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Sniff, Sniff

NaBloPoMo_November_smallTonight finds me a little under the weather. I’m not full-blown sick, just a little achy and tired and sniffly that a slight cold and a too busy day will create come nine o’clock at night. It was a full day filled with children singing in choir and a soccer game and a party and lots of drive time and I’m glad to be done, in my pj’s and wrapping it up for the night.

It’s not a terribly creative night for me. That’s okay though. I am here and I am posting. I always say it doesn’t matter what you’re doing creatively, the most important thing is that you show up. So I’m showing up – and while this post won’t win any awards, it does move me towards my goal of writing every day for 30 days. It’s not a huge milestone today, but we get celebrate all those things that move us forward.

So yeah me for showing up when I’d rather be asleep already and yeah you for whatever steps you’ve taken today towards your goals, no matter how large or small.

It’s Late in the Evening

NaBloPoMo_November_smallI’ve started writing this post too late in the evening. Actually this is the second post I’ve started too late this evening.  The first, I was trying really hard to be witty and charming and entertaining and it wasn’t working. It’s been a long, full day and nighttime is not when I do my best work. I could try to push through – work even later and harder and spin my wheels more, for what? A mediocre post that doesn’t really accomplish what I wanted it to. So I’ve readjusted my goals tonight. I just have to write a post. That’s the deal for NaBloPoMo – just write.

Those of you who know me well, know I am a big fan of little goals. You can always exceed them if you achieve one of them easily. Exceeding them does bring you more energy and focus. But make a goal too big so you can’t reach it? Not only do you feel disappointment when you don’t reach it, but it makes it harder for you to believe in yourself the next time you set a goal. So little goals…little steps. They add up over time.

I’ll post this little blog and by itself it won’t be much but it will add together with all of the other blogs to help me achieve my goal of a blog a day for thirty days.  Not bad for way too late in the evening.

This is post #5 for my participation in the National Blog Posting Month challenge. I’ll be posting a blog a day for 30 days.

One of Those Days

So a little while ago, I posted this status on my Facebook page:

“It’s one of those days where I felt like all I did was clean the kitchen.

Except for the break I took to put laundry away.”

It’s not exactly true.  I homeschooled one daughter and took the other to and from school. I also made dinner, cleaned up the living room and did a few other small tasks. In other words, I lived my life today. And, as it often happens, there were no grand expanses of time to pursue all the creative things I’d like to do every single day. The great thing is, I don’t really need to have tons of time, just consistent time. So for example, I worked in belting out a few songs while I loaded the dishwasher (and unloaded it and loaded it again). The singing doesn’t really meet any specific creative goals I have at the moment, but it sure does make me feel better and more likely to work on other things. I played through a couple of songs on my guitar while my youngest brushed her teeth and got ready for bed. And now, while she falls asleep, I’m sitting in her room typing this. After she’s asleep, between a few other household chores I have to complete tonight, I’ll finish up some edits for some freelance work I do.

It’s not a perfect life where I get to use up every ounce of creative spirit I have every day, but it is a life often infused with creativity and I’ll take it.

I work with a lot of writers – many of whom have avoided writing for a long time before they find me. The first thing I tell them is that I don’t expect them to write for hours at a time. They are often both relieved and horrified at the same time when I say that. I get it – I would love to have a life where all I was expected to do was sit and be creative and brilliant for hours at a time. But most of us don’t have that luxury and thankfully, most of us don’t need it. Seriously, if you have some kind of creative pursuit whether it’s writing, or learning a musical instrument or photography or anything really, commit to working at it for just 15 minutes a day for the next week. I bet you’ll be  shocked at how much you can get done in those few minutes of focused creativity.

So until the day I win the lottery, most of my time is spoken for with everyday sorts of responsibilities. In other words, I’m pretty normal. It can be challenging to make space for the creative when it’s so easy to let it slip away. But for me, it’s become a priority in small increments because it makes the other, more mundane things in life so much more enjoyable.

This is Day 4 of the 30-day National Blog Posting Month Challenge. I’m posting every day of the week throughout the month of November.

Just Write.

ImageNovember is a big month for writers.  First, it’s National Novel Writing Month (also known as NaNoWriMo). People all over the world commit to writing a 50,000 word novel in the month.  (Interested in learning more, go here. ) Second, if novel-writing isn’t your thing but blogging is, it’s also, conveniently enough, National Blog Posting Month (NaBloPoMo). The concept is simple for both – get out of your head and just write.

Now to be honest, I had no intention of participating in NaBloPoMo this year. It’s a lot of work, it requires committment and quite frankly, I’m not sure I have the time to post every day this month. In fact, I’m quite sure I don’t have the time, but I’m going to try to make some space for it. I’ve been watching a few bloggers I follow,  introduce their month of writing intentions, and every year I think, “I’d like to do that,” but I always have an excuse why I don’t. 

So it’s time to shake things up in my life. I’m going to attempt it. Jump in with both feet, no advanced planning, just get writing. It requires a couple of concessions on my part: 1) Many posts will probably take a different form than I usually post here due to time considerations and 2) There are going to be some not particularly well-written posts when I just need to get something up and I don’t have the luxury of hours to craft it.  These are both good things in the long run, but I apologize now for any sub-par reading you stumble into. 

So I hope you’ll check in from time to time this month and see how I am doing.  Better yet, participate in a challenge yourself and let me know about it so we can cheer each other on.

You’re Not Supposed To Be Good

ImageWhen I was in high school, I wrote a play. It was the first big piece of writing I had ever attempted outside of a term paper. I had been thinking about the story line for months, I saw the characters clearly in my head and I just knew it was going to be both witty and profound. I even knew what actors would play the title roles when I became the youngest playwright to have a show produced on Broadway. Then I started to write it. Suddenly, everything that was clear in my mind became muddled. I couldn’t hear my characters anymore. Everything I wrote on the page was just a shell of what I had imagined it to be. Devastated that it wasn’t coming out anything like I wanted it to, I eventually gave up at the beginning of Act III, convinced I didn’t have the skills to be a professional writer.

A couple of years ago, I came across this quote by Ira Glass, Creative Extraordinaire, and was blown away:

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.” 

I think this quote should be handed to anyone, anytime they try something new. Seriously. Children should have to memorize it in elementary school, college-bound teens should have to expound on it in a college entrance essay and posters and billboards should be plastered with this across the world.

The people who are creatively successful out there, and by successful, I mean, enjoy their work and consistently find time to actively engage in it, get this. They’ve allowed themselves to be disappointed at times with what they’ve created and they understand that every time they try something new- whether it’s learning a new language, writing in a new genre or studying medicine after a successful law career, their ambitions will be significantly stronger than their initial output.

We’re beginners over and over and over again through life. We need to cut ourselves a little slack when the first time we do something it doesn’t come out the way we’ve constructed it in on minds. It will, eventually. But only if we have the courage to keep showing up and trying again.

So if there’s something out there you want to do, go for it. And when it doesn’t come out at all like you planned, when it’s awkward or you’re fumbling, remember that’s how it’s supposed to be. Your job isn’t to be good right out of the gate. There will be dissonance between what’s in your head and what you can actually create. That’s ok- it doesn’t mean you’re never going to be good at it. It just means you aren’t as good at it as you want to be right now. Your job is to simply keep moving forward until what’s in your head and what you create actually converge into the same thing.

Imperfect Creativity

nightIt’s nearly 9:00pm Monday night. Way later than I normally start any blog posts, let alone one I intend to publish tonight. My day got away from me. I don’t know about you, but lots of my days get away from me. Funny how day-to-day life makes that happen, isn’t it? If I go to bed tonight with one less item scratched off my mental to-do list than I added throughout the day, I’ll consider that a win.

I planned to post a blog entry today. Typically I like to post in the morning – by noon at the very latest because my best hours for creativity are early, before I get bogged down in the details of my day. But I just didn’t get to it. So after a day full of life, after I got the kids to bed and the kitchen picked up, I was all ready to sit down and do some mindless web surfing. Then I remembered I didn’t get a post done today.

My first instinct was to bag it. After all, I didn’t have anything in mind. If I wrote one quickly, it probably wouldn’t be my best work. It’ll be really short. There’s always tomorrow, etc. etc. etc.

And posting later into the night – well, many people will have already closed out their computers for the day. My stats won’t be stellar. Who’s going to share it if they like it? Without time to edit and re-edit, the odds that you make a grammatical error increase. The logic part of my brain was clearly trying to win this argument. Then I thought of something else.  So maybe not as many people will see this as they usually do.  That’s okay. Because honestly, as much as I enjoy seeing that people have read my blog, ultimately I write for myself. I write about creativity because it helps me understand my own creativity and motivates me to live a more creative life in the midst of the busyness that happens every day.

