Archive for getting unstuck

Getting Unstuck | Fight the fear

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on December 14, 2011 by artlovemagic
Image by Cathy Hutchison

The thing about art is that it is bi-directional.  Musicians need an audience, writers need readers, and visual artists need eyes to see what they’ve created and hearts to be moved by it. This bi-directional nature of art is terrifying for the artist.  Your art is deeply personal, and rejection of it is by extension a rejection of you.

Our friends celebrate our art. They see the beauty of our lyrics, our paintings, and our poetry because they love us.  But reaching across to connect with those who don’t know us is a different thing entirely.  What do we do when the recipient isn’t safe? The odds of rejection are high.  And that scares us.
For those of us designed to create, we have to fight a daily war on fear.  I love what Steven Pressfield writes in his book The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles

Are you a born writer? Were you put on earth to be a painter, a scientist, an apostle of peace? In the end the question can only be answered by action.

 Do it or don’t do it.

 It may help to think of it this way. If you were meant to cure cancer or write a symphony or crack cold fusion and you don’t do it, you not only hurt yourself, even destroy yourself. You hurt your children. You hurt me. You hurt the planet.

You shame the angels who watch over you and you spite the Almighty, who created you and only you with your unique gifts, for the sole purpose of nudging the human race one millimeter farther along its path back to God.

Creative work is not a selfish act or a bid for attention on the part of the actor. It’s a gift to the world and every being in it. Don’t cheat us of your contribution.

Give us what you’ve got.

The battle against fear is worth it because at our core this desire to create isn’t just a hobby it is a calling.  And there is purpose to that calling.  Will people reject you?  Of course. Because it is always easier to criticize than to look at a blank sheet of paper and pour yourself onto it. Critique without contribution should be measured as it is: a bid for power by those who refuse to create.  Critique by those who love us has value, because they know our capacity and want us to reach that. Don’t fear the critique.  Assess where it is coming from.

More importantly remember that you have a gift to offer that is uniquely you.  If you don’t create, something important goes missing.  And that is something we should all fear.

:::Read more of Cathy Hutchison’s posts in the Getting Unstuck series.:::

Getting Unstuck | Do things you know are good for you

Posted in Love with tags , on November 14, 2011 by artlovemagic

I was at a conference this week with a popular speaker who talked about how vulnerable you get when you are tired.  He said that suddenly exercise, eating right and sleeping–things he had once thought were overrated–were now a big part of his life so that he was healthy enough to live his dream.

There is something to that.

While most of us would never write a $10,000 check when our bank account has $2 in it, we regularly write emotional checks and time checks that our souls and bodies can’t cash.

Artists are especially vulnerable to this.  We resent routine and all that it implies. We love to break the rules and push the boundaries.  That streak of resisting the ordinary and ignoring the “should” is part of what makes us great.  It allows us to say things that others leave unsaid and engage the soul at levels others can’t touch.

But when it comes to our most important asset…our physical being…we need to fight our nature and get better at the “should.” Self-destructive patterns will ultimately destroy our art.  And we know what they are–because they are uniquely personal to us. It can be as simple as running on a diet of coffee and nicotine or as complex as engaging in harmful relationships.

The “unhealthy” can leave us stuck.  And quite frankly, it is easier to ignore the patterns and pretend like we don’t have control. That it is happening to us rather than a situation we are creating.

We control what we put in our mouths, if we carve out time to rest, if we find a physical activity we love. It is up to us to get help with our addictions, to choose healthy friendships and to embrace the small things that create joy.

There is a romance to Van Gogh cutting off his ear and there is no doubt that the Kurt Cobain’s of the world produced powerful music.  But for every great artist with a tragic story there are a thousand the world never hears of because they self-destruct before they have the opportunity to truly become great.

Engage the strength of will that creates your art as a positive force for your well-being and find out where that takes you. You may unlock things you didn’t think possible.

:::Read more of Cathy Hutchison’s posts in the Getting Unstuck series.:::

Getting Unstuck | Show up

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on October 10, 2011 by artlovemagic

It’s embarassing really.  Sometimes our “stuckness” is our own fault. For as much as we talk about our dreams and aspirations, if we were really, truly honest with ourselves, we would have to admit that most of the time we don’t even show up. We get trapped in our heads with all of the the reasons we can’t do our art.  So we fail to create.

I was reminded of this recently while reading a review of Jon Acuff’s book, Quitter: Closing the Gap between your Day Job and Dream Job.  I WISH someone had given me this book in my 20’s. The advice is all the stuff I learned to be true the hard way instead of having it gift wrapped and handed to me between two covers.  Here is what the reviewer had to say:

I feel like a jerk telling you to read this book. I loved reading it but hated the implications. Jon Acuff cuts right through all the crappy excuses that we put between us and our dreams. This book haunts me a month after I finished it. I can’t fritter away time on the internet anymore with a clear conscience. I wake up earlier so I can take time to write and focus my thoughts for the day. I find myself trying harder and doing more work at work. It sucks. I miss my life as a slacker.

