Discipline and Creativity - How Artists Turn Pro

Bill Watterson, the drawer of Calvin and Hobbes once said:

“You can’t just turn on creativity like a faucet. You have to be in the right mood. What mood is that? Last-minute panic.”

Viewing creativity like this is not new. We were taught that inspiration comes to us only so often after hours, days, months, and perhaps even years of procrastination and suffering. In movies and TV Shows, artists are frequently portraited as lazy, unable to deliver, and succumbing to drugs and alcohol as an attempt to reignite what made them famous in the first place.

To be fair, there are a few artists that fit this picture, but in my opinion, holding creativity and the creative process this way is deeply mistaken.

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The Story of the Artist

We’ve seen it a thousand times already. There’s this famous artist that’s trying to create a new novel, a new hit song, or an innovative idea that will revolutionize the world once again. After sitting down and trying for hours, nothing comes to him or her. Days go by and the poor fellow keeps staring at the blank canvas, waiting for inspiration to strike… but there’s nothing.

Tired and hopeless, he goes for a drink to see if a couple of vodka shots and cigarettes can re-ignite his lost spark, can make his lost muse come back. But it doesn’t happen, she is nowhere to be found.

After weeks of desperation, a wake-up call in the form of an event, person, or thought happens to a few lucky ones and, with the refreshed inspiration, are finally able to be creative and produce that awaited masterpiece.

The other half is not fortunate enough and their muses never return. They are the ones that fall victim to a life of unproductivity, unhappiness, and addictions.

Although these are extreme scenarios mostly found in movies and TV Shows, there are a few artists that view themselves and their work this way – waiting for inspiration to strike:

  • George RR Martin published the first book of the Game of Thrones series in 1996, and after more than 25 years, he still hasn’t finished the two books that will conclude the story.
  • The Mangaka and creator of the famous Shonen Hunter x Hunter, Yoshihiro Togashi, began his last drawing his last manga in 1998 and to this date, he still hasn’t finished it and the last chapter’s release was in late 2018.
  • Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, a French painter and one of the pioneers in the Post-Impressionist period, worked mostly during the night in cabarets and after several drinks. He only made it to thirty-six.

Resistance


Artists and people that need to be creative to make a living can relate. Sitting down to create something new, – whether that’s a song, a painting, a movie, a script, a business strategy, or a scientific paper – seems to always elicit some form of internal conflict. But students, and workers from different industries that need to finish an assignment or deliver a report also suffer from this negative force, which Steven Pressfield calls Resistance. He defines it as:

An act that rejects immediate gratification in favor of long-term growth, health, and integrity. Or any act that derives from our higher nature instead of our lower elicit Resistance.

Resistance is a hallmark of the creative process. It’s an inner force that stands in the way of us creating something useful and powerful. It will attempt anything to prevent us from sitting down and, if we manage to do so, will generate hundreds of different distractions and excuses that will make us leave the work we have in front of us.

It happens to me, you, and even to famous artists like J.K Rowling, Franz Kafka, and, as we’ve seen, George RR Martin.

So, the question is, is there any way to beat Resistance and stop letting our creativity be limited to our mood?

Steven Pressfield thinks so, and his solution is to build up discipline and become a Pro…

When Artists Turn Pro

Have you ever noticed that you don’t need to motivate yourself to get up in the morning and go to work or school? Day in and day out, no matter if it’s raining, you feel a bit sick or you had a horrible night of sleep, you get out of bed, get dressed, and fulfill your duty. Why is that?

It’s because, in that area of your life, you’ve become a Professional. Professionals, Pressfield says, share the following qualities:

  • They show up every day, no matter what
  • They are committed over the long haul
  • They are patient and know that it will take twice as long
  • They accept no excuses
  • They are prepared to confront their self-sabotage every day

When we face our creative endeavors as professionals and not as amateurs, we stop waiting for inspiration to strike because we know that the mere fact of sitting down and starting to create will generate the fuel for its continuation.

The Professional knows that Resistance is waiting for him or her each and every morning they wake up, but they are willing to face it and defeat it, over and over again. 

“What we get when we turn pro is we find our power. We find our will and our voice and we find our self-respect. We become who we always were but had, until then, been afraid to embrace and live out.”

By taking the act of creating as a job and not as a mere hobby, we elevate the quality and quantity of our work to the next level. It might take time, but it’s only a matter of time.

How Discipline Sparks Creativity

Anthony Trollope, the English writer who produced forty-seven novels and sixteen other books says:

It was my practice to be at my table every morning at 5.30 A.M.; and it was also my practice to allow myself no mercy. By beginning at that hour I could complete my literary work before I dressed for breakfast. All those I think who have lived as literary men will agree with me that three hours a day will produce as much as a man ought to write. It had at this time become my custom to write with my watch before me, and to require of myself 250 words every quarter of an hour. I have found that the 250 words have been forthcoming as regularly as my watch went.

You may love or hate Woody Allen’s movies, but if there’s something to acknowledge about him is his Professional Attitude: Since 1982 he’s been releasing a new movie every new year. That’s almost 40 years in a row. As he likes to say:

“Eighty percent of success is showing up.”

And there many many more that are part of the Professional’s club, some being Pablo Picasso, Frank Zappa, The Beatles, and Paul McCartney.

These artists knew that the best way to be creative is to be disciplined, to be disciplined enough to sit yourself down and create. It’s hard at first but as the minutes go by, inspiration naturally begins to flow.

It’s time to let go of the childish image we have of the artist: a person who cannot stop procrastinating and falls into all kinds of temptations and addictions.

Conclusion

Pressfield, King, and Allen show us that by taking our creative work seriously, being self-disciplined, and stop letting ourselves be guided by petty emotions, is how we find true inspiration. Or as W. Somerset Mughhan would say:

I write only when inspiration strikes. Fortunately, it strikes every morning at nine o’clock sharp.


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