Cultivating the Creative Habit

“The routine is as much a part of the creative process as the lightning bolt of inspiration, maybe more.”
Twyla Tharp THE CREATIVE HABIT

I agree with Twyla Tharp.

I think art for some of us has to be a kind of determined,

intentional creative habit that we submit to willingly.

I think habit is the right word for me.

But it is a habit that we have to hook ourselves into.

We have to manufacture our own psychological twitch.

We have to lace our own blood with the gnawing, clawing,

need to sit down and knuckle under.

This is what keeps the writer writing all the way

to the final words THE END.

Inspiration is involved. Magic is part of it.

Sometimes we need that whisper-that breath of the muse to wake

up imagination. After all what good is writing that is not inspired.

But Inspiration disappears pretty quickly when the work gets hard.

When the idea on the page starts to melt into a confused mess.

When fear and self doubt start their yammering.

But you can rely on good old habit and discipline and yes routine.

They will see you through the hard part.

At least that is how it is for some of us.

When we wait for the muse to inspire us–

or we wait for an opportunity–

to be invited, discovered, adored, chosen–

we can wait a long time.

If I relied on those things I wouldn’t write much at all.

Some people say they need a deadline.

I used to say that.

I said it because I thought it was true.

I thought I needed the pressure and the structure to

call forth my undisciplined mind to do my work.

I don’t think it’s true.

It’s just that deadlines scare me into submission.

And that is the key factor folks.

Submission.

Literally.

I need to surrender.

I need to come humbly to the work.

I need to bow my head and submit to the demands of the work.

Think about it.

The deadline causes us to comply.

We obey. We apply ourselves to the task.

You know it’s funny–but when actors and writers

are invited to send an example of

their work–in the actor’s case to audition–

in the writer’s case– to send a manuscript,

these are the words that are used.

CALL FOR SUBMISSION

This is usually interpreted as an opportunity to deliver–

to offer– for consideration.

Don’t be fooled. That is not what it means.

We are being invited to chain ourselves to our heart’s desire and do the work.

I believe that I need to come humbly and submit every day.

It is not my talent or my experience or my great idea–

that will write my play. No it’s my creative habit.

Some days my talent seems negligible, my idea muddy and unfocused.

I can’t rely on such ephemeral notions.

It is the daily submission to my creative habit/discipline/devotion

that will put words on the page.

Resistance as Stephen Pressfield calls it in his amazing books–

The War of Art.
Do the Work,
and Turning Pro

will show up. You can believe that.

Resistance he teaches is the inevitable opposing force to any creative act.

But I am cultivating an addiction to my creativity that will defeat resistance

like a smoking addiction will defeat a smoker’s good sense.

That is why I am sitting here on this brilliantly beautiful day,

tapping away at a blog post that few will

read. I am enslaving myself to my creative habit.

It’s a beautiful sunny day in rainy Vancouver and I know

that soon our endless rainy weather will be upon us–

but here I am writing instead.

I want to be so addicted to this that I will get the

shakes if I don’t write five pages a day on my play.

Oh and speaking of Twyla Tharp here is something of what her

Creative Habit has produced.

The morning ramble.

The unread story is not a story; it is little black marks on wood pulp. The reader, reading it, makes it live: a live thing, a story. Ursula Le Guin

I think that creative people struggle with the idea of recognition.

There is something about feeling like a show off and being made to feel ashamed, that is confusing.

We are not supposed to admit we want to be recognized and praised and rewarded and seen and understood.

Recognition is a big part of how an artist moves forward in the world.

If no one sees your paintings, or no one reads your words it’s hard to keep going.

If no one recognizes your work is of merit it is hard to keep working.

Recognition is the light that helps us see where we are going when the road is dark.

And it hurts and confuses us when our work goes unrecognized.

And we can become resentful and jealous when we see others who are,

successful, loved, appreciated; their work acknowledged and praised.

I thought about Ursula le Guin’s quote at the top of this post and I thought Yes.

I would love to have readers.

I would love to liberate my little black marks, and send them flying

into the hearts and minds of my audience.

