-This post is part of a continuing series, The Creative KeyRing–
“This is just too hard. Forget it. I’m just not creative.”
Have you ever felt that way? Nearly all, if not all, people who have tried to get better at something have. Maybe they didn’t think it had anything to do with being creative, but the feeling was the same. Stephen Pressfield called this feeling “The Resistance”, and it’s a force to be reckoned with for sure.
It wears you out to keep working at something that isn’t getting the results you want. When your project simply doesn’t come together, all of the pieces of the plan won’t fit into place and what did fit gets messed up by unforeseen events. Or, you try to learn how to play the guitar, and you hate the way you sound. Your fingers just won’t move fast enough, or you can’t quite press down right on that chord. It can really be discouraging, and make you want to quit, to move on to something more familiar and comfortable, like watching TV or surfing Pinterest. The tool against the Resistance that will keep you creating is endurance.
Endurance is more than simply putting up with something, it’s a tool that helps us to accept the situation we face, and decide to keep moving forward, confident that we will make progress if we just keep trying.
Isn’t that a bit silly, though? What if we keep trying and there is no progress to speak of?
While that can be true for some things, for most of our endeavors (especially in the realm of creating) there is almost always progress. The thing that gets in our way, and convinces us that there will be no progress, is our mindset. For example, we love to read, and can just picture ourselves as a writer, pouring out our ideas, thoughts, imagination onto the page in gripping, engaging text. So we sit down to write, and after a few sentences, paragraphs, or pages we read what we’ve put down in horror. It’s dull, lifeless. It has no flow, nothing to captivate the reader. So we conclude that “I’m not a writer. I’ve tried, but I just don’t have it.”
In truth, we just don’t have it yet. Some of the best athletes in history claim that when they started, they were not good at their sport. But by repeated practice things changed. If that works for athletes, and everyone else for that matter, it will work for us. Let’s take a look at how to build creative endurance.
Have you ever watched a baby eat? She ends up with food all over the place with a small portion ever ending up in her mouth. But does that stop her? no, she just gleefully flips more food towards her face and gurgles.
Eventually, she learns to eat with utensils and usually puts all of her food in her mouth. But what if she gave up and stopped trying? Restaurants would be a messy place, indeed! But, no, she keeps going, heedless of her progress. She got enough food to be fed, and that’s all that really matters.
By continuing to work at something, or even just to play at it, we improve in our abilities. The fact is, if we do something often enough, we almost can’t help but to improve. It’s simply the nature of the repeated effort.
So, be the baby. Dive into your art, work, project, whatever, heedless of results. I’m not saying to stop trying to improve, just stop worrying so much about preconceived measures of success. The real goal, especially when we are starting, is improvement, however incremental. Like our messy baby, when we keep at something, preferably practicing at least daily, we will see improvement.
Ira Glass has a great discussion on the topic. He makes note that every artist goes through a period of time when their work stinks. but he makes the point that being able to know that your work stinks is actually a good sign, because it indicates that you know what good is, and that you have the ability to modify your own work, over time, to bring the quality up to a level that you can deem good.
So, do yourself a favor and record something of your work right now, a drawing, a recording of yourself playing your instrument, print out your current project plan or business proposal, whatever it is that you are creating. Save this aside for a year and keep working. Check it from time-to-time and notice how you’re getting better. If you really want a boost, don’t check it until a year from now. Compare the quality of each, and prove to yourself that you have grown in your creative ability.
It takes time, and work, but it’s time well spent, and it works.
Thanks for your time, and have an amazing day!