A Cup of Joe, the Carrot Versus the Stick
Artists are infamous for addictions and fetishes: caffeine, alcohol, drugs, cigarettes; writing in the bathtub, playing the piano naked, keeping a coffin in the studio to remember life is short so get to work.
Setting these extremes aside, what will lure you to your work? On a challenging day, what carrot can you dangle in front of your nose to walk yourself to your craft?
I don’t believe in using a stick when it comes to daily creative effort. We creative folk are already hard enough on ourselves and would benefit from some softness. Don’t you or others you know feel guilty if they haven’t put time into their work that day? Sometimes, even if we have done our work for the day, we spend the rest of the day fretting over how awful it is and how much better it needs to be! Most artists don’t need a stick, and in fact, we’re at risk for beating the joy right out of our practice.
Instead, there’s the carrot, something enticing and pleasurable to accompany you as you work. For me, it’s a cup of coffee, or two, as strong as I want it, steaming next to me as I work. It gets me to the desk (see also M). I tell myself I can’t sip it anywhere else, just at the desk once I have my fingers on a pencil or keyboard. Often, once I get started writing, the coffee goes cold, the cup still half full.
An enormous bowl of chocolate chips sometimes serves as my carrot. For other friends, it’s a glass of wine or a cigarette. Hey, no judgement. As long as your carrot isn’t too damaging, and you’re healthy and balanced in life overall, I fully embrace the habit of luring yourself to the desk with a treasured treat.
There’s also the practice of delayed gratification (see R), where you prepare a treat for after you’ve put in your daily effort. This practice works too, but sometimes, you need comfort right then and there.
I used to give myself a Hershey’s chocolate kiss after every paper I graded when I was teaching. A few months later, I was mystified about why I couldn’t easily button my pants. Let me just say, if you find yourself buying a couple of bags of chocolate each week, well, maybe you’ve taken the carrot practice a bit too far! However, the carrot works differently for creative effort because so often, your work becomes its own reward.
So, pour yourself “a cup of ambition” as Dolly Parton says in “9-to-5,” and gently nudge yourself to the desk or studio.