How Lacey Monroe deals with disappointment

I contacted Lacey Monroe several months ago regarding an interview for the book.  Here is my previous post about her.  Just to refresh your memory, she is a fine art documentary photographer based in Portland, Oregon.  She is also the mother of two young children, ages 5 and 3.

During our interview, I asked Lacey how she deals with disappointment in her creative journey.  This is what she had to say:

I think disappointment is a totally normal and even healthy part of being an artist. You have to show up and do the work, even when it is in a creative field. I may only actually like a few photos of mine each year (if I’m lucky!) but I have to take all the ones I am unhappy with just to be able to achieve those few that I like. Being disappointed in your work, just means that you see how you can grow. If I was always satisfied with my work I would grow complacent and would stop pushing myself to grow and change as an artist. That is not to say that when disappointment hits it is not at time devastating. It absolutely can be. It is all too easy to fall into the trap of comparing yourself to others and when you get passed over for an award or gallery show, it’s hard to not get down on yourself. However, you have to recognize that as trap that will bog you down and do what you can not to let it. When I am feeling discouraged with my art, I will take a bit of break with the creative end of things and work on all the backend boring business stuff that is always on my to-do list, but so often gets pushed down farther and farther on the list because it isn’t as fun for me as creating. So if I just don’t have it in me to create, there is still a long list of things I can work on. I also make time to hang out with other creative in real life, groups online are great for support and community, but there is nothing quite like having actual face to face time with other artists to bond, grow, and, perhaps, commiserate. This can be something as simple as happy hour drinks with a local photographer or it can be more elaborate and attending a retreat or workshop away from home. I also have a running list of photography books on my wish list, so if I am feeling particularly uninspired I will treat myself to a new book so I can get lost in the work of the master photographers that I find endlessly inspiring.

She makes so many great points here.

  1. Disappointment is a necessary evil.  It’s a good way to identify ways you can improve.
  2. You do have to show up and do the work.  Just because it’s creative doesn’t mean it just magically happens.  It’s still work.
  3. It’s easy to compare yourself to others in your field but don’t do it.  Spend that time creating instead of Facebook stalking others and you will come out so much further ahead.
  4. When you aren’t feeling so creative, there’s always other work to be done.  Find something else to do that still relates to your craft, such as the not-so-fun business side of things.
  5. While online groups are great, nothing compares to actual face-to-face time with other artists.  Take the time to meet up with other artists in your area with whom you can share ideas, successes and failures.
  6. Read a book.  Always have a list of books to read.  Books pertaining to your craft can offer great inspiration.

A huge “thank you” to Lacey Monroe.  She had so much to offer.  I look forward to sharing more from her interview in the book.

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One things leads to another

A few days ago I contacted Devon Leger.  He is the founder of Hearth Music, which is the PR firm that represents Dori Freeman.  I contacted Mr. Leger in hopes of securing an interview with Ms. Freeman for the book.  I was introduced to her through this article, and I thought she’d be a great fit for my project.  Mr. Leger said he would forward my request on to her and her manager.  Great!  That’s really all I could ask for.  But, there’s more…

He sent me another email pretty quickly after the first telling me about his wife.  He thought I might be interested in interviewing her as well.  According to Leger, “She runs all of our graphic design, does poster and album art, does paper cuts and linocuts, performs French-Canadian music as a musician, runs a blog on Nordic culture in the Pacific Northwest, travels to festivals, and does these really cool old art performance pieces called ‘crankies’ (old-timey story scrolls). She’s one of the leaders in the crankie movement right now. All this with two daughters.”  Yes, I think she might be an excellent candidate for an interview for the book!

Also, here’s a link about Dejah and crankies.  I had never even heard of them before, but the entire video is very interesting.  I CANNOT wait to visit with Dejah!

