Thursday, August 15, 2013

Proper Practice Prevents Poor Performance, and Other Obnoxious Inspirational Notions We Really Wish Weren't True

Shut up, chalkboard.
This week's challenge is one of those simple-stupid things that seem so easy, so obvious, that they barely deserve mention. But let's be real -- how many days so far this week have you actually set aside 30 minutes to create art??

If you just had a stream of protests and excuses come screaming to the front of your brain about why you haven't been keeping up, don't worry -- you're not the only one. If you're like me, it's probably because you're busy -- or at least you believe you are. Or maybe it's because you totally set the time aside, but when you sat down in front of that empty screen or canvas, you couldn't think of anything to make.

Let's rewind. When you first read Monday's challenge, did it remind you of anything? Maybe something that involves people clad in spandex with their smiling promise of rock hard abs in six weeks? That's right, we're coming up on Obnoxious Inspirational Notion #1:

1) The brain (and creativity) is just like any other muscle, and can atrophy without regular use.

The good news here is muscles can always be rebuilt - though if you've been away from something for a long time, it's probably going to take longer to get back into the swing of things. That's okay.

The bad news is, the brain is technically not a muscle. So yeah. Take that, stupid metaphor!

Despite its Biology FAIL status, Notion #1 makes a great point -- all that creativity isn't just going to flow out of your fingertips if you haven't been training yourself to direct your creative energy their way. But before you start the artist equivalent of a Rocky montage, I want you to remind yourself that if you're finding it challenging to actually make art everyday, it will get easier as your creativity muscles grow. As that devilish belle Scarlet O'Hara once said, "Tomorrow is another day." Do your best today, and then do your best tomorrow. Don't let one day's failure because the thing that keeps you from trying again. I promise, you got this.

Not every artist I know is a procrastinator -- but I sure know quite a few who are. And as a procrastinator myself, I know from experience what a pain in the ass trying to prepare in advance for anything can feel like -- it just seems like so much needless work (at least right until it all needs to be done, like NOW). Unfortunately, there's a problem with this approach, and it leads to the titular Obnoxious Inspirational Notion #2:

2) Proper Preparation Prevents Poor Performance

There was a music professor at my undergrad who kept this alliterative five word phrase of awful pinned up on the bulletin board outside his office, and as luck would have it, my voice lessons occurred one office door down. There are few things more stinging than a nagging reminder to practice, practice, practice, especially right after you completely bombed your solo for that week.

Nevertheless, there is a undeniable half-truth somewhere behind all those Ps -- that muscle (there I go with the bad metaphors again!) isn't going to get any bigger if you don't work to develop it. In other words, you have to practice to get good. Think back to the 10,000 Hour Rule. Even if you don't want to be the very best in your field, you're still going to have to work at this whole "creativity as a lifestyle" thing until it becomes so habitual that you don't really have to think about it any more. Sorry, not sorry -- this is some red-hot truth we're dropping right here.

Obnoxious Inspirational Notion #3 has been said so many times, it's actually evolved into two different versions, just because people are tired of hearing the same old thing:

3a) No Beauty Without Pain,
3b) No Pain, No Gain

Congratulations if you made it through both of those phrases without your eyes rolling back in your head at least a little bit. For the rest of us -- I know. I know. Yet in spite of all the played-outness, it's worth giving this well-worn adage a second glance. Pain takes a lot of different forms -- suffering, yes, but also sometimes we feel pain as a lack of something in our lives; or as a difficulty or inconvenience ("OMG, actually bothering to balance my checkbook is such a pain!"). It's this last, and most misappropriated, use of the word pain that I want us to focus on here today. If we substitute "difficulty/inconvenience" for "pain" in either of the above phrases, suddenly it seems like we have something that just might combat our deeply-entrenched cultural desire for instant gratification:

"No beauty without difficulty. No inconvenience, no gain."


So what's the takeaway here? Whether you're reinvigorating a long-established art practice, or just starting out, the point isn't that it's going to be easy. In fact, it's going to be the exact opposite. But, once you establish that routine and get your thinking muscles all nice and toned up, it's going to help you kick so much more creative ass than before.

If you haven't already, go grab your challenge badge, and get started making yourself sweat through that 30 minutes a day of creative work. The more often you do it, the easier it's going to get. And to help you get even more fired up, I brought along one of my very favorite workout jams - the late great Tina Turner's version of "Proud Mary."

Now go get 'em, tiger!

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