In the studio: working on many paintings at once
As a visual artist, one of my tricks to staying unblocked and keeping forward momentum is to work on more than one piece at a time.
That way, if I reach a stuck place in one piece, I can move on to another and keep going.
Just today I had a small revelation while working on my new book.
I’ve been experiencing the drought of writer’s block recently.
And it’s been rather relentless.
Never in my life have I been so clear, mentally, on what I wanted to say in a book, while simultaneously coming up empty of words.
Day after day. Turning into many long weeks.
All of this in front of a small audience of kind and enthusiastic supporters, no less.
The generous people who are in Writer’s Journey experience with me. Watching me choke my way through over a month of wordlessness. Painful.
Anyway, my small revelation had to do with something I’ve been resisting:
working on more than one manuscript at once.
You see, there are several books in the works…and I don’t know why I’ve been set on doing one at a time. Bringing one to completion before starting in earnest on another.
But like with visual art, my creative process doesn’t work that neatly. In the journals I keep in my daily creative practice, I’m writing about all sorts of topics that have nothing to do with the book I’m trying to wrangle to completion (or at least a decent first draft) in A Writer’s Journey.
Yesterday, I surrendered to the urge to write on whatever topics I desired.
I dug out a project that I had set aside, uncertain what form it would take.
The project is Sketchbooks: My Personal Creative Practice, which was an experiment in publishing the contents of my (very personal) journals in a twice-monthly subscription format.
In all, 30 issues were written and published.
I never went back and read the issues once they were published. This is typical of my daily writing. I generate a lot of content, and then rarely get around to harvesting it. The writing itself is the practice. The product sort of an artifact of that journey.
However, I’ve found in the past few years that the Harvest is the second most important thing that I get out of my creative practice.
The first most important thing is the writing itself. This is something we cover in depth in my online Creative + Practice workshop. (Don’t worry, about clicking that link yet if you don’t want to interrupt the flow. I have a handy list of shopping opportunities at the end of this post. Read on.)
For some reason, perhaps because I was procrastinating on writing, I was compelled to print out each issue, and then read the whole thing start to finish.
I was a bit nervous to dig into the printed pages of Sketchbooks and read.
How cringe-worthy would the whole thing be?
I remember how fraught with fear I was every time I compiled and edition and mailed it to subscribers.
How I felt like giving up on the whole project until I got to Issue #15 or so.
By then I learned that my biggest form of resistance is fear of being seen and heard.
A difficult fear for an artist to have…which is pretty much how heart’s desire things work: What we love most is always neatly packaged with what we fear most.
Writing and publishing fifteen issues was like dead-lifting weights with no upper body strength.
Or riding my mountain bike up an actual mountain, after months of level riding in town.
And just like working out, or pedaling uphill, the strength came from the doing. Not in the dreaming or thinking about it.
Ah. So many lessons continue to flow from creative practice.
Anyway. I gave myself permission to just read a few pages, or maybe and issue or two. If it was total crap, then I would just look for whatever might be relevant to current book and leave it at that.
While I normally have a half a dozen or so books I’m reading at once, my favorite genre is memoir. With a really good memoir, I’m pulled into the story and usually have to finish it in one or two big gulps.
So what happened when I began reading my own manuscript kind of surprised me (especially since I knew how it all turned out).
I couldn’t stop turning the pages.
I didn’t realize there was a narrative flowing through the thirty pieces, until I read them all together. Well actually, until I read them back at all.
I stayed up reading late into the night with these unexpected thoughts and feelings:
1. Desire. I want to read more stuff like this.
2. Curiosity. Tell me more. This is how I feel when I read a book I really like. I don’t want it to end.
3. Courage. Audacity. I can’t believe she wrote that.
4. Clarity. I want to write more stuff like this.
5. It would be kind of daring to just go ahead a package these stories up, into a book that other people could read.
Something that I can deliver now-ish, and much sooner than the other book, whose manuscript now has a bit more steam to it since looking at a different manuscript.
If that makes even a little sense and you are still following me, here’s what’s on offer.
Pre-order a Digital Edition of the Sketchbooks Thingy (yes, that’s my working title, because I might change the working title from Sketchbooks: My Personal Creative Practice, before these get designed.)
You’ll get all thirty issues (!) neatly bundled up, with a bunch of photos and images added, and prettily designed into an ebook (.pdf).
$20. Digital Edition.
Your Digital Edition will be
sent out on or about June 13, 2013. available for download immediately.
Context: $20 bucks is what generous benefactors paid per month…just to get two issues. Some of them paid $10 for a single back issue.
You know how folks are doing these wonderful fundraising and project campaigns on Kickstarter?
I’m not doing one of those, but I am having a fundraiser, right here on my website.
Sales of the manuscript (digital and hard copy) will help support my writing efforts over the next few months.
Benefactor Version: The Signed, Numbered, Limited Edition Printed and Bound Manuscript.
I will send you a printed and bound manuscript of the Sketchbooks Thingy – just like they used to make when manuscripts were typed up double-spaced and wire-bound for editors, authors and assistants to markup by hand. It’s going to be vintage and old-school.
