Category Archives: Obstacles
It gets to all of us. We pin “procrastination” on our tendency to avoid doing the work. Work we feel passionate about. Work we spend months, years, sweating away (okay, maybe not actually sweating, but definitely toiling) in silence with no guarantee anyone will ever read it. No guarantee of financial success or fame or that anything will actually get easier, and a high likelihood that there will be rejection and dislike and questions about how could we write something like that and how we’ve offended some people.
We sit at the screen, check email, Twitter, Facebook (I’ve whittled away entire days — good, open, available writing days — just watching my timeline). We pay bills. Check bank accounts. Find cleaning to do. Organize. Make more coffee. Change music. Eat. Stare out the window at branches being thrashed mercilessly…
We all have days like this. I’m not going to drone on about “writer’s block” or “finding the muse” – you can find plenty of perfectly useful, distracting articles on those. No. Everything is about overcoming procrastination. Beating it into submission (ourselves, actually). Forcing. Talking yourself into or out of things. Facing your fears.
What if the days when the writing isn’t flowing and it feels as natural as putting your hand in fire, are intended to be that way?
What if there’s nothing to fight against? What if, instead of thinking we should be able to create, create, create as consistently as we can sit at an office desk and do work by rote, we accepted that creativity has rhythms? That we need to heed those rhythms.
That there is, actually, nothing wrong at all.
You’ve had days when the writing pours through you…faster than you can type, right? Time vanishes. You begin, then wake up from your storyworld 10, 12, 14 hours later, completely surprised to find that so much time has gone by. You’re not even tired — the work so closely aligns with your spirit that you slip back into the essence of timelessness. Those days are gold. Those days you are the channel. The work is the artist.
The work is the artist.
What if on those days when you just can’t bring yourself to begin, it’s not about you at all?
We like to think we are the creators of the work; when in reality, we are receivers, guardians and guides. If we would move out of the way and give heed to the fact that writing in a storyworld is a collaboration between our characters and ourselves, we’d have more grace for those days when our characters need a break, or when we do.
The avoidance? What if it has nothing to do with you and everything to do with whether or not the characters are ready? (Let’s face it, it’s not easy to be a character who has to spend most of his or her time in conflict, pain and fighting. Characters get worn out and need down time, too.) What if it has to do with the Universe needing time to arrange a few thoughts, emotions, reveal something through something that you don’t have access to at this moment?
Granted, there are days when it is your fear that holds you back. Those days you may need to… just begin.
But on those other days when you can’t pinpoint why you can’t get at it – consider that it may not be you at all. Then make a decision to step away from the work. Do something else. It’ll be ready when you come back.
I learned a long time ago that there are tides in life. Times of clear vision. Times of pure blindness. Times of productive activity. Times of forced stillness.
But over time, as I learned to create a life I love, I forgot. I got used to the assumption that the constant pace of life, like the internet, would always be, well, up. Live. Moving. Achieving. Climbing. While I remembered the tides during times of pregnancy; for the most part, life became (and is) a steady cycle of achieving a goal, dreaming bigger, realizing it, dreaming bigger, in an ever-evolving state of expansion. I love the challenges each goal presents, I love the thrill of uncertainty, I love the risks, the stretch, the burn. It’s all good.
But what I’ve realized lately, is that this constant “always on” pattern denies the pattern of the natural world. It ignores the tides. It tries to convince us that the tides are a mistake, that they’re unnatural. That we’re doing something wrong when we experience them. Yes, we think there’s something wrong when the tide goes out. When we go through dry spells. When our finances dip. When we can’t see five years ahead. When we don’t know what we’re going to do next.
Where did we get the idea that we’re an exception to nature, rather than the rule? We understand the tides of awake/sleep, hunger/nourishment, day/night, winter/summer – we believe these are normal, positive aspects of life. Why do we then not see that the low tides in life – the drought, the uncertainty, the periods of less income, the in-between times, the creative blindness, the waiting times — are just as natural, positive and normal to our experience here?
What happens during times of drought? Trees push their roots down deeper. What happens during times of creative or economic drought? We push our roots down deeper – not that we can force it, but that we grow. We stretch. We learn to trust our ability to endure, to survive, that life is germinating in the unseen. We face our fears and learn to wield our power to choose between faith and fear.
