Chuck Close says "inspiration is for amateurs." What's the alternative? - Jessica Abel

Chuck Close says “inspiration is for amateurs.” What’s the alternative?

Sit’cher ass down

Everyone knows that the answer to “I don’t feel like writing,” is still “write.” But we still don’t do it. Why?

I was talking to a friend the other day who was tied in knots over some articles she needed to write. And the worst part was, she felt like she was the crazy one. She was sure that “other people” don’t get stuck.

There are probably other sorts of people out in the world where this isn’t a problem that just makes them go, What the fuck? And stop. There are other people who don’t come to a screeching halt here. But I do.

The vast majority of people do come to a screeching halt, at least some of the time. Sure, there are moments when they don’t, and we hear those stories, and say “why can’t I be like that?” A lot of people think I’m one of those people. But I’m not. I’ve been not writing my own blog posts for weeks. Sure, I’ve been writing. Podcast scripts, because that’s on a schedule, and I gotta get it out. But they’re taking so long, and are so painful that I’ve got no time for anything else.

I actually thought there was something totally wrong with me because I can spend so much thinking about…I think I’m doing it entirely wrong. And that I can’t actually do it, because it takes so much time. I refer to it as thrashing. Because it feels like I’m thrashing.

And then I do produce something and other people may say that it’s good. But I’m aware of all the shit that went on behind the scenes, and it’s exhausting to think about starting that over every week.

I totally understand that. I absolutely agree.  You are thrashing, and I think I know why.

Waiting for the muse: Inspiration is a crock

You can envision the work you want to make today, right there in front of you. Just there…on the other side of this bottomless pit of anxiety.

Too many people wait for conditions to be right to sit down and get to work.

That’s totally understandable. Because when you’re trying to write something, but you’re not feeling it, you sit there worrying about what you’re doing, if it will be any good. You have tons of ideas, lots to say, but when you sit down to write you’re like:

  • I don’t know all the answers.
  • I don’t know how to say this.
  • What will people think?
  • My desk is a mess, and I’ve got to start dinner in 15 minutes.
  • I’m not inspired.

That’s what feels like a trap, this black pit between you and actually making a thing. And who needs to fall into a black pit? You start scrolling through your Facebook feed.

You know from experience that if you can just get past that pit, you’ll be in the creative flow, and you won’t worry about any of that stuff. You’ll actually be inspired. And it will feel amazing.

Naturally, you want to get over there, to that feeling. But facing the very present emotional danger on the way, is, shall we say, not an attractive prospect. And it takes enormous willpower to just cold make yourself do it when you feel unconnected to your work.

The answer isn’t willpower. It’s a plan.

The key to sitting your ass down to work isn’t willpower. And it definitely isn’t inspiration. It’s building a system that makes it a habit.

Being creative is a practice. I wouldn’t call it necessarily…discipline. It does require some self-discipline definitely, but it’s a practice.

The fact that you end up on Facebook doesn’t mean you’re “a procrastinator.” It means that you have a vision for where you want to arrive with your big creative project, in, like, 2, 3, or 5 years, but you have no clue how to get yourself there.

Procrastination is about not knowing the next step to take.

The painter Chuck Close said:

Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and get to work.

Daily creative practice is not about feeling good about it. It’s not about even making something good.

The creative practice itself is how you make space for great ideas to grow. Not every idea is going to be great, every day. But you open up a space where you could have those ideas. If you’re not working, there’s there’s no space for inspiration to arrive.

Great. So we’re back to “sit’cher ass down and work.” Thanks a lot, Chuck Close. So helpful.

I mean, I’ve heard that quote over and over, and it’s a great one. But I looked it up, and what he says next is actually much more interesting, and much more helpful:

And the belief that things will grow out of the activity itself and that you will — through work — bump into other possibilities and kick open other doors that you would never have dreamt of if you were just sitting around looking for a great ‘art idea.’

…You don’t have to reinvent the wheel every day. Today, you know what you’ll do, you could be doing what you were doing yesterday, and tomorrow you are gonna do what you did today, and at least for a certain period of time you can just work. If you hang in there, you will get somewhere.

This is the really important part. “At least for a certain period of time you can just work.” Yes, you need a regular creative practice. How do you build that practice? By having a system for working, meaning a specific way in which you go about doing things day in and day out, so you never have to start from scratch.

When you’ve got a project plan for how to get from here to there, when you’ve drawn a roadmap, you can focus on the next tiny, achievable step. Once you put your foot on that path, the sense of accomplishment you gain as you gradually chip away at the big rock will convince you that you’re actually capable of finishing the project you envision. That’s how you grant yourself control over your creative practice.

If you want to build your own plan for creative practice, start by defining your conditions for maximum creative success. Sign up to get a free worksheet.

  • Michi Mathias

    November 10, 2015 at 11:11 am

    That was just what I needed to hear today! Thank you. I’m right up against a deadline today, once again, and it didn’t have to be this way…

    • Jessica Abel
      Jessica Abel

      November 10, 2015 at 11:19 am

      I’m glad you enjoyed it. Next time, it can be better!

  • Rani Goederee

    November 10, 2015 at 12:10 pm

    Great piece, Jessica! I guess I better take the next tiny step towards my big goal now… :-)!

  • Katherine

    November 10, 2015 at 3:37 pm

    Perfect timing! Thank you. Also loved cheese & grapes!

  • dan wiebe

    February 3, 2016 at 5:18 am

    I think Jessica already knew this and just needed reminding. A kick in the pants. Don’t just sit there… something. Practice practice practice. Thanks for the great advice .


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