Doesn’t that sound romantic? And a little weighty? I’ve decided I needed to make one of these for myself, so…why not make 99 more?
you can get your own copy, one of a numbered limited edition of 100 copies. I will sign it with a personal message to you or someone who you want to gift it to. From my little post office in Fairfax, CA (population 7,000) shipping included.
You’ll also receive the Digital Edition. And you’ll get your name in the acknowledgements section of my next book. (The other one that is supposed to be finished by now.)
I made this for you who appreciate limited edition, romantic, weighty, personally signed and sent via snail mail things from artists.
125. No longer available.
Benefactor Version: The Signed, Numbered, Limited Edition Printed and Bound Manuscript
Do you shop for books by the cart? I sort of do. Dangerous habit. That’s never gonna change.
OK. So I’m pressing publish on this before I chicken out, change my mind, and take it offline. If you think you might want this, either digital or the special edition, best to get it now.
If I don’t chicken out, I’ll probably make up a proper sales page with chapter titles and a peek at how the pages look once they get designed for the ebook.
Meanwhile, here’s a peek into a few issues (which will be the names of the chapters in the ebook) as a preview of what you can expect.
Astute observers will note that the issues here are not here in their proper order. I’ve re-arranged one of the later issues and stuck in in the middle, so that the uncomfortable truths about my sex life weren’t just dangling out there at the end. In other words. They are out of order on purpose.
You may also observe that all of this is going live on a Friday afternoon of a long holiday weekend here in the USA. In other words, I’m so scared to put all of this out there. Friday afternoon feels safe. I’m pretty sure not many people are going to see it if I publish it now.
Here are excerpts of a few issues. Issues! Yep. I’ve got some.
Issue #1: Money, The Middle Way, and What Fear Taught Me
Excerpt: There is an old groove of no self-esteem worn deeply into my reptilian brain. A soundtrack from old movies of my past. The difficult childhood (wildly understated, buy hey, this is our first issue). How I felt so unworthy, ashamed, disturbed. Something was wrong with me and if you could see it I would be rejected, abandoned, made fun of. In the child’s mind: destroyed. So I hid.
The hiding took a lot of precipitous turns. We’ll get into all that later. What I can share is that my deepest learning came from traveling to Hell and Back. Didn’t buy the t-shirt, but did keep vivid Sketchbooks full of notes and images. The journey out of hiding is what gave birth to my real work.
When I do something I’m really terrified of, old feelings of unworthiness and shame surface.
I love the practice of turning thoughts around. Inviting paradigm shifts. Turning thoughts upside down and inside out and really looking to see what is true.
That’s the practice of inquiry. I do this in meditation, but more often than not I practice inquiry in my Sketchbooks.
Writing and sketching and collaging my way to new insights by playing with image, not just words.
Image uses a different part of our brain.
Image takes us to intuitive knowledge. Kind of the back room of the known.
Issue #27: Hybrid, Non-Perfect, But Directionally On-Course Movement
Excerpt: If I were still in advertising, I would chuck that title and say: Make a title that says something about how this is the issue in which I discuss uncomfortable truths about my sex life. And my finances, for that matter.
But no. My obscure title came to me as I wrote it in text below. It called out as: Title.
It stands. I trust that voice.
Besides…I’m too scared to title this issue:
In Which I discuss Uncomfortable Truths About My Sex Life and Finances (or lack thereof)
Issue #10: Creativity + Travel + Courage
Excerpt: I’m aware of what I fear. How to enjoy life and trust that things will be ok?
All I can think to say about this, after decades of therapy that didn’t really do much for me me to make me feel better, is that: It’s a Process.
Sometimes, like if I encounter a Condescending Stranger or if it’s That Time of The Month, I’ll add an adjective: It’s a Fucking Process.
Enjoying life. Not fearing when the other shoe will drop.
This is something Mexico is teaching me right now.
I love Mexico. I love Oaxaca. I love the Mexican people and the Spanish language and how the sun is strong and seems to be melting away the edges of what makes me feel anxious.
What I crave is the now.
Being right here now and saying: this is it.
This is my dream and I in no way shape or form have it figured out.
The new is now. It’s a constant reinvention.
I’ve shared previously how being in the Mexican culture, especially in Oaxaca, amplifies my intense proclivities. There is so much to be happy about, and there is so much space and ease, that I notice how the anxiety will just be there, suddenly, taking up all of the space of my experience.
And then I breathe, and notice what I’m feeling without judging it. And remember that I have a creative practice, and that I can use it.
Lately, I’ve been hearing this kind of mantra arise spontaneously whenever the fear feels like too much:
Whatever happens, I can handle it.
Whatever happens, and I really mean What Ever, it is something that I will be able to deal with and handle.
I can handle it. Whatever happens. Whatever happens, I will be able to handle it.
The mantra washes over me with the warm voice of a mother who loves her child and doesn’t want it to be afraid.
This is the sound of my own voice, the good mother within me, who has the magical powers to go back in time and take care of the little girl that I was.
Whatever happens, I am here for you, and I will take care of you.
Whatever happens, you’ll be able to handle it.
And I really and truly trust that this is true for me now.