Acuff writes from his own experiences not in a show off way but in a clever way that gives him credibility. I laughed and cried a little, but in a cool way, not an overly emotional wreck kind of way. Acuff is ridiculously likable which is probably best for him because if I didn’t like him, I might try to kick him in the shins for suggesting that a work ethic in your current job will help you prepare for your future dream job.

If you’re taking time to read this review, you obviously have time to read something more substantial like a book. Go ahead and buy Quitter. Read it yourself. Give it to your whiny friends who can’t figure out why they’re not living their dreams. Call your brother or sister and read it to them over the phone. Give it to your kid in the basement who thinks it’s normal to live with parents 10 years after graduating from college. You could also do what I did and give this book away with a break up note to your boyfriend, gently implying the relationship is doomed because he won’t put away the X Box and become a grownup. So yeah, buy Quitter once, buy it twice, buy an entire case of books. I know you know people who should read it. My guess is you might be one of them, too.

I agree with the review.  If you find there is a gap between your day job and your dream job…or if you find you aren’t creating simply because you are failing to show up, this book is a healthy dose of laughing at ourselves and a great interjection of advice to be able to move forward.

:::Read more of Cathy Hutchison’s posts in the Getting Unstuck series.:::

Getting Unstuck | Give yourself permission to create “bad art”

Posted in Art Business with tags , on September 12, 2011 by artlovemagic

post by Cathy Huchison

Sometimes part of our “stuckness” is a paralysis caused by the desire for perfection. I love what Christine Paintner writes in her book The Artist’s Rule: Nurturing Your Creative Soul with Monastic Wisdom

Our focus here is on the process rather than the product and on allowing the expression to come through as fully and authentically as possible.  When judgments arise in the process, simlpy notice them with curiousity and compassion and contemplate where else in your life these voices arise.  Allow the art-making process to become a container for your internal awareness, much like meditation practice.  The same is true for writing: allow yourself to express whatever is true for you in the process and gently with compassion for yourself, notice where the blocks, judgements and voices arise.  Give yourself permission to make mistakes, to make “bad art” or to write something that doesn’t sound even close to perfect.  This is the way we begin to cultivate inner freedom, by allowing ourselves a full range of expression as a journey of discovery.

This idea of a “journey of discovery” rather than a quest to create perfection is incredibly liberating. You are creative.  You have a desire in your soul to create or you wouldn’t be here on this site reading this post. Release that.  Give yourself permission to create “bad art.” Failure is integral to producing anything real.  And if you don’t give yourself permission to fail, you will find you do not create anything at all.

:::Read more of Cathy Hutchison’s posts in the Getting Unstuck series:::

Getting Unstuck | Make sure you get new cards

Posted in Art Business with tags , on August 10, 2011 by artlovemagic

One of the challenges of being “production-centric” is that it is easy to become creatively dry. Sometimes it is easy to know when you are low on internal provisions, but other times it sneaks up.  You’ve poured out all of your emotion and life experiences into your craft, then find yourself recycling the same stuff over and over. (This isn’t only true of artists. It happens in business, academia, art… Without fuel, the creative spark dims.)

David Wahlstedt introduced me to a great quote by Theodore Zeldin…“Conversation is a meeting of minds with different memories and habits. When minds meet they don’t just exchange facts; They transform them, reshape them, draw different conclusions from them, engage in new trains of thought. Conversation doesn’t just reshuffle the cards, it creates new cards.”

We all need new cards from time to time, and they aren’t actually that difficult to generate. The thing is that it takes us being willing to break our comfortable routine. Reading authors we’ve never read, engaging people with different life experience…having different life experiences ourselves. That exposure creates richer, deeper, more interesting human beings and gives us a deeper well to draw from.

If you feel stuck, try something new.  Let yourself become curious.  Who knows where that could lead?

Getting Unstuck | Short Assignments

Posted in Art Business with tags , on July 11, 2011 by artlovemagic

Anne Lamott wrote one of the most powerful books I know about getting unstuck:  Bird by Bird.   The book is aimed at writers, but applies to any creative….painters, sculptors, musicians, playwrights, graphic designers.  One of the pieces of advice she gives is to focus on short assignments.

This from the book…

The first useful concept is the idea of short assignments. Often when you sit down to write, what you have in mind is an autobiographical novel about your childhood, or a play about the immigrant experience, or a history of–oh, say–say women. But this is like trying to scale a glacier. It’s hard to get your footing, and your fingertips get all red and frozen and torn up. Then your mental illnesses arrive at the desk like your sickest, most secretive relatives. And they pull up chairs in a semicircle around the computer, and they try to be quiet but you know they are there with their weird coppery breath, leering at you behind your back.

