Stop in the middle. Never stop working at the natural barriers. The next time you start working, the barrier will be the first thing you encounter, and you won’t have the momentum to overcome it. — Ernest Hemingway
Procrastination wasn’t a word I applied to myself. My husband would second that because if something needs doing, I can’t rest until it’s done. However, I did have a hard time getting on track again once I completed a painting. It wasn’t because I was putting it off but more because I didn’t know where to start.
Back when I taught creative writing I always mentioned Hemingway’s process to my students as sound advice to help them avoid the quicksand of creative procrastination. Knowing what you want to write next keeps the ‘juice’ flowing. I just never applied it to my painting process until now. Talk about tunnel vision!
Up until a few weeks ago, I worked on one piece at a time. I called it “focus” but now I see it created a natural barrier to the next piece. When I finished a painting, it took me a few days to find my next subject and face the blank sheet of paper. Flailing about, trying to decide on “What next?” is my version of creative procrastination. It frustrated the heck out of me.
I don’t remember exactly what inspired me to start 3-4 pieces at the same time but I will be forever grateful to the Muse for that whisper in my ear.
Since that AHA moment, I look forward to getting to my studio each day. Knowing what I’m going to work on feels liberating. Spread across the two tables where I paint are pieces in different stages so I can always find a place to start. I also keep a list of ideas and reference photos tacked up over my table. Also, working in a series helps. As I finish a piece, I choose something, start the sketch and do my colour tests.
I’ve completed a number of pieces in the last few weeks because of my “new” habit. It’s also why I haven’t posted on the blog for awhile. I’ve been too busy in the studio!
Found a fix for your procrastination habit? Please, share it in the comments and spread the word.
The artist is nothing without the gift, but the gift is nothing without work. – Emile Zola
Time away is a gift
This year, being away for a whole month was a first for both of us.
A month changes things, providing distance and perspective. It made me see I was in danger of filling my schedule with things that took me away from what I really wanted. Putting together a program to help artists find time was keeping me too busy to paint.
How’s that for irony?
So I took a deep breath, slowed down and asked,
“What do I really want in 2019?”
Easy. I want to prioritize my painting.
That means committing to a daily practice of drawing and painting, taking time to be a student and making my art a priority rather than an afterthought. Like practicing daily scales, I need to put in the work.
We all have our own ways of bringing our dreams to life, but what we do each day, at a ‘right here, right now’ level, will determine whether we get there. — Tara Leaver, Artist
And, as we all know, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. When I say “Yes” to something then I must say “No” to something else.
“What is necessary and what is distraction?”
When I arrived back home I began making time for my dreams by looking at the “mental clutter” I had allowed into my life. Like physical clutter, it took up space, made it hard to navigate and gathered dust.
I don’t know about you, but I tend to subscribe to things as I’m browsing because they catch my eye or I want their ‘freebie’ or there’s a program I’m interested in. That means I end up on a lot of lists if I’m not careful.
Now I looked at each and every promotion and update that came through my inbox and held it up for scrutiny.
Did I even sign up for this? Even with all the anti-spam laws, I still get added to lists without my permission. Those are an easy decision. Unsubscribe.
Is this information pertinent to me anymore? More often than not the answer was No because my life has changed so much. Unsubscribe.
When was the last time I read the information this sender provides? If I can’t even remember – unsubscribe.
Now I’ll admit that unsubscribing sometimes felt a little like breaking up. Often they ask “Why” and it’s tempting to write “It’s not you, it’s me”. Mostly though, I skip giving a reason unless the sender is a friend in the real world.
This is an ongoing process but the difference in less than a week was phenomenal. My inbox holds only those things I deem important to me personally or to my renewed focus on the painting.
And speaking of distractions…
Where do I want to invest time on social platforms? Do I have a reason for being there?
For me, it boils down to Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest, which make sense to me as a visual artist. I deleted my profile on LinkedIn because I’m not in the corporate/business world any longer. The jury is still out about Twitter.
I left a number of Facebook groups because I wasn’t interacting or they belonged to a different phase of my life. My Creative Fire Café , of course, stays put. I love the community we created and what we learn from each other. The social aspect of Facebook is also a gift because it keeps me in touch with family and friends.
Gift of Changing “The way it’s always been”
The “Yes” part means daily time in my studio, painting and learning. In the past, I held a belief that my creative time “had” to be in the morning. And yet, I easily slipped into an afternoon routine which feels natural.
By taking care of a few things each morning such as social media, my coaching practice and biz admin (and yes, household chores) I relax and totally focus on my art in the afternoons. Up to now, I hadn’t even recognized that feeling of “something’s not done” and the pressure it created to hurry through my painting time.
Now the parent part of my brain says “Right. Chores are done. Go play.”
At the end of my studio time, right on the dot of 4:00, Joey the Dog comes in, sits down and stares hard at me. He’s letting me know in no uncertain terms, it’s time for his walk. It’s like having my own personal trainer.
These days I find myself taking longer walks which means more fresh air and exercise. Because my other priorities now have their place, I am free to enjoy the moment plus the exercise loosens me up after sitting for so long. When I get back to the house, my husband and I have a cup of tea and spend some quiet time together.
Without even trying, I’m practicing better self-care and enjoying quality time with the spouse, a precious gift.
The Sum of the Equation
All of these small changes add up. Fast. I see positive growth in my art which translates into feeling relaxed and happy, knowing my dreams are getting daily attention. I even sleep better. My time is being spent on priorities, not busy work.
