Wendell Berry’s studio
Tell me if this happens to you.
There is a new book out by a break through author and you think to yourself, “That could be me. I wonder how she did it.”
You stand on line at a book signing and as you move closer to the author, you feel more and more frustrated holding that book in your hands while your book, the one you have always wanted to write, is still an unwritten dream. As she autographs your copy, you make the same promise to yourself that you always make when you find yourself face to face with someone who is actually doing what you are longing to do, “OK, today I am going to write my book!”
The problem is that promise will have to fight its way through a laundry list of Other Important Reasons Why You Can’t Work on Your Art to get you to sit down and do your work. Here are the most common ones:
- I’m too busy
- I have no time
- I have a big job
- I have other priorities
- I can’t get started
At this point, you know that you are the only one who can champion that promise through.
Without your help, that dream will remain what it is - just a dream. And you will always be on the line with the rest of the dreamers, just another fan seeking an autograph, not the writer who has written the book.
Writers and artists have lives that are not that different from ours. They have to live somewhere, put food on the table, and take care of themselves or their families. They also have a passion to be creative, to make art and to get it out into the world to share with others.
How do they do this?
Artists actually have two passions.
The passion for their art which is the one that fuels their dreams and imagination. This is what you experience when you read a book or see a painting that touches you. You see yourself in that work of art and you feel their creative spirit igniting your inner artist.
The other passion is their practice. This is the part that is not so glamorous or exciting. It is the alarm clock set for 4:45 am, it is the daily struggle to put a few good words on paper, to fight distractions, the will to create something faithfully, to acknowledge and thank yourself for the effort without judgement.
To show up. Every single day.
The power of combining these two passions is formidable. It will strengthen your creativity with focus and from this will come your book, your painting, your opera.
You will also be experiencing the benefits of an artistic life: creating joy and living an intentional, purposeful life.
Three simple steps to set up your practice
“You must have a room, or a certain hour or so a day, where you don’t know what was in the newspapers that morning, you don’t know who your friends are, you don’t know what you owe anybody, you don’t know what anybody owes to you. This is a place where you can simply experience and bring forth what you are and what you might be. This is the place of creative incubation. At first you may find that nothing happens there. But if you have a sacred place and use it, something eventually will happen. “
Over time, you will find you are actually building a body of work. You will also notice elevated levels of happiness in your life because you are doing something about that dream of yours and spending time working on what you are passionate about.
This practice requires commitment and perseverance. By showing up every day, you will gain a strong sense of purpose. Sharing it with others will give you joy. This is the essence of a creative life.
These are the three steps that lay between you as the fan and you as the artist.
Set your alarm
Find one hour a day.
Think about your typical day and find one hour of time. Set an alarm, a calendar reminder, an alert or anything that will remind you it is your time for your practice.
This should be a time that you can come to everyday and do your work. For me, this is that magical hour from 5:00 - 6:00 am. I set two alarms for myself. One is to wake me up and one is my internal clock reminding me to be mentally prepared to fight my desire to pull the covers over my head and go back to sleep.
Clean your desk
Keep your space clear.
This is your sacred space.
I believe the only things you need are your imagination and your tools. For me, that means absolutely nothing on my desk, no sounds, no distractions. No phones, Facebook, alerts. No internal editor - myself. I even turn all of my text white so I can just write without interruption which is something I cannot do easily because I am so easily tempted to self edit as I write.
Sit in the chair
I have a friend who has a hard time getting himself to practice the cello. He will walk into his practice room and walk around circling the cello before sitting down to play. Once he is sitting in his chair and practicing, time will fly and he wonders why he wasn’t doing this earlier.
Sometimes getting past “circling the cello” and just sitting your chair is the most difficult challenge.
Now, make something
What terrifies me is the blank page.
For you it may the empty canvas, the silence in your head.
You may also have that other pesky fear: of not being perfect.
Your job is to put something down on paper. Get the story, the dance, the symphony out of your head and into the world. It will look like a mess.
“Have no fear of perfection, you'll never reach it.” Salvador Dali
If you are struggling with your work, here’s a piece of advice I find helpful:
“Procrastinate. If at first you don’t succeed, give up immediately, move on to some other task until that becomes unbearable. Then move on again circling back around to the first problem. By now, your subconscious will have worked on it, sort of like sleep, only cheaper.”
from Ten Bullets by Tom Sachs
There are many dreamers in the world with a work of art one alarm clock away from becoming a wonderful reality.
Set yours now.
Hoong Yee is a writer who draws. She is the author of Rabbit Mooncakes, a children’s picture book and the Executive Director of the Queens Council on the Arts. Hoong Yee is married to a nice Jewish boy and they live in Rockaway Beach, NY with their family. Visit her website at hoongyee.com