Ww: Write, Write a fan letter

During April, I will be blogging about how creative people can practice their craft every day and what rewards will come from the daily effort.

 

Ww: Write
Write a fan letter

At any time during your creative practice, but especially when you’re abiding a slump, writing a fan letter to another artist can serve as your creative effort for the day and will reignite your own joy and faith in the creative path.

Think of one artist you admire, whether they do work similar to yours or totally different, whether you perceive them as uber successful or just a few steps ahead of you on this journey. Review some of their work. Study what it is that makes their craftsmanship so compelling to you. What do they do that makes you see them as successful? What’s the “X factor”? (See X.)

Then, write them a fan letter—the kind of letter you would love to receive from an admirer of your work. Go ahead and gush. Tell them what you love about their work and about them. Be specific.

Taking the time to study another’s work and discern what makes it so great, helps you further define what “success” means to you. Is it the artist’s unique vision or voice? Is it their remarkable skill? Is it the risks they take by not following convention?

As you write this out in your fan letter, you spell out for yourself what success looks like–successful art and a successful artisan. Praising someone else reveals to you what your creative goals are, and it shows you that this kind of success if possible.

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Vv: Volition, Start With Making A Vow

During April, I will be blogging about how creative people can practice their craft every day and what rewards will come from the daily effort.

 

Vv: Volition
Start With Making A Vow

It’s easy to say I want to do something, but hard to follow through. Do I want to be fit and healthy? Yes! Do I want to set my alarm an hour earlier and jog in the rain? Um, well, not really.

After at least two decades of writing efforts starting and stopping, I felt I’d hit a point of now-or-never. Life was only giving me more excuses not to write, and when push came to shove, I finally felt just how much I wanted and needed to create. Not an easy thing to admit to myself (see F about fear and failure).

I vowed to write daily for one year and started that day. What came from that initial vow, that promise to myself to commit to my desire to write, was volition.

I mentioned earlier about some colleagues of mine who manage to teach, write, jam in a band, and raise a child or two (see M), and I think one characteristic they have that I’ve now acquired through daily practice is volition, a kind of power that comes from making the decision to do it—to paint, perform, or write.

As  you make time and energy for your craft every day, the will to continue strengthens. As more months full of creative effort pass, you’ll find resolve instead of nerves (see N), focus, determination, and quick recovery when life throws you off course.

Daily practice is hard; it’s hard for all the reasons I’ve written about so far, like getting motivated (M), overcoming fear (F), and perfectionism (P), so if you really want to do this, make a vow. Promise yourself a set amount of time (six months? a year?) that you will give your craft some effort daily. Then, let that commitment fuel the drive to continue your work through thick or thin, in good times and bad, because I’m coming to suspect that the longer we stick with daily effort, the deeper the fulfillment, the more pleasing and surprising the results, and the happier we’ll be.

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Uu: Ukulele, Do You Really Need One, Or Do You Already Have What You Need?

During April, I will be blogging about how creative people can practice their craft every day and what rewards will come from the daily effort.

 

Uu: Ukulele
Do You Really Need One, Or Do You Already Have What You Need?

It was early spring, I’d been outside at Portland’s Saturday Market surrounded by art and craft all day, and I was cold. I ended up inside a music store with my husband and best friend, strumming an ukulele. Maybe I picked it up to have a reason to sit down and get warm. The salesperson said I was a natural. It felt peaceful sitting there strumming. A few weeks later, my husband presented me with the ukulele for my birthday.

Until that day in the store, I’d never strummed an ukulele or anything like it. Almost immediately, I dreaded practicing. It wasn’t fun. It never felt warm and peaceful like it did that day inside the store. And, I had no idea what I was doing, especially without any prior experience.

Years later, the ukulele tucked in a corner untouched, I realize the instrument was a quick fix for what I really longed for but could not see. I longed to practice. To sit down to my craft like an artisan and work, render, and compose. For whatever reason, I completely overlooked my lifelong loves of writing and drawing and chose something I had no prior interest or experience with. I’ve come close to doing this again with a long board, roller skates, Rosetta Stone for Spanish, and chess.

All of these things require hours of regular practice to reach a basic ability. Nothing wrong with learning something new, but where would I find the hours, weeks, months of time to acquire these skills? Most importantly, what about the things I’d already been practicing?

