Making It Through Creative Limbo

January is here and I am baffled. Where is the excitement I usually feel?

I like to spend January getting excited about what’s next. I had planned on returning to my novel. Thanks to NaNoWriMo, I had developed a strong daily writing habit. My re-write of Rapunzel was going to rocket forward.

Then my husband hit a patch of ice on his mountain bike and broke his hip.

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Two of the handful of drawings I’ve done in the last month.

As he lay in the ER, Kurt tried to figure out how he could make his meetings the next day. It didn’t occur to him that he would still be in the hospital the next day.

While I was quicker than Kurt was to realize that our world had changed, I didn’t realize exactly how I would be affected. I would have to be his nurse, as well as take sole responsiblity for all the tasks we normally shared, so I expected to be busy. I expected to be tired.

I did not expect to be completely unplugged from my creative self.

Early on, I was so overwhelmed and exhausted that I had to choose. On any given day, I could only do a little. Groceries took precedence. Doctor appointments came first. Cooking and laundry? Essential to the point of being inescapable.

Writing had to wait.

After a few weeks, however, I expected to get back to normal. Kurt was home and we had developed a new routine. Surely I could get back to my writing?

But I couldn’t. I usually write daily. I also knit, quilt, or draw on a regular basis. Since Kurt’s accident, I’ve gone days without creating, and I don’t seem to care.

My lack of enthusiasm frightens me. I feel like I’ve lost a piece of my brain. I signed up for some weekly online inspirational sessions to help me focus on my dreams, hoping this would help me find my way back to my creative self.

It turns out, I can’t do that, either. Attempts to dig deep and look at the big picture are fruitless and frustrating.

Whether I like it or not, I am in creative limbo right now.

Just as Kurt is sleeping much more than usual, I apparently also need to be still. As the days go by, however, I wonder when the my enthusiasm will be back. Like Kurt, I am anxious to return to my normal activities, and like Kurt, I must be patient.

The temptation is to force things, to makes something happen, but sometimes you can’t push it. Sometimes, you have to accept where you are at and go with the flow. We cannot always be making. We have to stop and breathe and let ourselves rest now and then.

Creativity is supposed to go in cycles. My hope is that this flat, gray, unproductive time is just part of the cycle, and that soon I will move on to a new phase.

In the meantime, I must wait.

No Talent or Patience? You Can Still Make Great Art

Not long ago, I asked a friend if she was interested in writing a book. I was gearing up for NaNoWriMo and hoping she might join in the fun. She loves to read, she’s articulate and smart, and I was pretty sure she would be interested in writing.

I asked her if she had ever done any creative writing. She said once, long ago, but she was very bad at it.

She gave up because she didn’t have any talent.

Her misunderstanding made me sad.

As a beginner, she couldn’t expect to write a brilliant story right away. If she wanted to be a good writer, she needed more practice. What looks like talent from the outside is really lots of skill built through experience. Just like a new runner does not start by running a marathon in their first week, novel writers train up, writing lots and lots of pages before they write a book worth reading.

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People often say “I’m not talented enough to do that” when they see a beautiful painting, hear a musical performance, or read a great story. We must remember that what is masterfully done is the result of hours and hours of practice. The artist must develop their skill set before they can expect to get the results that are so admired. They must make lots of art, good, bad, and mediocre, before they can achieve great.

Which brings us to the other comment often made when someone admires a really complex or large piece of creative work: “I don’t have the patience to do that.”

I thought a lot about patience as I was putting beads on Tiny’s Elizabeth I costume. It took me hours to do, but believe me, I am not a patient woman. I don’t want things now, I want them yesterday. Much of the time I was stitching beads onto fabric, I was looking forward to being done. It was certainly not patience that got helped me finish that project. It was determination.

Skill and determination, not talent and patience.

However, there is one place where having some patience is handy: while you are learning your craft. Practice takes time.

You are going to write bad stories, hit the wrong notes, and draw crooked houses while you are learning how to write, play, and draw. Lots and lots and lots of mistakes will be made. There will be successes, too, but it may be a long time before you are able to perform at the level you dream of. This is when patience comes in handy.

If you’re not all that patient, my advice is: use it. Your impatience can drive you to work harder. The more you practice, the quicker you will get better.

So no more excuses. Get to work.

Patiently Teaching Ducks To Swim

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There are two kinds of change: the change we resist, and the change we long for. When it comes to the changes I am eager for (losing weight, finishing a quilt that’s taken me months of work,  re-organizing my studio), I want instant results. I want to be done yesterday.

Instant changes are rare. Even changes that seem fast, like getting a new hair style or buying a new piece of furniture, are only symbolic of the deeper changes we are interested in, the slow below-the-surface changes we are trying to announce to the world with our new frills.

Lately, I’ve been dealing with things that take much more time than I would like. Healing my body is a slow process, and while I am making the recommended changes, my body seems to be in no hurry to respond. Staying patient as I go through this process is proving tough.