What strategies have worked for you when it comes to finding more time to focus on your priorities?
Our life is frittered away by detail… simplify, simplify. – Henry David Thoreau
Simplify. Sounds so easy but here I am, once again, learning the lessons of simplicity. To ask myself if I really need to do ________(fill in the blank) or is it a distraction? Does this painting need this level of detail or am I fussing too much? Do I really need to do this chore or is it busy work?
Getting too ‘fussy’ results in chases down rabbit holes and procrastination.
I have to stop myself and ask “Who made up this rule anyhow? My standard? Or someone else’s?”
A good case in point is my MuseLetter. I can get so caught up in what the ‘gurus’ say I must do that I overcomplicate things. It’s far more important to listen to what my subscribers say they what.
When I simplify, everything else flows
Time and again, people tell me they like the MuseLetter I send out because its simple and short. They can take a couple of minutes out of a busy day to be inspired.
That’s also the reason I like it. It’s simple which means it doesn’t take hours to create but it keeps me in touch. When I try to get “fancy” I end up procrastinating.
The same thing works in my paintings. When I keep composition pared down to the essentials, I feel a different energy and I find people respond to it differently.
In my art work, it’s the same question. “What does the viewer want?”
The simple answer for me is they want to share my experience. Keeping it simple feels lighter and I like the idea of inviting my viewer to be part of the creative process as their imagination fills in the details.
So my creative mantra is “Simplify…simplify” because who doesn’t love it when life flows along easily?
Last week Nova Scotia experienced the fourth nor’easter in about two weeks. Watching the snow swirl and the waves crash on the shore below us reminded me of those stormy days I struggled into work in the city. I’d dream about staying home close to a warm fire, doing something I loved.
After three storms, it struck me I still hadn’t done anything about that dream.
What was I waiting for?
Decision made, I set up a small painting area near the fire and that’s where I spent my afternoon. Watching the storm out the windows to my left. Drinking tea. Making art. Living the dream.
That pocket of time was right under my nose and I almost missed it. Almost.
I turned off my autopilot, climbed into the pilot’s seat and took back control.
Take the time
You might not be gifted with a whole afternoon as I was but most of us can find fifteen minutes in almost every day. Keep a small sketchbook and pencil handy and be awake to those moments that come our way.
It’s been way too log since my last post because life has been “crazy busy”. I had to make some choices because that ebb and flow thing I wrote about? It showed up in a big way.
After a training gig in Toronto, I enjoyed a couple of weeks at home in Nova Scotia and then headed to Ohio for our granddaughter’s high school graduation. I brought sketching supplies with me and found time to enjoy the gardens during the ten days we were there.
I wanted quality time with my family but I’m also committed to my creative practice. That meant each day I made personal choices about where I would spend a few quiet creative minutes.
On the first of June, we headed back to Nova Scotia with three grand-kids for a month of adventure. They loved it here, beach combing, shell collecting and hiking the shoreline. I loved giving my grand-kids the freedom I knew as a child.
In between entertaining, I still made choices for creative time. I finished the edits of an anthology I’m part of and sent it off to the publisher. Then, over the course of a few days, I prepared twenty pieces of my original art for The Art Shack opening. (Hanging my pictures in a gallery for the first time is pretty exciting!)
Finally, last week I completed a new painting – Rockin’ the Story – in between sight-seeing with my son and his family. (I’ll share the process of creating this one and why I chose the title in my next post.)
Frankly, there simply wasn’t enough time to entertain, create AND write about it as well. That forced me to make conscious choices about where I spent my time so the blog went quiet.
I’m sure your own creative journey has busy times when something has to give because, after all, you’re only human. Don’t regret those choices you make. Choose what you feel is right for that particular set of circumstances and just let the rest go. No second-guessing. In my case, I chose family time and sprinkled creative time around it.
I know I’m not the only one who struggles to fit creative time into my life but I wonder if those of us who have our own business find it doubly hard? There’s always something more to do and never enough time to get it all done. And somewhere inside there’s a meter running. Our hours get measured out by the dollar rather than the joy.
That’s certainly been the case for me this winter. I am busier than ever in my business which leaves me less time for the simple pleasure of making something with my hands. I miss the quiet time spent piecing together a quilt. I need the mindfulness that comes when I paint.
Thank goodness I manage to get some knitting in. It quiets my ‘busy brain’ and provides a much-needed break. Even a few rows is progress and serves to remind me that everything is a process that happens one step, one stitch, one stroke at a time.
But I’m hungry for more.
Which is why I took a few minutes to blog about it this morning. Kind of a reminder to myself that there is more to my life than dollar signs.
Don’t get me wrong. As a small business coach, I find it extremely rewarding to help people take control of their own success. It’s creative work as well. ( The ultimate for me is working with other creatives who want their passion AND a profit.)
So, if I were coaching me, here are 3 tips I’d give myself:
1) Step away from the computer.
Shut down email and internet. Turn off the smart phone. Close the tablet. The business side of your business will always be there. Unless you’re in emergency services, nothing you do involves blood and mayhem. It can wait.
2) Be prepared.
Have a project set up and ready to work on so when you have 10 minutes, you don’t spend it getting out the supplies you need.
3) Just 15 minutes.
Shift your thinking about time. You don’t need hours and hours of free time. You’d be surprised at the progress you can make in just 15 minute intervals. If you can write 500 words in 15 minutes, you could get the rough draft of a novel done in a year.
What works for you? How do you find time to balance your creative call and other responsibilities?