So tonight, I choose creativity. Creativity that is imperfect and fumble-y and unplanned. Creativity for the sake of creativity – not numbers or hits or even for clarity or inspiration. Creativity because I can and I want to and I made a deal with myself that I chose to honor.

I’m sitting here writing when there are lots of other non-creative things I could be doing, and maybe according to the General inside my head, very likely the things I should be doing. But amazingly enough, when I get done writing tonight, all those things will still wait for me on my endless to-do list.

And at least I can go to bed knowing I got to check off the one I value the most.

Earlier this week, I wrote an article about how mothers should consider themselves “awesome moms” instead of “good moms.” It was an article essentially about changing the focus from striving to be perfect (and looking for all the places where we fall short) to remembering how awesome we might really be. If you are interested in reading the article, you can find it here. The article seemed to strike a chord with a number of my readers including quite a few people who weren’t mothers themselves.

Perfectionism in all it’s horrible, insidious forms is deadly to a creative spirit. Perfectionism isn’t a quest for better output, it’s a death sentence to creation. It’s the hiss in the back of your head that tells you you aren’t good enough, your creation isn’t good enough and will only be enough if you reach some mythical, unattainable and unspecified level. Perfectionism is fear in sheep’s clothing.

Here’s an old joke… A tourist walks up to a New Yorker and says “How do I get to Carnegie Hall?” and the New Yorker responds “Practice, practice, practice.” Essentially that’s what all creativity is- repetition towards mastery. Practice is everything you do in every creative endeavor- and in any new endeavor period. Perhaps your practice level finally rises to such a high level that many people confuse it with perfection but you will always find ways to improve. And if you don’t? Then you are either in utter denial or you’ve lost the passion for what you are doing and it’s time to move on to something new.

Creative people judge themselves as harshly as mothers do. I see it all the time.  In my coaching practice, I spend hours listening and de-programming unbelievably creative people who try to tell me that they are different than everybody else and that what they do isn’t enough. I don’t know about you, but I would rather spend my time feeling like I am awesome instead of falling short all the time. Thankfully there is only one thing it takes to consider yourself creatively awesome:

  • You spend time doing creative things

Yup, that’s it. Really.

Now here is the tricky part. You are going to deny your awesomeness with statements like:

  • I don’t practice enough
  • I’m not disciplined enough
  • I’m too old to be good
  • I’m too young to be good
  • I don’t make any money at what I do
  • I have a “real” job to pay the bills
  • I’m not published
  • I don’t have a manager
  • I don’t play out enough
  • When I {write, paint, compose} it doesn’t {read, look, sound} like I want it to
  • People think I’m good at this but if they really knew who I was they would see I’m a fake
  • I must not be meant to do this because it’s so hard
  •  I spend all my free time watching tv/playing on the computer so clearly I don’t want it enough
  • I’m not nearly as good as {J.K Rowlings, Steven Spielberg, Martha Stewart, Justice Ginsburg, etc.)
  • I’m not as good as the people who are creating around me
  • No one does anything like the way I do it
  • Etc., etc., etc.

Yeah. Don’t do that. Seriously.

Do you know they did a study of student musicians at a university to see if they could determine what traits were most likely to predict which students would become top-level professional musicians versus students who didn’t?  They discovered success (as they defined it) occurred based simply on the amount the students practiced. At that point and moving forward innate ability had  nearly nothing to do with projected success.

You are creative simply because you engage in creative acts. That’s it — and I don’t care if your creative act is welding a thirty foot sculpture or writing a tiny little note from the Tooth Fairy to your daughter. You are creative and you get more creative the more you practice. AND where you are right now is not just okay, it’s awesome.

It’s hard, because we love to find those places where we imagine we fall short. We do it all the time. We hold ourselves accountable for a level of perfection we would never dream of asking of anyone else in our lives. So, if practicing something is the way to get better at it, here’s your assignment to practice. And it’s a hard one, so you are going to have to do it over and over and over again. It’s your personal Carnegie Hall.

I want you to try and acknowledge who you ARE instead of what you do.

And who you are is AWESOME.