Monday, February 27, 2006

The Artist's Way Week #8

Week #8- Recovering a Sense of Strength

*Week 7*

"I shall become a master in this art only after a great deal of practice." Erich From

"Taking a new step, uttering a new word is what people fear most." Fyodor Dostoyevski

"Imagination is more important than knowledge." Albert Einstein

"Surround yourself with people who respect and treat you well." Claudia Black

"Trusts that still, small voice that says, "This might work and I'll try it." Diane Mariechild

"Man can learn nothing except going from the known to the unknown." Claude Bernard

"Satisfaction of one's curiosity is one of the greatest sources of happiness in life." Linus Pauling

"No trumpets sound when the important decisions of our life are made. Destiny is made known silently." Agnes De Mille


It has been my perilous privilege over the past decade to undertake teaching forays into the groves of academia. It is my experience as a visiting artist that many academics are themselves artistic beings who are deeply frustrated by their inability to create. Skilled in intellectual discourse, distanced by that intellectual skill from their own creative urgings, they often find the creativity of their charges deeply disturbing.

...They may work as editors instead of writers, film editors instead of film directors, commercial artists instead of fine artists, and get stuck within shouting distance of their dreams.

The key to doing that is to know, to trust, and to act as if a silver lining exists if you are only willing to look at the work differently or to walk through a different door, on that you many have balked at.

Question: Do you know how old I'll be by the time I learn how to play the piano?

Answer: the same age you will be if you don't.

"I'm too old for that" ranks with "I don't have money for it" as a Great Block Lie we use to prevent further exploration. "I'm too old" is something we tell ourselves to save ourselves from the emotional cost of the ego deflation involved in being a beginner.

Creativity occurs in the moment, and in the moment we are timeless. We discover that as we engage in a creative recover "I felt like a kid," we may say after a satisfying artist date. Kids are not self-conscious, and once we are actually in the flow of our creativity, neither are we.

At the heart of the anorexia of artistic avoidance is the denial of process. We like to focus on having learned a skill or on having made an artwork. This attention to final form ignores the fact that creativity lies not in the done but in the doing.

Our use of age as a block to creative work interlocks with our toxic finished-product thinking. We have set an appropriate age on certain activities: college graduation, going to med school, writing a first book. This artificial ego requirement asks us to be done when what we truly yearn for is to start something.

The grace to be a beginner is always the best prayer for an artist. The beginner's humility and openness lead to exploration. Exploration leads to accomplishments. All of it begins at the beginning, with the first small and scary step.

Creative people are dramatic, and we use negative drama to scare ourselves out of our creativity with this notion of wholesale and often destructive change. Fantasizing about pursuing our art full-time, we fail to pursue it part-time- or at all. Instead of writing three pages a day on a screenplay, we prefer worrying about how we will have to move to Hollywood if the script gets bought. Which it can't anyway since we are too busy worrying about selling it to write it.

Indulging ourselves in a frantic fantasy of what our life would look like if we were real artists, we fail to see the small creative changes that we could make at this very moment. This kind of look-at-the-big-picture thinking ignores the fact that a creative life is grounded on many, many small steps and very, very few large steps.

Creativity requires activity, and this is not good news to most of is. It makes us responsible, and we tend to hate that. You mean I have to do something in order to feel better? yes. And most of us hate to do something when we can obsess about something else instead. One of our favorite things to do-instead of our art-is to contemplate the odds. In a creative career, thinking about the odds is a drink of emotional poison. It robs us of the dignity of art-as-process and puts us at the mercy of imagined powers out there. Taking this drink quickly leads to a severe and toxic emotional bender. It leads us to ask, "What's the use?" instead of "What's next?"

Most blocked creatives have an active addiction to anxiety. We prefer the low-grade pain and occasional heart-stopping panic attack to the drudgery of small and simple daily steps in the right direction.

Take one small daily action instead of indulging in the big questions. When we allow ourselves to wallow in the big questions, we fail to find the small answers. What we are talking about here is a concept of change grounded in respect-respect for where we are as well as where we wish to go. We are looking not to grand strokes of change-although they may come- but instead to the act of creatively husbanding all that is in the present: this job, this house, this relationship.


Early patternings, an exercise.

1. As a kid, my dad thought my art was...good? Which made me feel...good?

2. I remember one time when he... heard me singing when I should have been sleeping.

3. I felt very...special and loved about that. I never forgot it.

4. As a kid my mother taught me that my daydreaming was...important?

5. I remember she'd tell me to snap out of it by reminding me...?

6. The person I remember who believed in me Grandma Smith

7. I remember one time when...

Ok. This exercise is ridiculous. Nothing ruined my chance to be an artist as a kid and I had no negative lessons. Whatever.


1. Name your dream: Write and sell books! I would secretly love to be a writer.

2. One concrete goal that signals to you its accomplishment. Multibook Deal

3. Perfect world, where would you like to be? On my 2nd or 3rd book ;)

4. What action can I take this year to move me closer? Query agents. Finish more chapters.

5. What about this month? Write a certain number of pages?
This Week?
This Day?
Right Now?

6. What might you have been if you had perfect nurturing? Huh? I hate these questions. I would be...the same...not perfect. No one is.

7. Color Schemes. Pick a color and write a quick few sentences describing yourself.
Stuck, sage in the fluffy sticky gooey areas. Torn between black and white thinking. Dreaming, but not allowing the sun to shine through.

Whoa. Interesting, where did THAT come from?

8. List things you like to do: Read, write, play, talk, sing, dream, walk, take pictures, nurture, volunteer, be with friends, learn, explore, travel.

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