Fortunately, I came across this quote:

One does not advance the swimming abilities of ducks by throwing the eggs in the water. — Eduard Douwes Dekker

The insanity of teaching a duck to swim while it’s still in the egg makes this a powerful statement for me. I’m reminded that some change has steps to it, and that progress can only occur if the steps are followed in the proper order. You can’t jump ahead and expect good results.

My healing is going to take time. Today, I’m leaving the eggs in the nest. I’m making sure that they are warm and safe, and giving them the time they need to develop. Swimming lessons can wait until after they’ve hatched and grown feathers. I will leave each step to its appropriate time and wait until it’s complete before I move on to the next thing.

All I have to do is wait. Patiently.

The Messy Process of Creating Original Work

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My creative process is a cycle, which means I go through the same stages over and over and over and over again. You’d think I’d get used to each stage and know exactly what was coming, what to expect, and how to handle it. But that never seems to happen. Instead, I get bogged down, confused, or lost, and only when I stop to look around do I recognize the place I’ve reached.

I’m working on a novel revision right now and the place I’ve reached feels like a dead end. I can’t move forward, can’t muster the energy or interest to do whatever needs doing. My book needs lots of work. I have lists of unanswered questions and details to be decided on.

I’m in a thinking and research phase of my project. This is always hard for me. It’s about gathering the material new story ideas will spring from, and the steps involved look like work.

So today, I am holding onto this thought:

Writing is a messy process that’s equal parts “mess” and “process.” — Julia Cameron, Finding Water, p. 98.

“Mess” and “process” describe where I’m at well.

My book is a mess right now, with parts that need cutting, parts that need re-writing, and parts to be written from scratch. The goal of this re-write is just to find my story and make it stronger, re-organize the mess into something orderly and interesting.

The word “process” reminds me that this whole thing is going to take time. It won’t be fast or easy. It will take plodding, determined, deliberate effort on my part. Most of all, it will take patience as I slowly get a grip on what I have and what I don’t have, and then chip away at the deficit.

My goal for the day is to enjoy the messy process of writing a novel, to inch forward, a little closer to a complete story. With patience, I can cover miles of territory, an inch at a time.

Do you get stuck on creative projects? Which part of the process is hardest for you?

In The Garden: Overdoing Persistence & Practicing Patience

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Over the holiday weekend, we put in as many hours as we could manage weeding, starting early and working until we couldn’t take the heat any more. I was determined to be more persistent than the weeds, to pull until they were gone. But there was one big thistle that wouldn’t budge. Instead of getting some help from my husband or getting a tool that might make the work easier, I swore and tugged harder. My persistence crossed over into stubbornness. I strained and pulled and the thistle didn’t budge. In the end, I left the root in the ground and broke off the stem and leaves.

After we came in for the day, my back started complaining. I know it was my battle with that thistle that strained my back. I’ve been dealing with muscle spasms and pain ever since. As a result, today’s quote seems particularly apt to me.

Knowing trees, I understand the meaning of patience. Knowing grass, I can appreciate persistence. -Hal Borland

Over time, trees grow from twigs to giants, but the process is slow. Grass will take root in cracks, spring back after it’s been walked on, and green up again when the rain returns. These plants understand patience and persistence.

I, however, have some learning to do. I persisted a little too long in my fight with that thistle, and am paying for my mistake. Now I get to practice patience while I wait for my body to heal.

When have you struggled with patience or persistence?

Patience as Action

In case you are wondering, I’m still sick. It’s day 16 of this virus and I am ready to be well again. While I’ve been gradually getting better, last night my throat pain flared back up and I was afraid I was headed for a major relapse. This morning I am tired, but not in nearly as much pain, so I hope that means I’ll be healthy soon.

My thought for today is this: Patience is also a form of action. (Auguste Rodin)

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Considering how much sitting and lying around I’ve been doing, it’s nice to think that inactivity can count as a form of action. If waiting to get better counts as patience, then I’m an action hero.

As I’ve said, patience with myself is not my strong suit, but I’m getting lots and lots and lots of practice. For now, I’m heading back to bed.

How are you at patience and waiting? Does this quote ring true, or does it sound like a rationalization?

There Is No Hurry. (Right?)

RiversKnow_webI’ve been sick for a week now and am getting better oh-so-slowly. It’s an opportunity to work on being patient with myself and my body, but lessons in patience are my least favorite kind. This lesson has included changing my expectations in big ways, from skipping a chance to see Chihuly Nights at the Denver Botanical Gardens to canceling my plans to fly to Maryland and visit with my family, all in the name of taking care of myself.

Today, I’m focusing on these words of A.A. Milne’s:

Rivers know this: there is no hurry. We shall get there some day.

To not be in a hurry is not natural to me, and seems especially out of place during NaNoWriMo, when I trying to write a novel as fast as I can. I’ve had to take days off from the novel, and to wait until my energy level is high enough for me to put in some time at my computer. I keep telling myself all will be well. If I can be patient and give myself the time I need, I’ll be healthy again, and this love affair I currently have with Ricola cough drops and Throat Tamer tea will be a faint memory.

In the meantime, I’ll pretend I’m a river, with no need to hurry. Maybe if I’m a river, I can wash away this damn bug.