What I do at this point, as the panic mounts and the jungle drums begin beating and I realize that the well has run dry and that my future is behind me and I’m going to have to get a job only I’m completely unemployable, is to stop.

First I try to breathe, because I’m either sitting there panting like a lapdog or I’m unintentionally making slow asthmatic death rattles. So I just sit there for a minute, breathing slowly, quietly. I let my mind wander. After a moment I may notice that I’m trying to decide whether or not I am too old for orthodontia and whether right now would be a good time to make a few calls, and then I start to think about learning to use makeup and how maybe I could find some boyfriend who is not a total and complete fixer-upper and then my life would be totally great and I’d be happy all the time, and then I think about all the people I should have called back before I sat down to work, and how I should probably at least check in with my agent and tell him this great idea I have and see if he thinks it’s a good idea, and see if he thinks I need orthodontia–if that is what he is actually thinking whenever we have lunch together. Then I think about someone I’m really annoyed with, or some financial problem that is driving me crazy, and decide that I must resolve this before I get down to today’s work.

So I become a dog with a chew toy, worrying it for a while, wrestling it to the ground, flinging it over my shoulder, chasing it, licking it, chewing it, flinging it back over my shoulder. I stop just short of actually barking. But all of this only takes somewhere between one and two minutes, so I haven’t actually wasted that much time. Still, it leaves me winded. I go back to trying to breathe, slowly and calmly, and I finally notice the one-inch picture frame that I put on my desk to remind me of short assignments.

It reminds me that all I have to do is to write down as much as I can see through a one-inch picture frame. This is  all I have to bite off for the time being. All I am going to do right now, for example, is write that one paragraph that sets the story in my hometown, in the late fifties, when the trains were still running. I am going to paint a picture of it, in words, on my word processor. Or all I am going to do is to describe the main character the very first time we meet her, when she first walks out the front door and onto the porch. I am not even going to describe the expression on her face when she first notices the blind dog sitting behind the wheel of her car–just what I can see through the one-inch picture frame, just one paragraph describing this woman, in the town where I grew up, the first time we encounter her.

E. L. Doctorow once said that “writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” You don’t have to see where you’re going, you don’t have to see your des­tination or everything you will pass along the way. You just have to see two or three feet ahead of you. This is right up there with the best advice about writing, or life, I have ever heard.

For other posts in this series:  Getting Unstuck | The Morning Pages

Techniques for getting unstuck | The Morning Pages

Posted in Art Business, Magic with tags , on June 6, 2011 by artlovemagic

All artists get “stuck” from time to time.  The place where nothing flows.  Where it is difficult to create.  Where what was once a joy becomes something tedious.  Tiresome.

The worst part is that when art is your business, you don’t get that luxury.  You can’t stop producing.  It is professional suicide.

Luckily, you aren’t alone in this problem and a number of different artists have developed strategies to overcome the block.  One of the more interesting ones is Julia Cameron’s idea of “The Morning Pages.”  In her book, The Artists Way Cameron writes: “In order to retrieve your creativity, you need to find it.  I ask you to do this by an apparently pointless process I call the morning pages…the morning pages are three pages of longhand writing, strictly stream-of-consciousness: “Oh, god, another morning. I have NOTHING to say. I need to wash the curtains. Did I get my laundry yesterday? Blah, blah, blah…”  They might also, more ingloriously be called brain drain, since tht is one of their main functions.”

Cameron asserts that there is no wrong way to do the morning pages.  They are not intended to be art.  Or even writing.

The simple process of writing–longhand–whatever comes to mind.  Cameron says “although occasionally colorful, the morning pages are often negative, frequently fragmented, often self-pitying, repetitive, stilted or babyish, angry or gland–even silly sounding. Good!”

The idea is to bleed out the things that stand between you and your creativity.  We all have what they term in yoga and meditation practices “monkey mind.” According to Wikipedia, the phrase is a Buddhist term meaning “unsettled; restless; capricious; whimsical; fanciful; inconstant; confused; indecisive; uncontrollable”. The morning pages give all of that a place to flow to.  They provide a mechanism to rid yourself of all of that chatter. 

Cameron adds, ” The morning pages are the primary tool of creative recovery.  As blocked artists, we tend to criticize ourselves mercilessly.  Even if we look like functioning artists to the world, we feel we never do enough and what we do isn’t right…”

If you find yourself right now in a place where you are creatively stuck, commit to a three week practice of morning pages.  Every day. No matter what time you get up.  Without exception. Then let us know how it goes.