But there is something else that the tides teach us. And that is how to be quiet. How to be still. How to be. Present. Here. To cherish our blessings. To see them, sometimes for the first time. Creative blocks, feeling stuck – sometimes they’re caused by fear. Sometimes they’re caused by the project not being ready to emerge yet. Sometimes they are simply a natural tide of creativity. A tide we are not meant to fight.
What’s hard to hold on to when you are in the midst of a low tide, is the fact that the tide will turn. It will come back in again. It always does. And it brings with it fresh insight, fresh energy, new possibilities.
What do you do when you feel stuck or blocked? Accept your place in nature. Let it go. Refuse to believe that there’s something wrong with you.
Someone whose spirit I deeply respect is going through a rough time. His artistic work has long been exceptional, but he doubts its value. For many reasons, one of which is that his powerful work eclipses the light of his tender spirit. He’s under pressure from all sides, but most intensely from himself. His heart has been broken time and again; each time the scars gnarl thicker. He wonders if anyone can actually see him anymore – or if they ever did. And worse, isn’t sure if he even exists. He’s judged for his work, but mostly for who he’s not. No matter how loud he speaks, it seems no one can hear him. Despite all of this, he persists. With a courage that few would find within themselves. Rising again, fighting on, refusing to be diminished.
Yet, it’s heartbreaking to know that this struggle is not caused by his work, but by cruel bullying at the adult level. And a society that accepts it. Artists have long been subject to rejection and misunderstanding. But this is not a matter of artistic work being rejected or disliked. That is inherent in art, as art is an expression of human spirit and as such, appeals to some and not to others. That’s as it should be. No, this is a matter of bullying and the damage it does to the spirit. Frankly, we should all put an end to practices that breed bullying. We have the power to stop it by changing the focus of our attention. The rallying call for that, however, is another article.
What I’m interested in here is the one being bullied. Rejection of one’s work is enough to cause pain. But when your spirit is subject to unfounded, continual misunderstanding and people refuse to let you define who you are, how do you find your way out of that?
Is there grace?
What is needed is the healing embrace of acceptance, to be seen and known and loved for who you truly are. But it’s more than that. Grace in this type of pain comes when you remember who you are in Spirit, in the inherent value of your presence on earth. When you reclaim your power to decide who you are.
What if you can’t remember who you are? What if the voices have been so loud for so long that deciphering where you begin and they end is nearly impossible? What if you have been fighting for your spirit’s survival for so long, you no longer know how to let others in to bless you?
The essence of bullying and rejection is that it breaks the spirit down, and breaks it open – and those places either die a little or spark new growth. No one is immune to it. The process makes you vulnerable, uncertain, doubtful, reclusive. You pull away, try to bury pain, don’t let others see just how deeply you’re affected – create an illusion of equilibrium. Old souls can see beneath that surface. Most others will take you at your word.
The one bullied often ends up trying to hide to avoid more pain, but being unseen is actually part of the root of the pain. It turns into a vicious cycle. And if you can’t evade the bullies, you end up with the constant dread of confrontation. Anger. Frustration. Pain. Stared at and invisible.
So what can you do? Remind yourself of the grace that exists for you. Remember that you are made of the same stuff as the stars, that you made the stars. That no amount of lies can create the truth.
It takes courage. It takes courage to trust your own opinion more than others. It takes courage to stand up for yourself, to yourself, to the voices that would have you believe the lies.
And it takes courage to let others around you see you. To trust their ability to see beyond the falsities. To allow others the grace to bless you.
Because the grace you seek in the face of pain is not the faith of others, but faith in yourself.
Art is a funny thing, writing, too – in that the process depends so much on our beliefs about ourselves. Other work is pretty straightforward (most of the time).
But in art, we revise, we seek critique, we revise again. We leave the work open to multiple voices, insights, guidance. Some necessary. Some not. And in the process of wanting to make it better, we risk losing what the art wanted to be in the first place. As First Trustees of our artistic work, it’s our job to translate that original vision from concept given to us to what appears on the page or canvas. And to do that successfully, we have to return again and again to the Vision.
