‘There are only two days in the year that nothing can be done. One is called yesterday and the other is called tomorrow, so today is the right day to love, believe, do and mostly live.’
How will they view their creative work? How will this work fit into the narrative they give of their life so far? What will their hopes and fears be for the future?
I know they may tell me about pain and difficulty. That’s often why they have come to coaching.
There may be a sense of so much not yet done, of potential unfulfilled. Perhaps there was a moment when they became unstuck, when the once clear road ahead became twisted and overgrown, or petered out completely. Or when the obstacles thrown in their path by everyday life became too large.
So they gave up on the journey. They let go of their creative work, perhaps promising themselves that they would come back one day. But that day never came.
What they may not be able to see, is how much their feelings influence their creativity. The sheer cumulative impact of anxiety, self-doubt and fear, on their dreams.
Anxiety about being good enough.
Anxiety about being an artist at all.
Anxiety about succeeding.
Anxiety about failing.
There will often be great anxiety around the act of creating itself. The whole idea of actually getting down to work may be excruciatingly painful. They may long to create, but feel too terrified to begin.
They may want the security of answers first. ‘Do I have talent? Can I make up for the wasted years? Am I too old, or too young?’ Or they may throw out questions to which they know the answers already, but still can’t act on – ‘How can I be more successful? How can I get an agent, a publisher, a place in a gallery?’
How Coaching Helps
A client may need support and encouragement and courage. This I can give. They may want a way forward, and this we can plan together.
What they don’t want to be told, but which they will inevitably hear from me, is to do the work. To show up every day in the studio or at their desk, and to create.
‘But I can’t. If it were that easy I would have done it already. I have to move house first, or change my job, or start my own business, or the children have to leave home. Only then can I start to create.’
But the fact is that they haven’t started. If they continue to wait nothing will change. Things got in the way before and they will do again. There will always be a reason why today isn’t right. There will always be distractions. There will always be excuses.
The Need For A Daily Practice
Now is the chance to change things. New things start today, not yesterday or tomorrow. Creative work happens by doing it. Today, every day.
The novel happens by being written, day after day, until a book is finished. The song, the picture, the movie, all come about by working on them. Not on the days when you feel like it; not on the days when the stars are in alignment; not on the days you have nothing better to do.
Rain or shine, whether they want to or don’t, an artist has to show up.
Of course this will be painful. Accept this. Please don’t wait for the anxiety or confusion to leave you. Don’t even expect enjoyment. A sense of calm and enjoyment will creep in when they are least expected, wonderful guests. You can invite them by working. They won’t appear to order.
Sometimes the work will go well, sometimes it will seem to be all absolute dross, sometimes nothing will come at all, but still you need to show up.
How a Daily Practice Helps
Simply showing up and working on your creative projects, means stuff happens. It also means you face your creative anxiety head on. You may ‘know’ it’s all rubbish; but you still work. You may ‘know’ none of it makes sense; but still you work. You may ‘know’ you will never get anywhere; you work nonetheless.
It can be useful to keep a diary of your feelings towards the work, how it went, what distracted you, how you got back on track. Make the diary short and to the point; don’t let it become another distraction. It will give you a sense of moving forward and of a new positive habit forming.
Over time you will see things get easier (in general terms, for there will always be bad days). Over time an accumulation of energy will grow, pushing you forward to the completed project. Eventually creating will become something you do, every day, as simple, as necessary and as habitual as eating or breathing.
Don’t get distracted by too much thinking about your need to improve skills or for further learning or research. These things may all be necessary, but they happen alongside the time spent creating. They don’t replace creative practice.
An Initial Daily Practice Trial
It can also help to set a time limit, at first, to make your ‘working-every-day’ practice feel more manageable. Decide that you will start with a fortnight, or a month. ‘I will work at my creative project every day for three weeks.’ You do that, then you assess. What have you made, what have you learnt about your habits, what times of day suit you best? What have you learnt about your feelings and how they distract you? Or about the outside demands that tempt you away from the work?
Do this for three weeks and you will be involved. Not thinking about doing the work, but actually doing it.
Do this for a year and you will see your life change. The work will accumulate and become something to be proud of.
Even more importantly, you will transform within. You will know you can do it. You will have a far clearer understanding of your strengths and weaknesses as an artist.
Don’t expect the anxiety to go away; it won’t. But you will learn that it is manageable; that you can still work creatively while your anxiety sits alongside you.
Don’t give in to anxiety. Recognise it. Then let its presence spur you on.