“If you hear a voice within you say you cannot paint, then by all means paint and the voice will be silenced.” -Vincent van Gogh
Ah, the creative process. It looks different for everyone, but an honest rendition of the general idea might go something like the image at the top of this blog. Every creative soul to ever tread the planet has struggled with self-doubt, procrastination, defensiveness, panic, did I mention self-doubt?
There is a school of thought that links these things, and in particular procrastination to the trait of perfectionism. The theory goes something like this: in an effort to want to create something amazing, fantastic, out of this world, the creator pushes off the start date afraid of producing work that will not be quite up to par. As the deadline looms (whether an official deadline or self-imposed) any excitement about a project begins to shift toward panic. Eventually, it is the eleventh hour and work is not completed. That’s when you might find yourself up for two days straight working furiously with doubt gnawing at you the entire time. Breaking this cycle is a matter of realizing some very basic but important truths about the work, the end result, and how the two factor into your thinking about it all. There is sometimes a tendency to focus on the end product, the piece of art you envision and allow this to be the driving factor. This is true across all fields. The affliction of perfectionist procrastination is certainly not exclusive to artists but those in creative fields can sometimes fall victim to the loop in ways that lead to absolute creative paralysis.
Beginning to reorganize your thoughts in such a way that focuses on the process rather than the product is the first step in ending the panic, procrastination, and paralysis loop of any creative process.
That’s all well and good, but what about all the other moments along the timeline? For example, the day you do launch into work and the ensuing anti-social tendencies that may follow. This can be a terrible drain on your life outside the studio. How does an artist maintain some semblance of a normal life while living in the cycle of the creative process?
There are a lot of thoughts on this out there and they range from those who say artists can not have some semblance of a normal life while living in the cycle of the creative process to those who offer extensive tips and advice to anyone wishing to “love an artist.”
We live in a culture where people working in the financial industry routinely put in 16 hour days and 80 hour weeks. We live in a culture where vacation time in many career fields is considered a liability. We live in a culture where, in order to succeed in a large number of jobs, one is expected to be available 24 hours a day via digital technology regardless of the needs of family, friends, and all other aspects of life outside of work.
It is absolutely true that at times, loving a creative–or being a creative hoping to have healthy relationships–can be a struggle. But no more so than loving a CEO. Ultimately it is about balance and mutual understanding. Find the right people in your life and they will understand.
What about that primitive enemy who haunts our modern minds and freezes us in our tracks? I’m talking, of course, about panic. A wise woman I know has always said, “panic is not an option.” She’s absolutely right.
Panic may not feel like a choice we get to make, but there are ways to prevent it from standing on our chests quite so firmly.
Quieting panic goes hand in hand with our conversation above about procrastination. They are born of similar mothers and fed by similar patterns. Much in the same way you can begin to refocus on the process rather than the end result to stem the tide of constant procrastination, having a good understanding of your process and a plan to organize your time can go a long way to preventing panic.
Taking some very simple steps can help you be more organized and less fearful. A few things to try, if you don’t already, make a list of the materials you know you will need for your project and make sure you have them all on hand. Plan out a schedule of work and stick to it. Pick times you know you’re in top form and schedule for productivity then. As a working artist, you have lots of other demands on your time and you already know on some level that you need to balance studio work with the tasks of running your personal brand. Organizing your time is the best way to maintain all of these competing needs.
Let the people close to you know what’s coming. Make sure they understand that you are entering into a new project and that your lack of time or focus on others in no way reflects the way you feel about them.
These are just a few very basic ways to defuse the big bad monster of panic over your process and your work.
While it’s humorous to think of the creative process as the cartoon above, it is also–for many–entirely accurate. Artists are plagued with doubt and fear, uncertainty, and all the other trappings that go along with putting yourself out for the world to devour. T’was ever thus and ever shall be, but that doesn’t mean you have to let it win.