Weather: Summerlike: 80s & humid, with a light soupçon of thunderstorms in the forecast.
I was reading an interview with Neil Gaiman about his latest release, An Ocean At The End of the Lane, and one response stuck with me. Oddly, it wasn’t writing related, at least not on the surface. It was related to creativity, however. Neil has made a lot of fantastic observations and comments to the idea of art and how we make it….or how we don’t.
The question and answer were this: (From this interview, Here)
And how does one cultivate imagination?
I think the thing that we all have to do is to cultivate boredom again. The trouble is having those little handheld devices that will entertain you. That’s the biggest trouble with the imagination—it’s the killer. You need to find yourself stuck in a place where you can’t do anything other than think. Then your mind wanders and you can go to fantastic places.
That bolded line hit very close to home. I’ve been going through dry spell after dry spell, both in writing and art. While I’ve had moments of inspiration, they are sporadic and don’t seem to take hold for long. Insecurity as an artist is almost a foregone conclusion, but sometimes we spend far too much time zeroing in on our lack of productivity while wrapped in the cloak of “I’ve lost the ability to create/ maybe never had it / I’m a hack”. But we usually don’t add in the external causes, or we blame them entirely, vaguely, desperately. Too little time, too many distractions, the muse doesn’t inspire, too tired, too busy, too much or too little of anything or everything.
The truth is, in all honesty, is lack of will. Harsh truth, that . Inspiration is important, don’t get me wrong, but practice, and repetition, and focus make up for a multitude of evils, (i.e. distractions).
One of my inspirations, Karen Ami , a mosaic artist and the Executive Director of the Chicago Mosaic School, recently wrote a blog post about the importance of practice. ( HERE: Art. Practice.) Important quote from there:
Her point was that in the current crazy fast paced environment, a lot of creative energy is being poured into the end result (marketing, selling) and less into the practice of making & creating, the very thing that makes you better and starts muting that voice of insecurity as an artist.
Another quote from that blog post links up with Neil’s quote above:
Facebook is fun and a great place to see what’s going on with all these other artists and see what your friends have eaten for dinner or look at my new cute dog but like most of what is going on online- it is a timesuck that pulls you away from your practice and honing your skills and voice in the studio. So stop reading this and go make something.
The point that I’m trying to relay here is that in this age of easy availability of information & ease of interaction, we’re starting to fill the spaces in our heads we used to reserve for creating with data dumps and entertainment. Neil said it best up there. Boredom is not a great thing, but it does force us into our heads to find something to do with our jittery, information addicted braincells.
The technology isn’t really to blame. We are. Yeah, I know that’s not a popular idea, but hear me out. We’re rapidly becoming unable, or more accurately, UNWILLING, to put down our mobile devices or iPads or laptops, and just….let our minds create. We spend hours “researching” or “looking for inspiration”. Waste hours discussing on Facebook, or Twitter, or other social media our inability to get things done. We’ve succumbed to the cult of BUSY, without really looking at WHY we are so busy.
Truth is, and I know a lot of people hate to hear this, we need to disconnect now and then. The world will go on, and it won’t end if you are not incessantly involved/informed. We can miss things and not be the less for them. I know myself that disconnecting causes a form of withdrawal, a twitchy need for the datastream needle. Refreshing for something new and mostly being frustrated that there isn’t anything.
Technology is a tool, nothing more, nothing less. We are the variable, the component that uses the tool for good or for bad.
Some people can use it and still get their pages written and their projects completed. Artists and writers need to keep a healthy balance of technology usage and offline creative time. I know I have a difficult time doing that. So, in deference to the title of this rambly bit of nonsense, I am taking a week off the interwebs, except to check e-mail. I’m disconnecting my laptop from the internet during that time.
Why? Because I need to prove something to myself. If at the end of the week I can meet the challenges I’ve set for myself (Finish a mosaic project, plan my next project, finish editing my manuscript and outline a new book, catch up on my reading), then maybe I will have reset my creative brain. Again, I don’t think technology is to BLAME for my dry spell, but I think it’s made it easier for me to avoid focusing on it. An easy excuse that I’ve been “busy”, that I’m getting inspiration from my surfing. That I’m marketing our business. That I’m networking.
As Karen said above, my focus is misdirected. I’m trying to create for the marketplace instead of trying to create the best art I can make. I’ve been uninspired by my creations. Bored by the results. That should have been the first red flags. Same thing for my writing. I’m finding my stories to be trope ridden, cliche filled and lacking the passion I used to have. My moleskines have been collecting dust as I tried to work on Scrivener, easily distracted by the open internet browser.
The bottom line is I am an artist and a writer. But I haven’t served either epithet lately. The title has to be earned by action, not by mere intent or declaration.
My wise and insightful friend Karen Boykin wrote a blog on treating art as work, and she said:
Do I value improving my artistic expression enough to experiment; to waste a few canvases to become more adept at using that tools, mediums, and paints to give visual voice to what’s inside my head in a way that I consider meaningful? Even it it’s just an hour or two every day, I must believe that spending my time in this way will pay dividends in the form of happiness and a sense of purpose I’ve been searching for. That is my kind of work!
So, hiatus. For a week. To start.
Time to recapture a less distracted creative mindset. Square one may be disheartening, but sometimes a reset is the best way to clear the decks of detritus.
Think about your story. Think about your art. Go elbow deep. Get into the guts like you’re trying to birth a humpback whale. Art is a kind of madness. Story is messy, weird, gory, greasy, hard to grasp. But always try. We’re all flying blind. We’re all feeling around in the wet-slick dark for the baby whale. Reach further. Think more. Art harder, motherfuckers.
If you are struggling with productivity, I highly recommend this article, especially the short video. :)
Then get offline for awhile and find that quiet space to create.
See you on the other side.