“I must admit that I am not a member of the ugly school. I have a great regard for certain notions of beauty even though to some it is an old fashioned idea. Some photographers think that by taking pictures of human misery, they are addressing a serious problem. I do not think that misery is more profound than happiness.”
— Saul Leiter, quoted in Saul Leiter by Agnès Sire
FIFTY-ONE Fine Art Photography Gallery | NY Times Obituary
‘Did We Live Too Fast’ by Got A Girl, the new collaboration between Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Dan The Automator.
Getting back into my creative groove has become easier since I started making an effort to both carve out the time to work and track my progress, but I still need an occasional hit of external motivation. So, over the past few weeks, I’ve been rereading the books that always make me want to make things:
1. Make Good Art – Neil Gaiman
If you have an idea of what you want to make, what you were put here to do, then just go and do that. And that’s much harder than it sounds and, sometimes in the end, so much easier than you might imagine.
(Neil Gaiman, Make Good Art)
Neil Gaiman’s 2012 commencement address at Philadelphia’s University of the Arts, in a book beautifully designed by Chip Kidd. I read it again last week (it’s a short read, and I come back to it every time I’m feeling discouraged), and it made me cry. Again.
2. The Creative Habit – Twyla Tharp
There’s a paradox in the notion that creativity should be a habit. We think of creativity as a way of keeping everything fresh and new, while habit implies routine and repetition. That paradox intrigues me because it occupies the place where creativity and skill rub up against each other.
(Twyla Tharp, The Creative Habit)
This is the most practical book about creativity I’ve ever read. Twyla Tharp goes through her own process step-by-step, from generating ideas, to research, to dealing with failure. Not all of the advice will work for everyone (when does it ever?), but the specific, actionable exercises are a welcome change from the vague advice to ‘follow the muse’ that you usually get.
3 (+1). Steal Like an Artist and Show Your Work! – Austin Kleon
We make art because we like art.
(Austin Kleon, Steal Like an Artist)
First of all, if you haven’t read Austin Kleon‘s Steal Like an Artist, you need to go do that immediately. Read it through once, then keep it at hand to flip through whenever you need a reminder. And then do the same with Show Your Work! When I struggle creatively, it’s almost always with one of two things: the feeling that I don’t have anything new to say, or the feeling that no one’s listening anyway. These are the books that knock some sense into me in those moments.
1. looking… for new art. (If you’ve found anything new and interesting, tell me about it!)
2. going… back to basics.
3. planning… a wardrobe revamp.
5. making… this chocolate-peanut butter ice cream. It’s pretty close to perfect.
6. buying… furniture. Apparently.
7. trying… to stick to a schedule.
8. wishing… I had a legitimate reason to stock up on school supplies.
9. falling… back in love with typography.
10. waiting… (anxiously) for the new series of Doctor Who.
It’s not exactly a secret that I’ve been struggling with motivation lately.
Part of it is still fear, the tendency to fall in love with my ideas, and then worry that I can’t pull them off. But that’s easier to manage, now that I’ve identified the problem. The bigger issue right now is simply inertia, and time management. Over the last few months—as my goals have shifted, and as I’ve prepared for the move, and recovered from the move—my entire creative routine has fallen apart. It’s become a habit to sit at the computer and do nothing (or worse, do the sort of busywork that feels productive, but doesn’t really accomplish anything).
There are people out there who don’t have this problem. If they want to break a routine, or build a new habit, they just do, and they can’t see why it’s so difficult for the rest of us. I admire those people, but I’m not one of them. I have to work to break my habits.
But I’m trying. And, as with the fear, knowing what the problem is makes it easier to solve.
So, over the last few weeks and into the next, this is what I’m doing:
- Figure out what I want to do. I don’t mean my big ambitions or plans, I mean every day. The specifics. How do I want to spend my time? What do I want to do instead of sighing over perfect interiors on Pinterest or reading endless articles about productivity? (This is surprisingly difficult. I know exactly what I want to do with my life, but it took some time to figure out what I want to do day-to-day.)
- Make a schedule. How much time do I actually have in the day? How much time to I need to dedicate to each of the things I really want to do, in order to feel like I’m accomplishing something? Then figure out how to make the time I want work with the time I have. Write it down.
- Try it out. Tweak it until it works. This is the stage I’m at now. As in anything, the first draft wasn’t very good—I tend to get over-ambitious, and the first day or so was overwhelming—but it’s getting better. (I did scrap my whole plan for yesterday in favour of grabbing coffee with a friend, but… sometimes that’s necessary, too.)
All of this is pretty basic ‘fake it ’til you make it’ kind of stuff. The motivation is lacking, so, yeah: I’m just making myself do the work. Sometimes you have to. And it starts turning into real motivation right about here:
- Track my progress. This is something I do anyway, just as a matter of course. I track time, and word counts, and… everything, really. You can’t change anything if you can’t measure the change. (Some things are easier to track than others, of course. For more subjective changes, you have to find the criteria that matter to you, or maybe just focus on time spent, which, if it’s spent well will translate to real progress.) And seeing the change, for me, turns into its own reward: I start competing with myself, trying to spend more time on the things that matter, trying to get just a little bit better.
So, that’s my plan. It’s not magic, it’s not even easy, and it won’t work for everyone. But it seems to be working for me, and that’s enough.
Photo by Reghan Skerry (Hipstamatic Oggl | Film: Gotland / Lens: Akira)
1. making… decisions.
2. eating… tacos.
3. enjoying… the long weekend (I kind of needed it).
4. buying… shoes. So many pairs of shoes.
5. playing… A Dark Room. So simple, but so compelling. Thoughtful, and dark, and completely addictive. (iTunes)
6. exercising… self-control.
7. feeling… weirdly grown-up.
8. looking… at ShotHotspot—a search engine for photo locations. The selection is still a little sparse for my area, but there’s a lot of potential here.
9. searching… for motivation.
10. running… on three hours’ sleep.