesday evenings and Saturday afternoons to paint, since that’s what works best with my schedule.

Morning Pages are another form of showing up. (In fact, I think Julia Cameron uses the phrase “showing up at the page” in her book The Artist’s Way.) You show up and you write, dumping out everything that’s in your mind and on your chest, stream-of-conscious style. Showing up like this also gives you the benefit of figuring out what you really need to be doing.

So if you really want to bust creative block and “turn professional,” you have to show up on a regular basis.

Creative Block and the Seasoned Pro

I’ve talked about gumption traps a lot recently: gumption traps in general and in specific for artists and graphic designers. Gumption traps, or creative blocks as they’re more commonly called when applied to creative disciplines, are common to all, but they appear to crop up most often for beginners. The seasoned artist experiences blocks, too. Perhaps as often if not more often than the beginner. The thing is, the pro isn’t set back for very long, while the beginner may get stuck on something for a long time.

How the Professional Confronts Creative Blocks

When faced with a trap or a block, the seasoned professional:

  • Recognizes traps for what they are
    They’re setbacks that can get you stuck if you let them, but nothing that can’t be overcome.
  • Has dealt with them before
    He or she knows from experience what to do in those tricky situations that stump beginners. Not to imply that every problem has a ready-made solution out there, but an artist will encounter a lot of similar problems in his lifetime.

Does an experienced artist whine, gripe, and complain about a particular piece? You betcha. But he moves on and keeps doing his work, not letting a little setback keep him down. It’s part of “turning pro” as it’s explained in The War of Art. It’s all about attitude.

I’m not dead yet!

The bottom line is this: the dedicated professional knows he’ll survive no matter what blocks come his way. He’s lived through them before. So why get worked up over one little setback now, if the setbacks in the past were overcome at some point?

Links Roundup for March 29, 2008

Not enough to qualify for me to use to write complete posts (although one or two have the potential for me to expand upon at some future date), here are some links I’ve come across recently that you might find useful in your creative efforts.

Worth Reading: _The War of Art_

Book Cover for The War of Art by Steven Pressfield A few months ago I picked up the book The War of Art by Steven Pressfield, who also wrote The Legend of Bagger Vance. It’s an excellent book that deals with getting yourself off your rear end and doing whatever it is you were meant to do, whether it’s writing The Great American Novel or starting a business.


Pressfield begins by taking a good, hard look at what he calls “Resistance,” that thing that keeps us from doing anything difficult or end up with a good long-term result. Book One, “Defining the Enemy” talks about the many forms Resistance takes, many of which you will recognize right away. In Book Two, he quickly moves on to the idea of “Turning Pro” — resisting Resistance by not procrastinating and treating your art as a job. Just plug away at it, even if it’s crap. It’s the old “quantity over quality” idea that says if you work hard enough and long enough and make enough, the quality will happen on it’s own. Finally, he conludes this short book with third section about his fervent belief in angels and muses, who inspire him. He even cites Homer’s Invocation of the Muse (it’s his prayer before he begins writing) and touches on Jungian psychology.

My take: no nonsense (or very little, anyway)

I really appreciate Pressfield’s no-nonsense, tell-it-straight writing style that mixes in humor and an uplifting moment or two along with the career successes and failures he shares. The former Marine has an in-the-trenches attitude that says: “Cut the crap and get the art done.” I will say that the last section of the book, “Beyond Resistance: Higher Realm” gets a bit weird with all the talk about angels and muses. Then it takes a weird turn where he starts swearing at the first novel he ever finished. Nonetheless it’s a great book, and I enjoyed the tidbits of Greek history and philosophy.

It’s written in an almost devotional sort of format, with each “chapter” rarely going more than one or two pages. The chapters had a bite-sized “blog post” feel. One could read a page a day at random as they get fired up to go to their studio and do their art. I loved the lack of New-Agey fluff that’s so common to art/self-help books like The Artist’s Way. It’s a great book that will inspire you to get off your butt and get moving. There are great tidbits of advice and pep-talk without any sugar-coating at all. I highly recommend it to any creative person, whether they’re stuck or not.