I would love to be adored.

It would be grand. So would large sums of money pouring daily into my bank account.

Normally I would not admit any of this. Too embarrassing. Too egotistical.

But I do admit it. All of it. I admit how I would swoon to be recognized,

and rewarded for the effort I make as an artist.

I shrink and shrivel in despair when I am ignored.

So having admitted this to the world or at least to the four or five people

who will see this post–

I ask myself how to achieve this? Let me think. Hmmmm?

Excuse me, I am thinking. Uh??????

zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Oh Gawd. Yikes. I dunno! I have no idea.

Sigh.

Because– if I think about the murky world of achieving success-

my brain immediately kicks into a coma like state.

I don’t need a coma like state right now.

I am trying to write a blog post and I am trying to write a play.

And luckily I have already come to terms with this question.

I have the answer. It’s simple.

The “hows” of being recognized, acclaimed, loved etc– are a waste of time.

The “how to be successful strategies” will usually result in defeat.

We will come up with lots of wrong “hows” and then feel as if we have

failed if the “hows” don’t work. It’s not about the hows.

God, Fate, life, the mysterious forces of the universe will take care of the “hows”

My job is not to put time into thinking how I will be recognized for my work

My job is to do the work. I don’t need to think for one second about how to achieve recognition.

The thing I need to think about is what is my story about?

At least for now. What is my character’s name?

What is her relationship with her husband, brother, mother etc.?

What is my character doing right now? What hilarious thing will she say next?

What will happen in the end to my character? Is she going to die or–

will they discover a miraculous cure just in time?

Am I in love with my characters?

If not why? Am I excited by my story?

My concern with recognition is not within my power to influence.

Not really, not now. Because what I want to be recognized for– is really good work.

Sometimes I wonder if I should be trying harder to get more readers for this blog.

I don’t have many fans or followers and I could be disheartened by that.

But I am not actually devoted to writing blog posts that bring waves of readers to my site.

Not that I wouldn’t love that–but that is not my true goal.

And I think you have to be clear on the true goal and it can’t be recognition.

I have looked at the sites that tell you how to be a successful blogger

And I am not following their advice. I can’t.

Because it matters to me what I am recognized for if I am ever so blessed to be recognized.

Sure Writing the 10 best ways to have multiple orgasms while writing a novel

could very well drive traffic to my blog. So would “lose weight while writing”.

That is not what I want to do. That is not my work.

So I will continue to come humbly to the work–that I really love and want to do–

quietly recognizing myself and acclaiming myself and my commitment

to tell my stories in my own voice and build my craft as a writer.

I will shine my own light on my own path, and stay on the path,

dark and lonely as it may be–as diligently and devotedly as I can.

Even if diligence is sporadic–with breaks and rests and endless interruptions and delays.

I will stay on the path and let the “hows” of recognition take care of themselves.

Alchemy

It’s not the artist that makes the art.

It’s the art that makes the artist.

The art tests us.

The art shapes us.

The art leads us.

We think we create the art–

but it’s the art that creates us.

This is what is important.

This is what we must learn.

This is what we must remember.

It’s the daily practice that matters.

It’s the devotion to the process and the willingness to

come humbly to the work knowing we may fail that day.

It’s the willingness to know that terrible failure and keep going anyway.

It’s just another day at the desk–or at the easel or in the studio.

We must be patient. Humble.

It’s all about the concentrated daily effort that leads to the finished

work of art. And total surrender to the mysterious alchemy that allows us

to spring forth newly made. Transformed.

Base Metal into Gold.

Keeping the promise.

“You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait, be quiet, still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet” –FRANZ KAFKA

Here are my writing goals for the next five weeks.

Find time to sit down and work on my script every day.

a) find the stories and time frames of my characters.
b) discover how they relate to the overall structure of the first play in the trilogy SALLY LIVES HERE.
c) To resist distractions and stay focused on this play.

Finish the rough draft of the play by February 28th.

And resist perfectionism.

Just get it down on the page regardless of crap I hate or stuff that sucks.

