If you’re talking about your work rather than doing it, you are letting out a lot of energy. This energy (joy, excitement, recognition, community, support) is better used by focusing on DOING the work rather than TALKING ABOUT DOING the work. It’s an easy concept, but it’s harder to learn and master.
When you are cranked up about a project it is hard not to share it with others. BUT, the minute you learn how much power comes from NOT sharing it, but working to FINISH it, the quicker you will get the amazing benefit from this idea of containment. You want to contain and build the energy in your creative work and use it exclusively for actually doing the work, rather than explaining it, or celebrating it, while it is still incomplete.
Have you ever been totally jazzed about a piece of work you are in the middle of, and you want to tell everyone? Or you have a specific friend who is a supporter or an artist themselves, and you love spending time brainstorming and venting about your work with each other. Stop that. The celebration is for AFTER the publication or show or performance.
By talking about your idea you might think you are giving voice, or fleshing it out. But you are actually trying to get a bit of the recognition for your great work. Even in the most supportive environments, with the most supportive artist friends, every word you say about your work, is 100 words you are losing in the progress of the work. (Apply as a metaphor to any creative discipline you like.)
Why are you talking about it rather than doing it?
- You want support (what’s hard about being an artist?)
- You want accolades (we all want to be recognized for our art)
- You want to brainstorm
- You want to let off some steam from the hard day
- You want to join in the “high” of doing great work
- It’s natural to want to share things that are making you excited
- You want to be loved
All of those things are part of the artist’s struggle. Like common internal question, “Why am I working so hard at this if I’m never going to be recognized or, better yet, paid for my work?” If you are an artist, you are probably struggling with some of these identity and livelihood issue right now. (Unless you are Peter Gabriel, or Sting) That’s part of the path of the artist.
Part of the magic of The Artist’s Way is the morning pages. Briefly, the idea is to wake up in the morning and start writing. Your goal is stream of consciousness and volume or time writing. You set a timer and begin. Whatever comes you write. Without thinking too much about it, you simply stroke the pages until your time is up.
What this process unlocks is your internal collaborator and cheerleader. The “pages” begin to form a relationship between your consciousness (the writing) and your subconsciousness (the flow of ideas). As you get more familiar with this connection the stream of consciousness becomes more fluid, easier, quicker. And when you really get going you’re anticipating the morning pages with excitement. It’s a bit like talking to a friend, except in this instance there is little or no loss of energy. In fact, you artist’s voice may become stronger as your subconscious thoughts gain more voice in your live. As you listen to the crazy and exciting things your mind is rambling on about, you may begin to see patterns, evoke idea, change direction in your creative path.
And the morning pages can get scary for some people. When the weird and frightening ideas pop out of your unfiltered mind onto the page, it’s a jarring experience. But this is some of the reason we become artists. We need to connect with this sub-lingual idea machine and give language and voice to the ideas that begin percolating. It’s like self-hypnosis, or self-analysis in the Freudian way, you simply answer the questions: “Then what happened?” “How did that make you feel?” “Can you tell me more?”
In this way, you begin calling out your strange ideas. You begin cultivating a dialogue with some of the swirling beasts that may have been swimming around in your mind for years and years. Our creative process is like saddling them up and riding them onto the canvas or into a song. The morning pages process can unlock a huge amount of energy and set you on a path towards a more creative life.
But again, let’s draw the contrast here.
1. Writing, thinking, dialoging with yourself is part of living whether you are creating or not. By giving some process to this inner stream of consciousness, by making the subconscious conscious, we can pull that energy and those ideas into our work.
2. Talking with another person about writing, painting, composing however fun and fulfilling it might seem at the time, is a dissipative process. When you get jazzed up from telling ABOUT the idea, you are letting out a lot of the energy necessary to complete the WORK on the idea.
If your goal is to create beautiful finished pieces of work, or continue on to create a body of work, you need to STFU and do the work. Celebrate at the opening, record release party, book signing. But keep the celebration of the work inside you until that particular piece of work is done.
A fascinating thing happens when you contain the energy this way: the momentum and energy grows. You want to share your ideas. That’s why you are striving to be an artist, to share, to create, to expand. But until your “piece” is done, keep that energy and momentum to yourself. Do morning pages as a process and see how your inner dialogue strengthens. And finally, get your butt in the seat and do the work.
That is the goal of these letters. To show you ways to get your creativity flowing. But if you don’t put the brush, the guitar, the keyboard in your hand, you’re just thinking or talking about it.
Don’t talk, do.
Don’t think, take action.
Don’t look for appreciation, let your own inner joy be all the appreciation you need to get the work finished.
THEN, when the piece is done, can you celebrate a milestone along your path down the artist’s way.
- Letters to a Young Poet – Rilke
- Write Time: Guide to the Creative Process, from Vision through Revision-and Beyond – Atchity
- Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within, 2nd Edition – Goldberg
- A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man – Joyce
- The Artist’s Way – Cameron
- Orbiting the Giant Hairball: A Corporate Fool’s Guide to Surviving with Grace – MacKenzie
- Sonic Highways (show) – Dave Grohl and HBO explore music
- The War of Art – Steven Pressfield
- Tunesmith: Inside the Art of Songwriting – Jimmy Webb
image: mixed media painting – detail, see-ming lee, creative commons usage