Meagan Schultz brings people together

Recently I had the pleasure of speaking with Meagan Schultz.  You can read my previous posts about Meagan here and here.  She has so many great projects in the works and had lots of great things to share with me.  One of Meagan’s projects is hosting her retreats.  When I asked her about them, this is what she had to say:

I love bringing people together, and especially women. I love creating connections
between people and helping other people realize that they can do great things. These
things don’t have to be big or grand, great things can be small too. I suppose it’s my
way of leaving the world a better place. I believe people WANT to do good in this world, but don’t often know where to start. I hope my retreats can be a stepping stone. I also think the more we know each other, the more we understand each other. I have this theory that you can trace every single problem in the world back to a lack of connection somewhere, somehow, or with someone. I honestly believe that.
I’m a big fan of support systems and connections, and I think they are so vitally important to creative work.  Here are some thoughts from Brian Eno on what he calls “scenius.” Here’s a post from Austin Kleon on the topic.
I’ve discovered the hard way that a creatively connected group of like minded individuals doesn’t just happen.  You have to look for it or create it, and it’s not easy.  But, it is important.  Who wouldn’t love a creative group of people to bounce ideas off of?  I would, and I bet you would too.  Sometimes (most of the time… always…) we need someone in our creative corner to encourage us and remind us how awesome we are.
My advice to you is to get yourself out there and make some connections.  Attend a workshop or a retreat or conference.  Join a book club or a writing group.  And just know that there are others out there just like you who are looking to be a part of a scenius.
Many thanks to Meagan Schultz for a great interview.  I look forward to sharing more from her in my book.  In the meantime, please check out her website www.meaganschultz.com.

Dan Blank talks about finding focus to create more

The following is a share from my inbox today from Dan Blank:

Happy Friday!

If you are a writer or creative professional who works on your craft at home, I want to share my best advice on how to do so. I want to help you find more focus amidst the many distractions you face every single day.

This is everything I have learned through:

  • Working from home full-time for the past 6 years, while running my company WeGrowMedia, and raising a family.
  • Working from home both full and part time when I had a corporate job in the 3 years prior to that.
  • Working with thousands of writers and creative professionals, who themselves work from home, or split their time between a traditional office setting and nontraditional settings of home, cafe, etc.
  • Studying how successful people manage to get stuff done while at home.

Okay, let’s dig in:

Calendar everything.

My life runs on time blocking. This means I open up my calendar application (I use Apple’s Calendar) and block out each hour of the day for tasks.

Sounds crazy, right?

It’s not. It allows me to have clarity about what I need to do throughout the day, reducing decision-fatigue. What’s that? It’s having to think a million times “Um, what is on fire right now?” and rely on my emotions to tell me.

Instead, I have clarity in my day, and I’m allowed to work on some immediate tasks, but also work on projects that won’t have a pay off for months or years down the road. When you run every moment of your schedule based on emotions, you are going to spend all day reacting. It’s hard to build something meaningful over time when you are too busy reacting all the time.

I use three different color codes in my calendar: green for meetings, purple for focused creative work, and blue for non-work stuff. Yes, I schedule that too. Today I have scheduled what I’m eating for lunch and when I take my nap. Oh, I take a nap every day too. (More on that here.)

For important tasks, I schedule twice as much time as I think I need. Why? Because I have found that I will try to “squeeze in” an important task, when it truly requires more space. I want to be honest with myself about how long craft takes. This applies to so much of what I do, including writing. This morning I spent an hour editing 2 pages of a book I am writing, and that was with notes to guide me. That hour felt like 100 decisions to find clarity, to craft prose, to move things around, and to ensure it fit within the larger context of that chapter.

Schedule everything that requires your focus, including when you will get to email. Too often, someone will schedule meetings on their calendar, and just assume that email will be managed in the cracks in between meetings. It won’t. Instead what happens is that person’s day is spent constantly “trying to catch up,” and can’t effectively communicate with others because of it.

Does time blocking sound too rigid for your tastes? I keep it flexible by constantly moving blocks of time around on my calendar. Why? Because life happens. My schedule needs to honor the important work that needs to get done, but also that we are human beings living in a complex ecosystem where things change all the time. We are all managing family, relationships, physical and mental health, and our responsibilities to work, home, and our communities.

But maybe time blocking won’t work for you. If that is the case, I encourage you to take the same strategy, but apply it to different tactics. Perhaps instead you wake up every day to a hand-written to-do list that you made out the night before. Or you wake up to an intention that you wrote out the night before — a single thing that you need to ensure gets done each day.

My point is this: have a system.

If you feel that you are drowning every day, and can never find the time for your creative work, I strongly encourage you to consider new ways to manage your daily calendar.

Have a door. That locks.

If you work from home, even if just for what you feel is a “hobby” of writing, find a space that can be truly private. And this is the important part: the door should have a lock on it.

Since I run a little company, I have an office at home that is 100% dedicated to work. When we bought the house, this was the first space I defined when divvying up the bedrooms because it needed to have a sense of privacy in terms of the layout of the house. I also installed a lock on the door — a signal to myself and to my family that there are times when work is more important than whatever the interruption is.

Perhaps you can only find a tiny desk in a spare bedroom for you to use for your work. Or a section of the basement. Whatever it is, take the time to go to Home Depot, buy one of those cheap locks with keys, and install it on the door.

That key is a symbol that your creative work matters.

Learn to create in sprints, not marathons

I know, there are some full-time writers or artists who can devote 12 hours a day to becoming lost in their work. I think that is truly awesome.

But for the rest of us, we can’t.

Our days are spent juggling 1,000 things: the litter box has to be changed, you have two kids about to come home from school, you work part time at the post office, and as a crossing guard for extra cash, and the dishes are piled up in the sink. Oh, and you want to write today.

I would encourage you to develop the skill to create even in small increments of time: 10 or 20 minutes.

You may tell me that it takes you longer than that to “get into” writing, and that once you are in the zone, you lose track of time. That’s fine, but if it the result is that you can never find that kind of time to write, then I encourage you to work on the skill of smaller sprints of creative work.

Buy a timer. One of those kitchen timers, or a cheap timer on Amazon. Set if for 20 minutes to give yourself little bouts of work in between moments of your otherwise busy day. For many of you, you will never have a spare 2 hours where you can write. BUT… you may have 20 minutes. Set the timer so that you can feel freedom to write for those 20 minutes.

Connect a task to a place

Sometimes “working from home” really means not working in the home. I spend the first 4 hours of the day working from my local Starbucks.

That means I never schedule meetings first thing in the day, because that time is dedicated to writing and to doing client work. When I come home, that is when I catch up on other tasks and take calls. Starbucks is a place dedicated to doing focused work.

You can create this for yourself in a variety of ways; perhaps you go to the library where you will only work on your novel; then you will go to a cafe where you will only do business planning; and then at home, you will only do admin, email, and take calls.

Each place has their own mood — experiment and find what works for a given task. I have found that I focus really well when working amidst the chaos of morning rush hour at Starbucks.

Develop tiny habits

Everything I have shared above comes down to creating small habits. The bottom line is that I understand that you are likely struggling to make ends meet financially; that you are taking care of a family; that you may be going through a health crisis; that the time to focus on your creative work never seems to be “right now,” because important things come up.

My final pieces of advice:

  • Forgive yourself. Let go of the guilt you feel in feeling that you can’t do it all.
  • Find joy in the process. I listen to music while I work, and that helps me stay focused and inspired.
  • Reward yourself for the tasks you do accomplish each week, even if you feel you dropped a few balls. The reward can be simple, such as food or a beverage.

What helps you get your creative work done?

Thanks.
-Dan

Well, I definitely felt that this email was written directly to me today.  It’s been 22 days since my last blog post.  22!  There’s no excuse for that, even though I’ve thought of several during those 22 days.  I’m definitely feeling that my creative work needs to become a priority instead of the first thing shoved to the back burner when something else (anything else) comes up.  Dan’s words could not have come at a better time for me.

Portrait of the Artist as a Young Mother by Holly Arsenault

Portrait of the Artist as a Young Mother

Lots of artists have kids. But our popular concepts of what makes a good parent and what makes a good artist are at odds. We talk about a supposed tension between two competing identities, as if being a parent and being an artist are antipodes. Artists are supposed to be selfish, mercurial, drunk and, ideally, at least a little bit crazy. Parents are supposed to be selfless, reliable, sober and sane. One might hope to balance these two opposing selves, but never combine them.

Even if these stereotypes don’t reflect anyone’s reality, they fuel a powerful, if unspoken, perception: You can’t be both a good artist and a good parent. Because if you’re truly devoted to your art, how can there be space for familial devotion? And vice versa?