There’s a popular idea about 10,000 hours of practice to reach mastery or “greatness” (see Q). The idea can be intimidating if you’re holding an ukulele for the first time in your life and calculating how you’ll fit in this many hours.

Instead, look back at your life. What have you already been practicing? What hours might you have already logged? Look all the way back to childhood. What did you spend your free hours doing? What were you practicing?

Look carefully, because you might miss the obvious like I did. Here’s what I mean: I have boxes and boxes of journals that I’ve been writing in since I was eight years old. A few years ago, I sorted through another huge box my mom had kept of projects I’d completed from age five to six or so. Do you know what 70% of that box contained? Books. Books that I’d written and illustrated, stapled together and titled. (Not always in an order that made any sense, or with letters that could be read, but they were definitely books.)

Around this same time, a friend from high school showed me a book I’d made her for her fifteenth birthday. I’d forgotten all about it until I saw it, and then I remembered working diligently and happily in my room for many, many hours writing and illustrating this elaborate story about frogs. Never once during that time did I even consider how long my book idea might take to make, how it might fail, or whether it was worth the effort. I simply dove in and made a gift for my friend, who is adoringly possessive about it today, letting me hold it only long enough to thumb through and then taking it back.

Apparently, I’ve been writing, illustrating, and “publishing” my own books for decades.

Whether I regarded it as such or not, I’ve been practicing my crafts most of my life. Now I engage with them deliberately with daily effort, appreciating and commemorating my time at the desk. When I think of the 10,000 hour rule, I look back on all these years of practice and feel encouraged and dedicated.

If the ukulele ever sings to me and seems like something I would enjoy learning, then I’ll find a way to make the time. For now, however, I have the tools I need and the devotion to keep using them daily and honing my craft, the one that may have chosen me as much as I’ve chosen it.

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Tt: Time, Not Enough Time, Wasting Time, Adding It Up

During April, I will be blogging about how creative people can practice their craft every day and what rewards will come from the daily effort.

Tt: Time
Not Enough Time, Wasting Time, Adding It Up

Almost two decades ago, I heard a psychologist give a lecture about how to write a book while holding a full-time job. He said we don’t need large chunks of time like we feel we do. Instead, we should schedule weekly a meeting with ourselves, even as short as 30 minutes, and use that time to write. He had some sort of math I no longer recall, but the gist of it was: That adds up to X hours a month, X total pages, so in a year’s time, you have a book. Done!

It sounded logical enough, and I toted that idea around ever since—until recently, when after four months of daily practice, nothing had added up. No chapters, no books, not even a completed essay.

I believe the psychologist was right that we don’t need the hours of uninterrupted time we feel we need. That’s nice, and at times it’s necessary, but short bursts of regular practice do add up, but not as seamlessly as he described, at least not for artists.

Art requires meandering and messiness. X minutes of writing might turn into Y pages, but that doesn’t mean those pages hold together in a spellbinding narrative. Those pages might yield one sentence for a piece you’ve not even imagined yet but little else. Same goes for sketching, painting, composing, and other arts. Factory-line assembly doesn’t work for most of us.

I used to think I’d wasted my time if a few days of writing didn’t add up to a completed essay. And, when it didn’t result in Completed Work, I’d give up. When I didn’t give up, however, I looked back at months of effort and saw a wealth of beginnings, drafts, and new ideas.

So, here’s the thing about Time. If you’re practicing your craft, giving yourself at least a few minutes to delve in, even if what you create ends up in your recycling bin, it’s not wasted time. It’s never wasted time (see E for Early, for example, and how you’ll be a better person due to your time spent practicing your craft).

Secondly, there really is power in twenty minutes. Twenty is better than none. Twenty minutes, five days in a row is better than holding out for three hours on Saturday that never happen. Twenty minutes delving into your craft resonate and expand in intangible ways.

Third, your effort today builds momentum for tomorrow. You’re warmed up, your work is waiting where you left it. After a few months, you’ll be able to dive deep in twenty minutes, your muscles lean and your time rich and effective.

