Let’s do the work in Week Nine, Part One of The Artist’s Way challenge! This week our aim is “Recovering a Sense of Compassion.” We’re often so busy berating ourselves or talking ourselves out of potentially great ideas that we miss out on opportunities to move forward.
And it’s not just failure that holds us back. Success can give us a fair share of the heebie-jeebies, too.
“This week finds us facing the internal blocks to creativity…We will explore and acknowledge the emotional difficulties that beset us in the past as we made creative efforts. We will undertake healing the shame of past failures. We will gain in compassion as we reparent the frightened artist child who yearns for creative accomplishment.”
There are four sections in this chapter, plus a variety of exercises to work through at the end.
There’s a difference between being blocked as an artist and being lazy, and that is fear. Fear has us turning molehills into mountains. It has us telling ourselves that because we didn’t make it to the top of that mountain on our first attempt, we must not be cut out for this life. Fear convinces us to run away from both success and failure.
Writing a novel seems impossible when you view the finished result from your favorite bestselling author with its shiny packaging and flawlessly written prose. That’s why the best thing we can do to overcome fear is to start with baby steps, micro-steps even. Create your project word by word, sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph. You must start before you can climb that mountain, and there’s no sense in getting overwhelmed. Start with Atomic Habits.
Cameron makes the argument here that enthusiasm is more important than discipline when living our art. Our inner artist longs for playdates and time to goof around. It wants to have fun, to be silly, and to feel joy.
Much like any other idea or process, I think this one is subjective, and we all need at least a bit of both. Without the discipline to sit ourselves down to work, we risk not creating or creating only when we feel motivated with a visit from the “muse.”
But if we’re not feeling enthusiastic or motivated, how do we get ourselves to sit down at all? This is the lament of all people experiencing writer’s block, and it’s a bit of a catch-22. I think the only way to overcome it is to keep showing up every day (Do the Work) and to refill our well when it runs dry (Get Inspired). Discipline AND Enthusiasm.
Even experiencing success can send us scurrying home in fear because change isn’t always so straightforward, even when we want it. Oh, the joys of self-sabotage!
There are a lot of factors at play here, and our lizard brains aren’t afraid to bombard us with every single one of them. What if that’s the best I can do? What if my next project fails? How am I ever going to be as successful as [insert hero here]? Why didn’t I start sooner? Success brings a whole new set of stakes. It becomes a call to courage.
As for failure, sometimes accepting it is easier. It certainly keeps the pressure off. No one is counting on us to produce the next fantastic thing if we’re not putting ourselves out there.
They say the greatest thing about change is that it’s one of the few things in life we can count on for sure. Use that, especially if you feel as though you’ve failed. There’s always time to turn things around. There’s always time to reinvent yourself.
Blasting Through Blocks
Cameron suggests that to work freely on a project, we much be functionally free of resentment (anger) and resistance (fear). Next, she offers five considerations we can ponder before beginning a new project:
- List any resentments (anger) in connection with the project. For instance, this person never pays me on time, or I’m upset that I wasn’t the first person considered for this project.
- List any resistance (fears) in connection with the project. For example, I’m afraid everyone will think this is stupid.
- Is anything else bothering me about it? Really?
- What if I don’t create this project? No one can think it’s stupid if I don’t write it, but maybe it won’t help someone it could’ve helped…
- Make a deal with the creative force, like “if you take care of the quality, I’ll take care of the quantity.”
Week Nine, part two will be up shortly! Until then, you can find my previous Artist’s Way posts below: