Sep 242007

I had one of those epiphanies a couple of months ago about the creative process. Or life maybe.

I always thought that if you are a real artist you enjoy the whole process of making art from start to finish. I thought for example that real musicians (unlike me) enjoy practicing. Maybe not every single minute of it but seven out of their eight hours a day of it for sure. I have to force myself to play. And every day I have to do it again.

I have heard that it takes 27 days to form a habit. Haha, really funny that. I have had practiced daily for months or years without it becoming a habit.

But back to that epiphany: Lisa Liam wrote somewhere in her blog that she dislikes cutting out the pieces for sewing. And she loves sewing so much that she has made it into her profession. I had thought it was only me! Disliking the cutting, swearing all through the sewing and leaving the almost finished piece for months without sewing on the buttons. Or dreading blocking and sewing the knitting together so much that I’d rather stop knitting the sweater with half a sleeve unfinished.

Or having to kick myself to practice by setting a kitchen timer and saying, “You won’t leave this keyboard until the bell rings. No, no daydreaming. Play. – I can hear that you’re not really working. Get back. Do your scales.” And it’s even a little harder with making music because you’re never finished. It’s just like being an athlete in training.

Or never writing anything but the beginning of a story. Only signing up for NaNoWriMo made me finish a first draft. I recently spoke to a fellow NaNo-participant about signing up for the next one (I’m still undecided, but this time I’ll tell my husband first.), and he said, “The hardest part is starting to write for the day. Once you have written a few sentences it just keeps going.”
Ha! As if! With every writing project apart from writing blog posts I had to force myself to write every single paragraph. Not that I didn’t have periods of free flowing prose where all I had to do was typing fast enough to keep up but once I reached my quota for the day I couldn’t get away from writing fast enough.

So for me doing something that fills me with joy isn’t necessarily about doing things that are fun or pleasurable. The question is why I keep on doing these things even though I find them tedious and hard? There comes Robert Heinlein to mind who said that he felt awful when writing but even more awful when not. (That’s somewhere in his biography which I can’t access now because it’s in the room my son is sleeping in.) I always compare this to climbing a mountain (or going for a walk) versus plopping down in front of TV all day.

The difference is how you feel about life and yourself at the end of the day. The climb or the walk makes you feel strong, confident, happy, and tired in a good way. Sitting on a couch watching TV all day might be pleasurable but at the end of the day you feel sluggish, drowsy, and unsatisfied.

Still, even knowing this, I’d like to change my perspective in a way that I could just enjoy the walk, or the process without feeling bad most of the way. That’s why I made “effortlessness” my word of the year. And I don’t think this is all about being blocked, or my inner critic giving me a hard time. Maybe this is about me thinking that life should somehow be easier. Maybe it’s time to grow up. Without becoming all dead serious and dividing my days into tiny little slices, into a sequence of to-dos. I tried that and while I got a lot of things done it never was enough and I managed to squeeze the joy out of life.

So, do you have any ideas? Are you good about enjoying the process? Did you learn that somehow, or were you always like that?

  12 Responses to “How can one learn to enjoy the process?”

  1. OK this comment is about to be seriously long and rambling and I apologize in advance.

    For me the process of writing has always been one of getting in touch with the pieces of me that hurt the most, the pieces I find the ugliest, the pieces that I don’t want to ever find sunlight. Those seem to be the mot compelling parts and the parts that have the most to tell.

    Writing, for me, isn’t at all about joy, but rather a compulsion. It’s less enjoyable than it is cathartic…or at the very least purging.

    I hope to get to the point where it becomes less obssessive and more joyful..and if yo find out how, I will be all ears.

  2. I love the process.

    My artwork is mostly done through a repetitive process, and it is that which gves me the pleasure. Getting down to it in the first place and enjoying it after is a different story however.

    Getting to the gym is 99 percent of the battle, doing the work out and then the enjoyable endorphin rush after is the easy part.

  3. Oh, the process is the joy for me. When I start garden planning, I’m mainly interested in the tear down, the drawing it out, the equipment and plant purchases, setting the plants out, digging holes, etc… by the time I get to just needing to spread out pine straw I’m bored again. Must. Tear. Stuff. Apart!

  4. I’m not an artist, but I will second what crazymumma says. For me, be it athletics, work, schoolwork, the challenge has always been in the preparation. I was never psyched out at competitions, it was the training that got me every time.

  5. I’m going out on a limb here to say that maybe you’re still so busy, still have so many things that you want to accomplish that you cannot fully enjoy even those that are pleasurable or creative.

    I complain that I don’t do enough creative things, and what holds me back is finding the time. As you astutely pointed out in your creativity posts, one does not NEED a lot of time. However, for me, if I feel rushed, that’s what takes the joy out of it. When I finally do something and I can do it without interruption, then I enjoy every bit of it. Whatever it is.

    Perhaps, it’s simply the ability to concentrate that I truly enjoy.

  6. I flit from obsession to obsession. I just try to give myself leeway to enjoy the obsession I’m currently in and to learn as much as I can while the interest is there. One of the things I find difficult about motherhood is that it metes out the day in predictable ways that often stand at odds with my obsessive personality.

  7. I really enjoyed reading your post. Even if you do not like practicing, do you find there are times of timelessness? Times where you lose yourself? Or is the internal dialogue, what I refer to as the bitching-back-and-forth, too loud?

    A lot of my creative endeavours are done in order to avoid other tasks (e.g. housework). Still, like you, I think that struggle makes me feel better in the end than just indulging in whims of fancy.

    Some of my friends do not have any creative outlet and they have a difficult time appreciating wonder at taking small steps, quiet joys, kind gestures… I don’t know if there is any connection between the two.

  8. I love the process once I start. The problem is starting. That is why I organize people to do things because then I am forced to do it. If I just waited for the right time, it would never happen.

    Finishing a piece of art is the end… it means you will start a new piece and that is always a bit scarey. Will it work? will I be able to do it?

    I use my writing to purge what is inside of me and last night I went to the lantern festival to thank the moon for giving me a very long year of purging.

  9. I love the beginning of a project and I love finishing a project, but between the beginning and the end there is a long desert way…

    During the last month I learned that the long way can be made short and joyful if I divide the project into little pieces. I divide a story into pieces of three pages. The first page is hard, but after a few minutes it will be full of words and then the story starts to flow. At the end of the third page it is my decision to stop here or use the flow to go on. It’s okay to stop writing at this point, because I will be working on the story every day.

    The same goes for knitting, quilting and all other activities. Only for painting I really need a lot of time and that’s the reason why I don’t paint anymore…

  10. I’m with Sage and CM, it’s all about the process: how you get there.

    I like to run (although my left knee looks like a grapefruit right now) and the race was the thing for me not the finish.

  11. I like the process of writing in theory, especially when coming up with ideas about what I want to write about, but, well, reality often finds it agonizing. Especially when it came time to write things like term papers… oh the agony… loved the outcomes, but the process was hell. My blog ‘writing’ is a bit more fun, especially when I’m talking about my boys.

  12. I’m late on this since you wrote it a month ago, but just wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed reading it.

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