Lastly, finding enough time and wasting time go hand-in-hand. Only you know when you’re wasting time. Should you eliminate all social media from your life? No, probably not. I, for one, get a lot of ideas from my writer and artist friends online. However, I know I’ve spent too much time scrolling and clicking when I find myself reading an article about the fashion choices of Taylor Swift. (True story … how does this relate at all to my life or craft? I could say the article was really well written, but even then, is this really how I should spend my time?).

When you’re able to see where you’re wasting time, you’ll be able to find enough time. Maybe you give up morning news shows and gain thirty minutes to work your craft with coffee in hand. Or, maybe that morning routine keeps you calm and sane, so you steal forty minutes of your lunch hour to engage in art. Be honest with yourself about your time, but don’t be too hard on yourself either. Rest and relaxation are important. They’re even better when you feel you’ve earned a break. Put in enough creative time, so when you decide to look at cat videos, you feel no guilt at all.

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Ss: Striving, The Satisfaction of Setting Aside Striving Ambition and Achieving Success

During April, I will be blogging about how creative people can practice their craft every day and what rewards will come from the daily effort.

Ss: Striving
The Satisfaction of Setting Aside Striving Ambition and Achieving Success

Striving is just as elusive as perfectionism (see P) because as soon as you reach whatever nearly unobtainable goal you’ve set for yourself, you’ve already set the next unobtainable goal.

Daily effort outlasts striving ambition. You just can’t keep it up if you’re going to practice every day.

For example, I used to run a lot. As soon as I’d get in shape, I’d automatically make myself go further and faster. I had some Capitalistic idea of effort: bigger, better, faster, more. But then, I’d have a bad day and walk half my route. Eventually, I’d have another bad day. And then, without even noticing it, I’d quit. My subconscious seemed to think, well, if you’re not training for a marathon, why bother at all?

Then, I started experimenting with daily effort in writing and exercise. I committed to 40 minutes of exercise a day. That’s it. On the harder days, I could feel great about myself for getting out there and doing it, whether “it” was walking slowly for 40 minutes or a crisp sprint through the neighborhood.

The good days were the harder days. If I felt good, I’d think, okay, go further today. But that would have started up the old pattern — if I go 45 minutes today, 40 minutes tomorrow is failure. So, I’d remind myself, well, you’re going to be back out here again tomorrow and again the day after that and after that, so do you really need to push it today?

Why not be satisfied with meeting your goal today? And that was the turning point (see also L)—I could let myself feel satisfied. I did it, met my daily commitment. Pat on back (sometimes literally), and move on to the rest of life.

This kept things in balance. I could still serve in all my other roles in life rather than waiting for it all to stop so I could finally get to work as a writer or finally get in shape.

After months of daily effort, I could define “success” not as achievement or wealth or recognition, but as the simple accomplishment of meaningful tasks. Did I write today? Did I draw? Did I exercise? I am successful. All else that may or may not come from this is icing on a very nourishing cake.

The paradox, which you should read and then forget or you’ll sabotage yourself, is that as soon as you give up striving, you glide right into success. It’s not that you quit trying to improve, but you quit straining for some arbitrary finish line, and instead, focus in on the task at hand. This leaves you more energy to work, results in better work, and more of it accomplished over time, and therefore–success without you’re even thinking about it!

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Rr: Review, Reboot, Reward. Revitalizing Your Daily Effort

During April, I will be blogging about how creative people can practice their craft every day and what rewards will come from the daily effort.

 

Rr: Review, Reboot, Reward
Revitalizing Your Daily Effort

Inevitably, your daily practice will wax and wane. When it wanes, there are three things you can do to rejuvenate your effort.

First, regularly review the results of your daily effort. Inventory all of the pieces and parts you’ve been working on for the last few months. As you make your list of Projects Underway, you’ll see all of the work sprouting at different stages and how much you’ve accomplished — even if no one project is near completion. Daily work really does add up if you stick with it for more than a few weeks. Also, note which pieces and parts could be combined, which feel ready for completion, which feel most compelling, and which seem to have gone cold. Appraising your stockpile of work will re-ignite your love of your craft and help you prioritize what to work on during your daily practice. (See also, O.)

Second, when necessary, reboot. Although I still stand by my point in Aa about the alluring promise of tomorrow, making a mindful and deliberate fresh start can help you recover quickly when you miss practice for a number of days, weeks, or have a sporadic month. Even though tomorrow (or whatever date you declare as your fresh start) you’ll most likely be the same person you are today with the same challenges, rebooting means recommitting to the tenants of daily practice, diving back in with renewed dedication for a set amount of time.