What does the work want to be? Why does it want to exist? What is its purpose? What do you want it to do?
The answers to those become your measuring stick. A powerful tool to gauge whether or not suggested changes are right for your work.
Another equally powerful question to ask is: of all the artists and writers in the world, why did the work choose you?
You are the only one who can bring yourself to the work. And without you, the work would not be your version of it. There’s a reason that you are the one chosen to do the work. And that can be hard to hold onto, but oh, so necessary.
What much of this comes down to is faith.
Faith in your calling. Faith in yourself. Faith in the work.
And courage. We hear that word throughout our lives; seldom run into real opportunities to use it.
Courage is acting in spite of fear. For artists and writers, it’s owning our authority over our work. Being willing to trust our decisions. And being willing to be different.
So hold on to your vision and your calling. Get clear on the vision and move from there.
Opinions. We each have one. We each think we’re right.
And that’s the beauty of our human race. The fact that we each have a unique and personal reaction to the world around us. A response that allows us to accept or reject, to decide how we prefer life and the multitude of experiences available.
But opinion in art is another thing. And who you listen to as you seek feedback on your work is something you should stop and ponder. What is difficult about getting feedback is that every person responds based on their unique preferences. To the artist, the work feels personal. It is personal because it comes through you.
So who do you listen to?
People you trust who have experience and expertise in your craft.
There’s a big difference between someone “liking” your work and someone who has the insight to know if its elements are fully developed.
There’s a big difference between someone “not liking” your work and telling you what needs to be changed to improve the quality of it.
The danger is in allowing too many voices to influence you.
The challenge is in learning how to trust your own opinion most.
Think of a film – any film you’ve seen. You either like it or you don’t. You have reasons for why you feel the way you do. But those reasons may have nothing to do with the quality of the film itself – the story, the acting, the directing – you may simply like or not like the film because it doesn’t resonate with you. It’s not your thing.
Allowing people who are not qualified to give suggestions on your work the authority to do so, is like you not liking that film and having the director change it because of your opinion. (Now if you’re in a position to do that, wonderful. But most of us are not.)
So work needs to be protected while it’s being developed. And feedback needs to be sought from a few trusted sources who can inspire you, who understand what your vision is and who can suggest actions that will strengthen the work for what it is intended to be and not just make it something that appeals to their tastes.
As artists, we need to understand that when our work is made visible there are going to be people who won’t like it, it won’t fit their tastes or interest them. They will judge it as bad, poorly done, not get it or simply dismiss it – regardless of the actual quality. They simply won’t like it or you.
That sounds logical. But stop and really think about it. We’re wired to seek approval. We’re wired to desire that other people like us and everything about us. We squirm when people don’t. It hurts. No matter how much we tell ourselves not to let it. It hurts.
So going out into the world with our work is something we need to prepare ourselves for – and not just once, but every time we make ourselves visible. We need to know and realize that people are responding to their preferences about our work (and us). Even in industry awards, judgment is subjective and biased. There is no “God” who can tell you once and for all that your work is what you want it to be.
Public opinion has nothing to do with the work itself (or you).
Read that line again.
Now, it’s true that we must untie our ego from the work. Because it’s not about us; it’s all about the work. It’s about our performance. Not our souls.
We are curators, trustees, channelers – the work flows through us, but it is not us and we are not it. We are entrusted with bringing it forth and presenting it to the world. Just as children we’ve nurtured and equipped to go out into the world and make a life for themselves – the work is not responsible for ensuring that its parents have a life of their own. Our work is not responsible for our emotional well-being. It simply is what it is.
So, as you seek feedback on your work, ponder these things.
As you put your work out there, ponder these things.
And know that ultimately, to the degree of control you have over your work, you are the only one who can decide if the work is what it is meant to be. And that takes courage. The mark of a professional is the willingness to change the work if it truly serves the work, and the ability to discern when it doesn’t.
Because there will always be a different way the work could be done, the story told, the song sung, the painting painted, the performance given.
So choose carefully. And take ownership of your work.
And take these wise words from a man who lives them, as your mantra:
“Always be resolute in the things that touch your heart. Defend them, promote them, nurture them. Love takes courage.”