One particularly dumb essay on this topic, written by Lauren Sandler and published in The Atlantic last year, buys fully into the construct of dueling identities. It concludes that a successful writer may have one—but only one—child, without ceding too much of her artist self to the invading horde of motherhood. In a bald display of selective data gathering, the author cites Susan Sontag, Alice Walker, Margaret Atwood and Joan Didion—all parents of only children—as proof of her theory, conveniently omitting the legion of successful writers with multiple children, like Zadie Smith (who shot back a terrific rebuttal in the comments on the piece), Toni Morrison and Charles Dickens. (He had 10 kids, and, as Smith pointed out, nobody questioned whether his fatherliness diminished his writerliness…but that’s a topic for another essay.)

When people ask me about how I manage playwriting and parenting, they usually focus on the seeming logistical and financial impossibility of it, but that’s not really the mystery, is it? Lots of people work multiple, low-paying jobs in order to help support their families, as I do. That one of mine happens to be writing plays doesn’t distinguish it much from all the other kinds of work that parents do around the edges to make ends meet. Though it should be acknowledged that my ability to pursue something as time-intensive yet minimally compensated as playwriting and still have a kid depends on there being a second, wage-earning parent in our household.

I’m not saying it’s not hard. A room of one’s own is a rare commodity in the life of a parent, and for art to happen sometimes compromises are made. I’ll be playing trains with my son or sharing a meal with him, and a character will walk into my head and start talking. And I start listening. Whole scenes compose themselves in my brain while I’m ostensibly parenting. I never wrote seriously before he was born, so maybe this is just how my process works, or maybe it’s a neural adaptation to becoming a mother and a writer simultaneously. I find the time to write by stealing it from my son while I’m supposed to be playing with him. When I finally sit down at the computer after he’s gone to bed, it’s basically transcription.

I came into my identity as both an artist and a parent at the same time, and it wasn’t a coincidence. My artist identity is not subsumed by my mother identity. In fact, being a parent makes being an artist possible for me in a way it never was before my son was born.

This truth revealed itself at 3:45 in the morning, five weeks after I gave birth. I was sitting in the darkened dining room in our quiet house writing my first play. Bleary, sore and leaking, with one ear tuned to the baby monitor, I typed. My compulsion to write was a little sleep deprived and a little sadomasochistic (See! I am a real artist!), but mostly it was fueled by a motivation I’d never known before: the tiny person sleeping upstairs.

Before my son came along, I could always find a “good” reason to defer writing. Like a kid avoiding her homework, the effort I wasted on dodging my inner artist—because I was afraid of what might come out of her—could have produced an epic. Having a child forced me to get my artistic shit together. Because what was I going to say to him? “You should fearlessly pursue your dreams! I have no earthly idea how that’s done, but good luck!” No.

As parents, we’re compelled to try to teach our children what we’ve learned, futile though the effort may be. That happiness and fulfillment require walking toward fear is the hardest-won lesson of my life—a lesson I probably can’t pass on to my child, as much as I’d like to spare him the pain it took for me to get it. But, if I can teach him to embrace fear as a friendly, guiding force, it won’t be through anything I say to him. It will be through the extent to which I am willing to let him see me expose myself, over and over, to the near certainty of humiliation and failure.

My hope is that my son will grow up watching me struggle with my writing privately, fail publicly and, most importantly, continue on. I write for him, not in spite of him.

Holly Arsenault is a playwright and executive director of TeenTix.

Austin Kleon’s Bliss Station

This is a blog post from Austin Kleon from July 21, 2016.  You can read the original blog post on his website here You can also see a photo of his bliss station there as well. 

From Austin:

It’s felt impossible lately not to be distracted and despondent. I’m trying to spend as much time at my bliss station as I can.

What’s a bliss station? Here’s Joseph Campbell in The Power of Myth:

You must have a room, or a certain hour or so a day, where you don’t know what was in the newspapers that morning, you don’t know who your friends are, you don’t know what you owe anybody, you don’t know what anybody owes to you. This is a place where you can simply experience and bring forth what you are and what you might be. This is the place of creative incubation. At first you may find that nothing happens there. But if you have a sacred place and use it, something eventually will happen.

My wife pointed out to me that Campbell says you must have a room OR a certain hour — whether Campbell really meant this or not, she suggested that maybe it’s possible that a bliss station can be not just a where, but a when. Not just a sacred space, but also a sacred time.