Now this statement is written and published and promised hand on my heart–

here on the blogosphere with the idea of putting virtual pressure on myself–

to attend to these goals.

I have no writers agent or editor or producer breathing down my neck–

so my blog is my agent, my editor, my boss, etc.

I am writing this to help me keep the promise I have made to myself.

Why is it so easy and so compelling for me to honour commitments,

to others but so difficult to do the same for myself?

Why is it so easy to let myself down?

Why do I expect others to keep their commitments to me

But I let myself off the hook so easily?

This is my over all goal for 2012.

Keeping promises I make to myself.

Day one is Monday.

Today I am clearing my space and cleaning my house chasing away the clutter both physical and emotional.

If you would like to help me with all of this please send me your comments and encouraging words.

If you are working on something and have goals you are welcome to join in the conversation here.

Happy New Year

So far the new year is having a bit of a hard time getting itself off the ground in my world.

I am still tying up loose ends and processing 2011.

It was a pretty intense and amazing also difficult year.

I will announce my new years celebration when it finally rolls around.

I do have a word for the year. Reveal. But I’m not there yet.

I am not even ready to commit to the word never mind the new year.

Maybe I will celebrate the Chinese new Year in February

I should be ready for new beginnings by then.

I am planning to post a few old posts from last year and delete some others as

part of the get ready for the new ritual.

Here is a post from the end of 2010.

“I like too many things and get all confused and hung up running from one falling star to another till I drop. . .I had nothing to offer anybody except my own confusion.”
Jack Kerouac

I put the above quote here–one of my faves–

because it always speaks directly to something deep within me.

There was some inner longing triggered by these words that I identified in myself–

and that prompted me to be an artist.

The following is from my hand-written journal Novemeber 2011.

The other day on the Broadway bus, I saw a young girl reading

ON THE ROAD by Jack Kerouac.

The book was beat up and dog eared.

She held it so that the front cover was curled back around the book.

She was small with bright cherry red lipstick, and purple polish

on her bitten down fingernails–

streaks of white paint on her hands

and in her dreadlocks

and on her combat boots.

There was a time that I had my own version of this kind of rebellious fashion statement–

but it wasn’t her clothes that somehow reminded me of myself, a long time ago–

it was the book ON THE ROAD

To this day Kerouac remains an important icon in my sacred temple of artistic deities.

I still love reading quotes by him, and biographical material about him.

I continue to identify with his way of expressing his life experience, even if my present life,

bares no resemblance to his. He still speaks of something very familiar to me–

his words, his poetic images– and his fiery, crazy, sensibilities.

I had whole passages memorized.

I loved reading and imagining the Beat Poet rebellion,

and the association with revolution and jazz.

“The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes “Awww!

I was very young when I first read these words.

Jack Kerouac was long gone from this earth.

I probably didn’t actually understand most of what I read,

but something in me responded.

Something woke up hungry and thirsty.

I wanted to drink it in.

I loved the galloping pace of the narrative

and the raw images stacked up on top of one another.

When I first read these words–

“the only people for me were the mad ones”–

I was in the quadrangle outside my high school.

At sixteen, I had never met anyone who was like the people that he described.

I had never had any opportunity to experience the kind of feelings that these words seemed to evoke,

and yet I immediately identified with them, as if I had intimate knowledge of such things.

I can remember fantasizing that I lived in a world like he described–

and knew personally, some of these intense and driven poets and painters–

and of course I was one of them.

It was just a teen age fantasy of course.

But Kerouac helped me find my own direction in life.

He articulated something I needed to discover.

I wanted to be an artist.

I needed to be an artist.

His words and the words and images of other’s like him made me realize this.

I had no evidence that I could be an artist– no opportunity to make it happen.

No particular sign of talent.

No one in my family or community had education, or the kind of experience,

that would allow me to have such lofty dreams. Nevertheless–

I was claimed by this dream.

I was taken away and forever changed by this dream.

I was defined by it, in a way that no family heritage, or cultural traditions,

or shared history, ever could.

I have a few iconic artists, writers, and musicians,

that I feel this way about.

