Give Your Creative Anxiety A Break. [An essay of shameless name – dropping]
This is for those of you who are artists and creatives. At times, usually in a shower, dozens of great ideas are storming thru your mind but you can’t handle taking action on all of them, (unless you are not covered with soap.) At other times you are preoccupied with self doubts, scared that your inspiration left you forever…
Unlike desire and hunger – comfort is said to hinder creativity. Still, certain kind of comfort is necessary. To fully dive into writing or designing we want to calm down self doubt… we want to take our attention away from ourselves.
What a better way to do this than to realize you are not alone?
Take a short break from pushing through the blocks. Entertain yourself with the mini stories of famous artists. You will realize: you are not alone in your creative anxiety – and rarely anyone is or was.
The stories come from a delightful book that describes artists’, writers’, composers’ rituals around their work. I found it during my own low tide of inspiration (this is the reason you got no e-letters from me in 4 weeks)
The conclusion of the book is: there are no rules, one person’s ritual would not work for another, yet some actions repeat themselves among a great number of artists.
The book called “Daily Rituals. How artists work” written by Mason Currey, describes 161 minds, and it’s very fun to read. Below are the mini stories, and if this is not enough, get the book. Yet I will be coming back to it, later on, to mention several tricks to use in an artistic work.
Simone De Beauvoir’s lover describes the way she lived and worked:
“It was an uncluttered kind of life, a simplicity deliberately constructed so that she could do her work.”
Patricia Highsmith could write up to 2000 words on a good day. She had to make the act of writing as pleasurable as possible, in her own way… She would sit in her bed surrounded by cigarettes, ashtrays, coffee, doughnut and had to have a drink just before writing to reduce her energy level, often drinking as soon as she woke up. Patricia loved snails. She once showed up at a party with a head of a lettuce in her handbag with hundred of snails – her companions for the evening…
Ingrid Bergman reminded me that often anything worthwhile, good art, good film, require an enormous investment of time… “eight hours of hard work each day to get 3 minutes of film.” His metaphor for making art pictures perfectly the nature of creativity and the inner necessity to create
“I have been working all the time. It’s like a flood going thru the landscape of your soul. […] If I hadn’t been at work all the time, I would have been a lunatic.”
Though many writers created their spaces where nobody would disturb them, Jane Austen, had almost no privacy in her most productive time, and wrote in the family living room with all kinds of distractions. In addition she had to keep her writing unnoticed by servants and frequent visitors, so she wrote on small sheets of paper that could be easily hidden.
Gertrude Stein was mostly inspired by rocks and cows. After driving around and coming upon a good spot, Stein would get comfortable on a campstool while her partner, Miss Toklas, would switch a cow into Stein’s line of vision. Stein wrote only for 15-30 min a day. And sometimes she would only sit there looking at the cows…
Maya Angelou could not write at home. It was too pretty and she needed simple depersonalized motel rooms. Her motel room had a dictionary, bible and bottle of sherry. She worked there daily and enjoyed pushing herself to the limits of her ability. She had to be the best.
Woody Allen has few tricks he uses when he gets stuck. “Any momentary change creates a fresh burst of mental energy.” It can be as simple as going from one room to another, going out for a walk, getting into shower.
Woody Allen wastes a lot of hot water figuring out details of a story.
David Lynch meditates twice, sometimes three times a day (20 min each time)
Chopin’s work seems rather mysterious and painful as described by George Sand. “His creation was spontaneous and miraculous. He found it without seeking it, without foreseeing it. […] But then began the most heart- rending labour I ever saw. […] He shut himself up in his room for whole days, weeping, walking, breaking pens. […]
He spent six weeks over a single page to write it at last as he had noted it down at the very first.”
It is amazing how productivity of various writers differ. Anthony Trollope produced 47 novels and 16 other books (he’d maintained that in 10 months he is able to write 3 novels, 3 volumes each). Compare him to Flaubert who took 5 years to write “Madame Bovary”, going over pages and sentences sometimes 100 times, until they were just right…
Vladimir Nabokov started the first draft of “Lolita” on a road trip across America, working nights in the backseat of his parked car – “the only place in the country, he said, with no noise and no drafts.”
Edith Sitwell supposedly lay every morning in a coffin to inspire her macabre fiction. The legend is probably false, but she often wrote in bed, believing that every woman should spend at least one day a week in bed. When she was truly preoccupied with writing and worked from morning hours till afternoon, she was so tired that all she could do was to “lie on her bed with her mouth open.”
- With the exception of Stein, most writers worked 3-6 hours a day, some like Voltaire around 18h a day. They divided their work into two blocks of time, morning and afternoon or evening, sometimes late night.
- Most took a break around a lunch time, went for a walk, took a shower. Many of those who lived in the 1st part and mid of 20th century abused their bodies with too much alcohol, smoking and drugs – severely ruining their health.
- Coffee, and in case of George Sand chocolate, was their constant companion.
So what can we do? Could all the substances truly be helpful or were they just serving as a distraction from the pain, or nightmare of writing?
These days we can support ourselves in many healthy ways, but the routines of work, managing interruptions and seeking inspiration – is completely open to our imagination. Hopefully you won’t be afraid to be a bit bizarre, and brave in setting the boundaries around your time.
Do you keep whisky by your bed, have a cow or use a ritual that works? What do you need to change or add to your daily schedule?
Let’s talk about it in the comments below.
Can’t wait to write more soon on the subject!