My name's Dave. I'm working on it.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Finding a Way

It has never been a problem of knowing what to do, or how to go about doing it.
Regardless of field, the common wisdom concerning getting any sort of work (especially creative work) done is easily found, echoed in a million books on writing/drawing/what-have-you. I won't go into them in depth here, but it always comes down to a simple idea:

Shut up and get to work.

Maybe it's the direct simplicity that scares people; no room for misinterpretation there. No, the only recourse for someone desperate (is it fear? I think it is fear) to put off getting started on (insert any project here) is to hop from book to book, soaking up ever more wisdom and instruction on how they might best proceed.
As one who's read more than his fill of these books, I assure you: eventually you know all too well what you must do.
The question then becomes: what particular devices do we each employ to prevent ourselves from doing this relatively simple thing?
Just as the best way to work is unique to each person, so are the specific designs by which they keep themselves from it. I can only name a few of mine by way of example; you have to identify your own. But perhaps this will help.

Obstacle One: The Implied Expectations of the Vessel

Be it a Moleskine notebook (like the one I'm writing this in right now), or a sleek and fancible Sketchbook, it is the experience of procuring a book specifically to work in, and promptly feeling petrified to sully its pristine pages with anything but the most quality work (itself a dubious, amorphous notion). Fine journals are a fine thing, but when they work psychologically to make us overly precious about what we fill them with, their purpose is corrupted. More on this later.
My second obstacle is the notion that I must know precisely what I want to say and where I want to end up (and must identify all of the in-between steps) before I begin.
This flies in the face of all that ubiquitous, obvious wisdom: nearly all works, of every stripe (pick any specific book/comic/tv show especially dear to you as example) were almost certainly conceived as they went along, rather than extensively mapped out and executed in a linear fashion. All were begun and all change in the making. The growth and progress we so easily recognize (and assume to be both intentional and inevitable) most likely happened entirely by accident. That is to say, naturally.
Yet still the delusion holds sway. If you don't believe me, trust that I have several unfinished drafts of blogs which remain untouched simply because I have yet to figure out exactly what I want to say with each.

The third obstacle sounds a bit silly when said aloud.

Whatever we make must not, at any point in its existence, suck.

And so on.

Your obstacles may have some things in common with mine; no doubt you could make your own list of things that stand in your way. Never a bad idea.
But what then? If you're like me, the one thing you know just as well as what you should be doing is why you aren't doing it. Your knowledge on this subject will be thorough, specific, and vast.
The question of what to do with all this information is what interests me the most. Here's what I've come up with:
It's no good to abandon your notebooks or any other tools just because of the mindset they may induce in you; at least, not altogether. Sometimes having something shabby or handmade (point: not store-bought) helps. But this is often impractical. Mass-produced notebooks are made to be written in. Moleskines' paper feels wonderful against the hand. There must be a compromise.
To put it another way: you have to figure out how to make the things you have work for you. If that means trading in the fancy sketchbook for its DIY cousin, so be it. But only if that's what you really need.
Before I started writing this, I surveyed all the previous entries in the journal. Each page was crammed with tiny, near-illegible lines; none of it invited review. Even as I wrote them, I knew I'd likely never go back and read what I'd written. It seemed beside the point.
But if these things are to become useful, they have to be easy and inviting, at least at first.
I turned to a blank page, and began writing sentences in letters 3 or 4 times larger than usual. Barely a paragraph's worth fit on a page.
And immediately I felt the difference. By loosening up my grip and taking a little more space to stretch out, I found a way to make the Moleskine work for me.
It's that kind of redefined relationship that I want to find with all my tools. I encourage you to try to find the same relationship with yours.

If you need it.

1 comment:

  1. Brilliantly stated.

    I am (as you well know) one of those people who can find seemingly countless ways to avoid doing the creative things that I both want to and love to do (reading books about writing books being just one of the myriad avoidance tools at my disposal, alongside buying notebooks, pens, gadgets, finding the perfect software etc ad nauseum).

    I have what must amount to a genetic predisposition towards procrastination. I will surf the internet to put off doing the dishes, then do the dishes to put off balancing the checkbook, then balance the checkbook to put off something else.

    I guess that I have for a long time been hoping that I would just naturally find my way to doing creative stuff as procrastination on something else, to miraculously be productive whilst maintaining my epic laziness, but it doesn't happen. And meanwhile years slip past...

    Your eloquent and succinct post here may have just given me a much needed kick in the pants.

    Here is one of my own obstacles: Despite knowing full well that it doesn't work this way, I still want everything to be perfect and complete on the first draft.