[end of excerpts]
As I was running this whole revelation by a friend who mentioned that his favorite writer, Joe Haldeman (multiple best-seller of novels like The Forever War, and winner of many science fiction awards and teacher of writing at MIT) works on more than one manuscript at once and is always reading at least five books at a time.
How’s that? A smart, prolific writer and teacher of creative process already doing what I just figured out in my own stumbling around.
But wait. There’s more.
Joe Haldeman is also a painter. Whenever I learn of other writers who paint I feel such a strong sense of validation. My early years fraught with thinking I had to choose one medium. As a writer/painter/musician/dancer…that was…difficult. Anyway.
I followed a wee link in his wikipedia bio and found this, from an interview originally published in Locus magazine:
He also paints, carrying his paintbox with him from Timbuktu to Tenerife, by airplane carry-on bag or on the back of his bicycle. When he has time, he paints figure studies and abstract works of evocative landscapes and still-life studies in delicate watercolor: of course he’s chosen the most challenging medium to master. But it’s undeniably portable, and for your 21st Century Renaissance Man, flying from the Canary Islands to Ireland in a single bound – or two or three or four – portability is a primary concern.
‘‘Comparing painting to writing, and the preparation for both, is kind of talking apples and oranges, but there is a correspondence.
In both cases, sometimes there is no preparation at all; I just start and see where things go. I do sometimes write down notes, or a kind of a free-form outline, for a short story; I guess that would be the equivalent of rough composition sketches for a painting.
Sometimes I write down the central idea of a short story and look at it on the bulletin board for years, until it suddenly crystallizes (that happened with ‘None So Blind’.) There’s no exact equivalent to that, but I do often indulge in ‘mental painting’; visualizing future paintings while I’m stuck in line or in a traffic jam.
A real painter would probably whip out a little pad and make some notes. I wind up with a vague recollection that might surface subconsciously.’’
Red Ovoid. Watercolor by Joe Haldeman
”As for science fiction, I think most of my abstract paintings have a science-fiction ‘feel,’ but that may just be because I’m a science fiction guy.
The paintings I’ve done in a realistic science fiction vein have not made me happy. But then I’ve been enjoying the masters of the form, from Hannes Bok to Jim Burns, since I was a kid, and relate to their work in an emotional way that is different from the way I relate to other art.
I’d enjoy illustrating my own work – when I’m good enough. I actually have two modest projects in the works, which I don’t want to talk about until they’re done.”
I certainly hope he’s gotten around to publishing those modest works by now. Time for more Internet searching. Mr. Haldeman, if you are reading this, I cannot seem to locate the proper link to your blog. Please advise.
You know that’s going into a sketchbook this weekend.
So as not to distract you too much from the opportunity to buy something from me today, I’ll list here what’s on offer again.
1. If you’re eager to read what I write in my journals and are in a benefactor-of- the-arts sort of mood
Get yourself a limited edition of Sketchbooks: My Personal Creative Practice. (aka Sketchbook Thingy)
The Benefactor Version: The Signed, Numbered, Limited Edition Printed and Bound Manuscript
125. Including shipping. No longer available.
2. If you’re eager to read what I write in my journals and you’re happy with digital reading
and were going to go spend $
20 bucks $9.95 over on Amazon or on drinks out or something tonight anyway:
Get yourself the digital version of Sketchbooks: My Personal Creative Practice (When you buy it here, it’s like you just took me out for a drink. Yeah. I’m a cheap date that way. One drink and I’m out.)
3. If you want to work on your own damn creative practice
(because perhaps you’re inspired by reading about mine)
I hope so! Get over here and sign up for the online workshop I’m teaching: Creative + Practice.
(If you’ve already taken Creative + Practice…you’ll get a free pass. Keep an eye on your email, please.
If you’ve already taken Creative + Practice, please share this post.
You’re also welcome to contact me and let me know what you love about it. If you want to interview me for your blog, yes…let’s do it!
You can get behind-the-scenes of my current book project: A Writer’s Journey.
In this workshop (no longer available) I’m basically live blogging the manuscript and posting my daily project journals and trying not to freak out about all that.
A Writer’s Journey? It’s more like a long, strange, trip…you’ll see. It is: characteristically real, uncensored, and folks journeying with me are learning a lot and….getting courage and creating their own stuff. Exciting!
P.S. I have a groovy rubber stamp that says: Make Some Art Today and Feel Better.
From experience (my art date friends will vouch for this) I know that: When I Buy Some Art Today, I Feel Really Damn Good.
Happy shopping! I hope you are one of the lucky ones who gets a big, fat, old-school manuscript in the mail from me. 😉
One of my other favorite unblocking tricks is to cook up a storm and/or clean my loft within an inch of it’s life.
If you come by and see that the inside of my refrigerator looks like a brand new sort of clean, you’ll know I haven’t been writing.
Same if you find I’ve made baked goods and used the flour sifter.
Today is a little different.
I’m going off to celebrate launching all of this into the world by cooking an old-school Pot Roast (a guest’s favorite) for a dinner party tonight.
Note: This post was first published on May 24, 2013. It was updated on May 24, 2016.