Artists that I think of as my creative ancestors.

I hold their names dear to me for how they liberated me and nurtured me

in ways I can’t describe.

They were the ones that flipped a switch in my soul.

So thanks for the reminder, cute little hipster girl on the bus.

With all that paint on your hands and on your shoes, I am sure you are well on the road.

Thanks for taking me back to those early days where my artful dreams began.

Here is an art journal page I made a couple of years ago about this very thing.

My Art Heroes is what I called the page.

Up there in the corner is Mark Rothko, and then comes LeRoi Jones and Diane Di Prima.

Of course Picasso is very recognizable and–

there he is Jack Kerouac– on the left in his check shirt.

LIke I said before, most of these people were dead by the time I discovered them, but their souls burned brightly through their work and helped me find my own path.

I am eternaly grateful.

Who are your creative icons? Who is in your temple of creative heroes and who changed your life with their art and writing?
Let me know. I’d love to hear from you.

if you are interested here is Kerouac

My writer’s process

Sometimes writers will talk about process.

They will describe their process very specifically sometimes.

Here are some random things I have heard writers say:

“I always create an outline”
“I never create an outline”
“I write the last scene first I have to know where I am going”
“I never know where I am going, I just start writing and see where it takes me.
“I start writing about myself and then gradually get farther and farther away from myself.
“I start with total imaginary characters and then gradually get closer and closer to myself”

Ok. So what’s my process?

I usually say that my approach to writing is organic,and intuitive.

But lately I have been thinking that this might be just another way of saying–

I have no process that I am aware of and actually–

I am totally and completely haphazard unfocused and undisciplined.

Maybe it’s time I get more specific about my own process.

A process should lead to something right?

That’s why it’s a process.

My so called intuitive and organic writing process

doesn’t seem to lead to much writing.

I know that I want to write. I love to write. I need to write.

But often I don’t write.

The only way I actually write is when I have a deadline or some other kind of

external structure that snaps me to attention.

More than anything deadlines and commitments keep me on task.

Maybe a looming deadline that terrifies me into doing the work is my process.

I know that fear stops me from working–maybe it kicks my ass too.

Late last fall I was invited to be in a group with other playwrights

who were writing and producing their own plays in the The Fringe Festival.

For three months I wrote every day and came up with a finished draft.

Then for another three months I wrote another draft.

THen for two months I tweaked and trimmed and tweazed until I had a draft

that the director liked. THen we went in rehearsal and then the play was performed.

Deadlines and external structure made me do the work.

The desire to get my work done made me confront my fear but the fear of looming deadlines

and being ready with a play on time kept me going and maybe this is what fear is for.

I might put in an application to the Fringe just to kick my butt into writing another play.

Or perhaps it’s another kind of deadline that I have to find for myself now that I have

done that I might need a new adventure. I am not sure.

I wish I didn’t have to scare myself to be motivated.

Anyway at least I am thinking about this and hey I am writing about it so

there you go. The fact that I created this damn blog and then had trouble posting in it

kind of forced me to put something in it just because it was there waiting for me.

Maybe I just have to accept that my process is to scare the shit out of myself.

My art thrives on a little adrenaline and the possibility of humiliation.

Sheesh.

To be continued.

A message to my fellow writers.

 

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Writers are like stargazers,

searching an imaginary sky

for distant galaxies

of meaning and metaphor–

trusting in the existence of a story-

an act of faith–

knowing that the story is  there.

Somewhere.

Scientists and astronomers have a name for

the invisible material surrounding a galaxy.

They call it dark matter.

As I explore the galaxy of  my imagination

I hope that somewhere,

beyond the dying stars of my early scribbles,

somewhere, n the endless night

of all that is unknown to me

I will find the story that wants to be told.

I do know that the flickering brightness of my ideas,

just like the stars in the night sky, seem much closer than

they  really are and  may take longer than I think to

reach them.

I have come a certain distance with my  writing explorations.

Sometimes I feel as if I have been traveling for a long time,

too long–and I will never arrive at my destination.

 

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