The best advice to creatives ever: you have to go through a volume of work

When I lived in Byron (writing my first book) I used to drive to my friend Annie’s house in the hills for dinner on Sundays. I timed it to listen to Ira Glass on This American Life. I’d time it so I could pull over in the really mind-expanding, precipace-thinking bits. Not listened to one of Ira’s meandering, whimsical interviews about life? You should.

Image via Skipholt.
Image via Skipholt.

I love Ira. And I don’t think I’ve come across better advice than this for anyone who hurts, frets, doubts doing creative work. Which is most of us, really.

The gist is this:

1. Creatives know they have taste. They know they have a vision, an idea that could be special. It burns in them.

2. But when they start out in their respective realms, their output doesn’t match up to their vision. There’s a gap. They know their work isn’t special enough… and so…

3. Creatives hurt, fret and doubt… and then often quit.

But Ira shares:

4. This is normal.

5. The most important thing you can do is… more work. The only way to close the gap is to “go through a volume of work”.

6. Know that this will take a while. And that you just have fight your way through it.

I’m writing this as I write my third book, this time up near Palm Beach. I’m fretting and doubting. As usual (oh, anxiety, my constant companion!).

But what’s getting me through is that I now know I take a while.

I was telling my sister the other day (who’s currently finishing her PhD and is fretting and doubting, too) that I take comfort from knowing that the way I get creative stuff done is by wading around in the clusterfuck of it all for a long time. I told her I take about twice as long as everyone else to write a book (listening to Ira I’m thinking now that I probably don’t). I’m a perfectionist. I fiddle and go back and layer up a little more. I sit in it. I literally sit in it and work and work on it and slowly claw my way through the huge volume of work. I don’t schedule, I don’t map it out. I just submerge and work, from 8am until 6.30pm every day.

The whole way I’m thinking I’m doing it all wrong, that it shouldn’t take so long, that I’m a fraud, that I’ve lost perspective. But sheer years on the planet and a few books under my belt, and learning to understand my anxiety, I realise this is simply how it’s done. And it’s how creativity works. Creativity works via work. Anxiety is quelled by sitting through it.

I find this comforting. You?

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