After trying to write daily for about six months, I had a sporadic month. It felt harder to practice, I arrived to the desk quite lackluster, and I skipped a lot of days for no good reason. So, I chose the first of the next month to reboot, and told a few friends about my intention so I’d feel accountable. I simply re-dedicated myself to practicing every single day for the entire month—with a twist. If I managed to practice all but maybe three days that month, I would get a reward. I needed the idea of a reward, of formal recognition of my efforts, to be the carrot luring me to the desk.

So, third, lure yourself back to the daily grind with a reward. Rewards are for those who have done the work and met the requirements. Your reward must be something special and rare, something you can long for and work toward. The treat must also match the effort it’s rewarding. I wanted a trip to Hawai’i, but that was both way too much for my budget and way over-sized for the work it would reward. And lastly, the reward must be delayed, delayed gratification. You don’t get mini-bites of your reward to nibble throughout the month. The reward sparkles four weeks ahead, luring you back into good work habits and faith in your self and your craft.

One friend rewarded herself with an online celebration of all she’d achieved that month. Another friend suggested I buy myself something cool from Etsy (because why not support another’s craft while rewarding my own?). Chocolate, fancy dinner, a massage, a movie … all of these came as suggestions.

I’ll be eager to hear what you choose as a reward. Although I wrote nearly every day that month and it reinvigorated my efforts for many months to follow, I never gave myself my reward. Because, as much as I used to role my eyes when I’d see that bumper sticker “It’s the journey, not the destination,” that’s exactly what I discovered during my reboot.

The re-dedication to my craft and daily effort was its own reward.

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Qq: Quota & Quality. How Much Is Enough?

During April, I will be blogging about how creative people can practice their craft every day and what rewards will come from the daily effort.

 

Qq: Quota & Quality
How Much Is Enough?

A lot has been said about how much time you must put into your craft before you “master it.” You’ve probably heard about the 10,000-hour rule. Others have talked about “deliberate practice” where you not only put time into your craft every day, you strive to improve, seek out experts to critique your work, and basically give your life over to it.

I don’t disagree with any of this, but it’s that last part that doesn’t seem to get discussed much—giving your life over to it. For me, this is not realistic. Not only because I have other responsibilities, but because I think such singular focus might come at the cost of enjoying my craft.

Part of the 10,000 rule or “deliberate practice” is about achieving GREATNESS, becoming the next Martha Graham, Beethoven, or Toni Morrison. Nothing wrong with aiming for this, but there are a bunch of other layers between greatness and “never tried.” For me, these other layers offer life-long opportunities for joy and creativity.

Although I may not aim to be a “master,” I have also aimed too low. I found myself writing the same things over-and-over-and-over-and-over again in my journal just to say I’d done my ten minutes of writing that day. “Just writing” was a far cry from “deliberate practice” and the mindless effort might have even regressed my skills. It certainly dulled my joy and interest. I needed purpose and a higher standard of quality.

So, quota and quality—how much is enough practice (20 minutes? a few hours?), and what’s good enough to qualify as effort (a quick sketch? a polished outline?). You’ll have to decide how much is enough time/effort each day and to what level your daily work must reach to count as meaningful practice.

You could compare it to exercise. A ten-minute shuffle is better than no activity at all (see L), but really, a month of daily ten-minute shuffles is not going impact your wellness much. A fifteen-minute fast-walk, however, will start to reveal improvement after a few weeks. You’ll feel muscles strengthening and lungs improving. That doesn’t mean you start training for a marathon tomorrow (see B), nor do you need to strive for anything close to a marathon.

I suppose, ultimately, in defining Quota and Quality for yourself, you’re determining what you mean by “greatness” and what level of “mastery” you’re aiming for day by day.

Find the sweet spot between half-hearted effort and strenuous straining as you figure out how much time/effort and to what level of skill the daily practice of your craft needs over the long haul.

You can change it up any time. When you’re in great artistic shape, you can set a higher standard for quality. When you’ve got a long weekend, you can set a higher quota of time. And the reverse is true; during challenging times, a few minutes and brief effort will have to suffice and will be better than no creative work at all.

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