The deluxe package would be having both a special room and a special hour that you go to it, but we started wondering whether one would make up for not having the other.

For example, say you have a tiny apartment that you share with small children. There’s no room for your bliss station, there’s only time: When the kids are asleep or at school or day care, even a kitchen table can be turned into a bliss station.

Or, say your schedule is totally unpredictable, and a certain time of day can’t be relied upon — that’s when a dedicated space that’s ready for you at any time will come in handy.

What’s clear is that it’s healthiest if we make a daily appointment to disconnect from the world so that we can connect with ourselves.

“Choose the time that’s good for you,” says Francis Ford Coppola. “For me, it’s early morning because I wake up, and I’m fresh, and I sit in my place. I look out the window, and I have coffee, and no one’s gotten up yet or called me or hurt my feelings.”

The easiest way I get my feelings hurt by turning on my phone first thing in the morning. And even on the rare occasion I don’t get my feelings hurt, my time is gone and my brains are scrambled.

“Do not start your day with addictive time vampires such as The New York Times, email, Twitter,” says Edward Tufte. “All scatter eye and mind, produce diverting vague anxiety, clutter short term memory.”

Every morning I try to fight the urge, but every morning my addiction compels me.

“The new heroin addiction is connectivity,” says V. Vale. “The only solution is not one that most people want to face, which is to become lovers of solitude and silence… I love to spend time alone in my room, and in my ideal world the first hour of every day would be in bed, writing down thoughts, harvesting dreams, before anyone phones or you have any internet access.”

Kids, jobs, sleep, and a thousand other things will get in the way, but we have to find our own sacred space, our own sacred time.

“Where is your bliss station?” Campbell asked. “You have to try to find it.”

 

Creativity Blocker #2 – Housework

sidetracked

I know the stereotypical creative works long, crazy hours in what seems to me mass chaos for the sake of his or her art, but I just don’t operate like that.  I need some sort of order in my life so that I can even think about being creative.  Maybe that means that I’m not a TRUE creative at heart…  I don’t know.  But, I do believe that all creative mamas out there must balance their creative passions with their housework.  Myself included.

Let’s face it.  Housework has to get done.  The more it piles up, the more hopeless the situation seems to be.  Your entire family probably depends on your ability to run your household and everyone suffers if you aren’t doing it well.  There are so many things on our to-do list–meal planning, cooking, cleaning, laundry, running errands, paying bills, grocery shopping… The list goes on and on, and it can seem overwhelming.

I have one solution that worked for me–“Sidetracked Home Executives” by Pam Young and Peggy Jones.  This book was a game changer for me several years ago, and I still use the system today, although my system is customized and updated.  This book is a super short read, but it is packed with so much wisdom.

You obviously have to read the book to get the most out of their system, but the general idea is to create a rotating card system that keeps track of household duties so that you won’t get behind again.  This book covers all aspects of homemaking and has wonderful suggestions for meal planning, organization, scheduling, holidays, and dressing like you intend to leave the house.

I do have to mention that earlier this year I got rid of my beloved file card box.  I had had that thing for 10 years!  But, I traded it in for something that works just as well, if not better, for me.  I use the Tody app.  With this app, the calendar, and contacts on my iPhone, I could replace my entire card file box, and the system still works great for me.

On that note, I do have to say that I wish the slob sisters had kept up their momentum and reinvented their card file system for the digital age.  I would love to see an app from them.  The book was first printed in 1981.  While a lot of the book is still relevant, it could use a little updating.  But that’s where your creativity comes in.  Read the book and make the system into one that works just for you and your family.

Although I am Pam and Peggy’s number one fan, I will have to say that different systems work for different people.  Theirs happens to be the one that clicked for me.  Here are a few other suggestions if “Sidetracked Home Executives” doesn’t work for you:

And if none of these systems seem to work for you, you’re creative… make your own system.  But the key is to stick with it.  You didn’t get into your mess overnight, and you won’t get out of it that quickly either.  Find a system that works for you and keep at it.  It will get better and easier, and eventually you will have some guilt-free time to dedicate to your creative passion.

What blocks your creativity?  Financial troubles?  A messy house?  Leave your comment below.