Several years ago I read a blog by a woman who called herself “The ‘Fly Lady” (flylady.net). Since her mission in life was to help people clean up their homes I wasn’t sure if the “fly” part of her name was related to flying around cleaning up the house or having a sense of flying once you cleaned up the house or what gathers in corners if you don’t clean up the house. I must have been in one of my seasons of despair about the state of my housekeeping when I stumbled upon her site.
The Fly Lady had lots of good suggestions but I thought the best one was intended for the really desperate. The ones who couldn’t see the floor for the junk or couldn’t find room on the kitchen counter to make a sandwich. Her suggestion was that you have one goal. That goal was to clean the kitchen sink. This goal may require some prep work, such as washing the dishes that were in the sink, but if that was too much you were even allowed to stash the dirty dishes under the sink. However, at the end of the day the sink had to be sparkling clean and the faucets gleaming. Every night you could go to bed knowing that at least the kitchen sink was taken care of.
The assumption was that if you can accomplish this small goal you are more likely to be able to accomplish another small goal. And then another small goal. The consistency of accomplishing cleaning the sink every day builds hope and momentum. We get into trouble when we look at what we want to do and get so overwhelmed that we don’t do anything.
Stephen Guise addresses the same subject in his book Mini Habits. He tells the story of when he wanted to start an exercise program but was just not motivated to stick to it. So he decided to do one thing that he couldn’t fail at. He decided to do one push-up every day. He reasoned that if he could get himself to get on the floor and do just one push-up, he might feel like doing two or maybe since he was down there, 10 or 15. However, he always told himself he didn’t HAVE to do any more than one push-up but that he had to do AT LEAST one.
Sure enough, once he got over the hurdle of starting, he was much more likely to keep going. And he always reasoned that even one push-up was better than no push-ups at all. Some days he did one but most days he did a lot more.
When you are blocked as an artist it can be difficult to get started again. Or it may be just as hard for you to finish a project you have been working on but have set aside for so long you don’t know how to get back to work on it.
In her book Big Magic Elizabeth Gilbert talks about “lightening up” about how we think about our creative work. She suggests that we create difficulty for ourself if we are “writing a best seller” or “painting our best work yet”. These thoughts make the creating very serious indeed.
Gilbert says that she would rather think that as humans we all delight in making things. We have made things since we came out of Africa and continue to get delight out of making things. We have made practical things, decorative things, entertaining things and things that make us think. We make things. It is good for us to make things. It is fun for us to make things. It is interesting for us to make things.
When you are having trouble getting stated again you can try combining these two ideas. Make something, anything. It doesn’t have to be big or important or useful or even successful. It can be related to your creative work or it might not be. Like doing just one push-up or just cleaning the sink, think of just making something, but do it every day. Make a card, scrapbook your last holiday, make an apple pie, knit a scarf, grind down a Dollar Store screw driver to make an awl.
Whatever you make, it may delight you enough to send you creeping back to your studio and saying hello to a new creative project and another opportunity to fulfill your destiny as a human, and make something.