Even in his younger years, my dog was never very good at navigating.
When chasing his ball, he’d run slap-bang into a rock, then retreat dazed, wondering why his head didn’t feel quite right.
(Fortunately he has a very hard head.)
I see the same thing all the time with new coaching clients - and, yes, in myself as well. We’re so desperate to get the ball, that we’re incapable of assessing the terrain in order to navigate it safely.
We want to go from NO creative practice to working daily at our chosen art form for 8 hours a day. Is it any wonder that we find ourselves limping off, sore and scared of trying again?
Gimme the Ball!
One of the problems is that we want the ball now. We want 20 finished paintings or a completed novel, an exhibition or a publishing deal. But in the creative act there is no getting the ball. There’s really only chasing the ball. The chasing is where the fun is!
My dog is now much older and slower, but also wiser. He’s not that bothered about the ball. He’s far more interested in what he can smell along the way. He spends 10 minutes with his nose in the same bush. I’m tugging at his lead and he doesn’t notice. He’s lost in the process. He’s in the now.
In order to firmly entrench ourselves in the creative now, we have to set attainable goals. If our creative practice has lapsed, it’s no use expecting to get back up to speed from one day to the next. I know you’ve heard it a thousand times before but the answer is to start small.
But starting small just seems so pathetic, doesn’t it? What’s the point in spending 10 minutes on creating? You may as well just throw in the towel and do something else, right?
The thing about 10 minutes is that it’s just 10 minutes for now. Once you get into the regular habit of creating, you stop watching the clock and get into the flow. Before you know it, you’re like my dog with his nose in a bush: Hours are passing without you knowing it.
Put Down the BIG Ball, Celebrate the Small, Roll in the Grass
As well as wanting the ball now, we also want a BIG ball. The finished paintings, the novel, the Etsy shop. All that stuff. Because of that we denigrate the value of the small.
We think we should be painting, but don’t value working in our sketchbooks. We say we must write another chapter of our novel but we forget the value of free-writing to loosen ourselves up. We say things like,
I ONLY worked in my sketchbook"
So just as we need to pat ourselves on the back for working for 10 minutes where before we were doing zero, we also need to celebrate our creative output in all its manifestations.
These ’small’ practices are where we germinate our ideas. We need to play in order to free ourselves sufficiently for the big ideas. The way my dog rolls in the grass - just because he can.
The Power of Small Habits
We forget that it’s precisely these regular little habits that prepare us for the big stuff.
Let me share a personal example:
Last week I got stuck with my fold-out book project. I wanted to make a visual table of contents resembling an advent calendar with little flaps to open. I started working on the idea but I lost my way. I began to feel huge resistance towards working on the project and eventually I wasn’t working on it at all.
I started to do other stuff - preparing new collage papers and drawing in my sketchbook. One day I did a sketch in white pencil on a buff page (I like to make sketchbooks with different sorts of papers.). I enjoyed it so much that the next day I did another.
A couple of days later I realised that white on a buff ground was exactly the solution I needed for my table of contents page! I tell you, I zoomed through developing the next stage of that page!
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