“The first sentence can’t be written until the final sentence is written.”
“[Writing is] hostile in that you’re trying to make somebody see something the way you see it, trying to impose your idea, your picture. It’s hostile to try to wrench around someone else’s mind that way. Quite often you want to tell somebody your dream, your nightmare. Well, nobody wants to hear about someone else’s dream, good or bad; nobody wants to walk around with it. The writer is always tricking the reader into listening to the dream.”
This is taken from a 1978 interview for The Paris Review. The whole conversation is worth reading, but this quote really jumped out at me.
Distraction is one of my biggest struggles; something I grapple with on a daily basis. A few days ago, I posted how we as creatives need to choose to make time for our craft. I referred to time as the “currency for creation.” But there’s another metaphor that works just as well: time is the medium from which we craft our creative work. Without time we cannot produce—everything else: charcoal, oil paint, clay, wood, words, everything, is secondary to time. Yet, in an ever-connected world finding those moments can often feel difficult and overwhelming. When we do find the time it’s often fleeting, and we’re bogged down by distraction.
Those called to creation understand this on a very personal level. Obligations already eat away at the narrow slivers of time from which we hone our craft. And the siren call of distraction is always there to lure us away. Occupying oneself into idleness is easy. At the end of the day, the week, the month, the year one looks back and find themselves unfulfilled and wonders: what happened?
In the struggle of creation, eventually, the creator must learn to say ‘no.’
In the struggle of creation, eventually, the creator must learn to say ‘no.’ At first, it’s terrifying. In our culture of ‘yes’ a word like ‘no’ sounds final. (It’s not, but that doesn’t matter.) Your friends won’t get it. The family won’t understand. Entertainment and Social Media hate hearing ‘no,’ they feed off distraction. Our phones are abuzz with alerts demanding attention. The 24-hour news cycle wants you to believe everything is a crisis. Click ‘yes’ to receive alerts for this random website. It’s endless. Empathy for the creator—when it exists at all—is ephemeral. Dreams and drives get brushed aside as frivolous whims. Oh, that. That’s just a hobby. Nothing will come of that. Do that instead. Watch this. Come here. Go there. Play this. Guilt and shame are wielded with selfish abandon. But it’s for you! They say when really it’s for them.
Facing those pressures is difficult. We’ve all crumbled and given in, and those slivers of time are lost forever. You don’t get them back. Hence, the lesson of ‘no.’ Learning to say ‘no’ allows us to set boundaries. It establishes what is important and it set priorities. It’s the first step in building a routine, making the work habitual, and living in the moment.
To be effective ‘no’ is something every creator has to master. Shut out the distractions. No, Twitter isn’t important. No, you don’t need to watch that latest reboot on Netflix. No, you don’t need to make that phone call. No, brunch isn’t necessary this weekend. Face the pressure head on, stand your ground, and make the choices for what matters to you. It’s important for our mental health. It’s important for the work. It’s important for creation. ‘No’ lets us carve out moments in time, and after all, time is the true medium.
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Most “rules” for writing are hyper-personal. What works for one writer will not work for another writer. We each discover our own path in the journey of creation and each path is as different as the person who walks it. But there is one bit of advice that remains true regardless of our course: to become a writer, you have to write.
That is a choice in itself. It doesn’t matter what we desire to do, if you’re driven to create then you have to participate in that act of creation. What you’re doing at that moment isn’t choosing to write but choosing the time to write. Time is the currency for creation. That applies to every creator working in any medium and is not restricted to writers.
Time is the currency for creation.
During the nineteenth-century labor movement, Robert Owen began the push for the eight-hour workday. It was he who coined the slogan “Eight hours labor, Eight hours recreation, Eight hours rest.” Since then, it’s been co-opted by labor movements and labor organizations across the world. Most artists I know have to work full-time jobs (sometimes many)—art is often secondary to that work. That leaves sixteen hours (if we’re lucky) to divide between rest and creation. From the onset, many of us are already limited in the amount of time we can spend walking our path.
Time is finite. Once spent it cannot be reclaimed. If a creator is driven to create, then we need to learn to spend our time wisely. If we work full-time jobs, we’re already limited. We need to set priorities that permit us the time to create. That requires sacrifice. Choosing time means making sacrifices and cutting out other things that serve only as a distraction.
For me, that meant I quit playing video games. I stopped watching movies. Television went by the wayside. This year, I’ve significantly cut back on live sports as well—I no longer choose to sacrifice four hours to a football or baseball game, not when my time is limited.
As with the individual’s path of creation, the path of sacrifice will be different for each creator. The choices you make will be personal. But you’re going to have to make them. In the end, it’s up to you. It’s your choice.
1 This is a topic for another time, but I know many artists who have to work several jobs. For some it’s so they can afford health insurance, for others, it’s so they can afford food or rent. This only further limits their time, and further restricts their choices.
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“Nothing I have ever written was given the slightest deliberation. It was there in the typewriter and it came out, a total bypassing of the brain.”
I stumbled across this comic from Tom Founder over at Happy Jar. It struck close to home, and got me thinking:
It’s a common occurrence. Often we creatives feel like we’re the only one who goes through this sort of thing. That while our peers see only success, we see only struggle. We forget that in modern society we curate our lives. It’s:
Friend: “How are you doing today?”
Us: “Oh, I’m fine.” *fake smile* “Look at these pictures of my weekend!”
Friend: “How are you doing today?”
Us: “ACK! Someone gave me a one-star review. I got a rejection letter, and I’m so nervous about this latest manuscript. I think it’s all wrong. I think people will hate my characters. I hate my characters! Their names are all wrong. Maybe I should change them. Ugh. I’m not sure about the plot either. It’s trite, it’s probably like my last book. I bet it’ll get a one-star review as well! I worry that I’m not speaking from the heart. I should change it. I don’t think people will get it, you know? Don’t even get me started on my prose! I’m stuck, I’m scared, and I don’t know what I’m going to do! It’s wrong! IT’S ALL WRONG! AHHHHH!” *Bangs head against the wall like a crazy person.*
Like anyone else, we judge ourselves by our peers. And like the rest of the world, most creatives only share our success and rarely our failure. As a result we’ve become scared of failure. That fear breeds common reactions: self-doubt, depression, and even the self-loathing as shown in panel three. Often, because of those common reactions, creatives just give up.
We should do the exact opposite. Let’s go back and read that again: common reactions? Yes. Common. It happens to everyone! You’re not alone. I’m right there with you. We all deal with this! But these aren’t insurmountable hurdles. These struggles are only permanent if we let them abide.
The only way to really fail is to stop.
The important thing when confronting these barricades is to press past them. We get so close to our work all we see are the mistakes, the errors, and the things we want to change. We no longer see the good, but it’s there. That’s why it’s important to move past these biases, ignore the demons of self-doubt, and get the work out there. Let the world decide. Push yourself and move on to your next project. As I said earlier, so many of us hit that third panel and just… stop. Which is the wrong reaction. You see, the only way to really fail is to stop.
So yeah, as I said, Happy Jar got me thinking. You can see more great (and thought-provoking) comics at HappyJar.com. It’s updated every Tuesday and Friday. Subscribe to the RSS feed here, or follow HappyJar on Twitter. It’s great stuff and I highly recommend following along.