Songs for the Struggling Artist


Do People Really Have an Aversion to Creativity?

The science in it seems sketchy and it’s not clear which people this may be true for – but the New York Times put out this article about how there’s a Creativity Problem and it feels true to me. Obviously, my feelings are not good science but if what this article posits is correct, a lot of people have a subconscious aversion to, or are pretty ambivalent about, creativity. They’ll say they like it, that they want it, that creativity is valuable to them. Then underneath, their subconscious seems to reflect the opposite experience. All the questions about methodology and sample sizes aside, if this is true, it does explain a few things. It explains why people’s stated values are so different than their actual values. It explains why people can say they support the arts while cutting all the arts programs. It explains why here in the States, we have no arts funding to speak of – because even though people say they like creative people and things, they don’t actually.

One of the theories that got floated in the article was that most people really prefer the status quo and art is disruptive. That is, it’s especially disruptive if it is innovative or creative. That is, if it’s more than just decorative, it’s probably shaking things up. Maybe that’s why people associated creativity with a word like vomit. Vomit is also very disruptive. Maybe people’s subconsciouses were going super deep when they went this way. It’s not that they don’t LIKE art, they’re just making word association visceral metaphors. (Says the artist who likes to make metaphors.)

The article suggested that even when companies declared that they valued creativity in their staff, in truth, they tended to revert to the status quo when hiring because middle managers don’t like novelty. This is not a surprise to me. I know ARTS middle managers who don’t like novelty or innovation and they’re theoretically IN creative fields. I guess we live in a world of middle managers, even in the arts.

This difference in people’s stated values feels true to me because while some people are charmed by my creative life choices when they meet me at parties, there is often a kind of underlying hostility about it that I’ve never been able to understand. I thought it was a kind of jealousy, like, everyone really wants to be as creative as they were when they were children and so it gets expressed as resentment to adults – but it may be this disgust, I suppose, this association with vomit or other negative words. It may be a subconscious resistance to status quo disruptors.

I’ve seen people get really mean in on-line discussions of artist housing that I’ve seen. They call us freeloaders who should get no special treatment and tell artists to get “real jobs.” There are some people who’d just rather we didn’t create. I guess there are more of those than I realized. That’s kind of a bummer.

I suppose I understand. Maybe my subconscious hates my creativity, too! (I doubt it. I’m a pretty clear outlier in these things.) Creativity is messy. You can theoretically want your kids to be creative, for example, but then, not let them paint without the smock and the drop-cloth and the mop at hand and really it would be easier to just not get into this painting activity. Let’s just watch a video!

You can think music is pretty cool but oh, those drums are so noisy and please stop playing that harmonica and why are we hearing that same phrase over and over?

Art makes a mess. Sometimes you can dress it up and put it on a stage with an orchestra and invite people in fur coats to come and see – but even the most refined work is messy at some point. It is inconvenient. It can bring something back up that you were hoping to never see again.

But, of course, people expressing a kind of ambivalence about creativity as a concept, as a preference doesn’t mean they don’t actually like art, or don’t engage with disruptive work or don’t respond to creativity in performance. They might love it when they see it. Actually. No ambivalence.

I suspect that folks might like art, actually – but just don’t really trust us artists. That’s okay. I really don’t trust middle managers. The feeling is mutual.

What a mess. Maybe better to just sit quietly in a corner running numbers all day. Don’t paint. You might mix up your colors or something.

This post was brought to you by my patrons on Patreon.

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist 

You can find the podcast on iTunesStitcherSpotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are on Spotifymy websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

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Inspiration Obstacles

Ladies and Gentlemen, Whales and Snails, Lobsters and Crabs, Crayfish and Crawlers: I have something of a reputation for keeping going in the face of difficulty. I am a self-proclaimed shark and I swim ever forward. I hold space for people who once stood where I stand and need me to keep going as a sort of beacon. That is a responsibility I take very seriously and I hold that beacon high, my squids and octopi. But I have to confess to you that my arm has gotten very tired of holding that beacon up and I’ve been falling down on the job a lot this last year.

When the pandemic hit, I knew exactly what to do. I went into creative overdrive and I made something happen. I’m good in a crisis. I get creative in a crisis. I started my theatre company in a crisis. I recorded a bunch of albums in a crisis. My band’s album came out the day after a crisis, so really still in crisis. Last year, I made an audio drama in a crisis.

But I gotta tell you, my crisis muscles are exhausted. This crisis has gone on too long and for the bulk of 2021, I went to the inspiration well every day and if I came back with an eyedropper’s worth of inspiration, I counted myself lucky. I don’t got it, my oysters. I don’t got it. I don’t got it and I don’t know how to get it back.

I read a thing on Facebook that I haven’t been able to find again because I didn’t interact with it because I was mad at how exactly the algorithm knew where I was and I didn’t want it to know it was right. It was a thing about grief and how things can start to seem flat and pointless and it’s hard to get excited about anything so one should just follow anything with any hint of a spark whatsoever. And I wish this were just true from the last few months after my brother’s death but I think I was grieving even before I was grieving. My city (not to mention my field) has been gutted by the pandemic. Small businesses and even slightly bigger corporate ones have all disappeared. The map of the places I used to go is now a map of what used to be there. The world has narrowed so painfully and as winter hits it narrows even more. One of my favorite activities used to be turning up in a neighborhood and wandering around until I found a coffee shop to go write in. I can’t do that anymore.  It’s not just that most of my favorites have closed; it’s also that I might never find one with conditions that feel safe to write in. 2021 has almost been worse than 2020 because things seem like they’re a little normal but are really still not and very few are acknowledging what has come before even as they catapult into a faltering future. Anyway – all that to say that I think I was grieving even before I was actually grieving.

Folks keep asking me what I’m working on and I don’t have a good answer. That (possible) new audio drama I’ve been writing during my writing practice this last year might turn out to be something but I’m not, like, any more confident in it than I am in the cup of coffee I make every day. I think Season Two of The Dragoning – which I wrote in 2020 – is pretty good but fundraising for Season One was so harrowing  – I had not been able to imagine going through that process again until just a couple of weeks ago. Honestly, one of the things that got me over the hump was somebody on Reddit asking the podcast group at what point they thought a podcast that they listened to was dead. (We’re “not dead yet!”)

To get something to production, I have to believe in something so hard that I will fight through the agony of fundraising and organizing to get there. I have to be buoyed up by my own faith and hope and inspiration to put myself through it and I haven’t had access to that in a long time. I suspect that it’s probably since I put out Season One without paying myself. It seems like it might be important to find the money to do that – as it has held up quite a lot, just energetically, just, inspiration wise. Which, let’s face it, is pretty much my only currency. Sometimes you have to pay one currency with another. But this is not my only block.

There are a lot of things that can block inspiration. It is a little like a body of water, in that inspiration’s natural inclination is to flow. The bigger the body of water, the more difficult it is to dam. But when you’re getting by with a tiny stream, a couple of fallen trees can jam up the whole works. Sometimes it seems like the logs are the block and then you realize there’s a boulder further downstream or maybe some beavers have gotten busy with some reeds.

The only thing for it is to set about removing whatever obstacles you can find – whether they’re the real stoppage or not. However you can get the flow going, even if it’s only a trickle, is good.

This post, I think, might be one of those logs in my inspiration stream. I started it at least a month ago. I wasn’t going to publish it. I just felt like I had enough of these “struggling with inspiration” posts this year. But then I came up dry for future blogs. “Why do I have nothing.” I wondered. And I thought – hey maybe it’s that post about inspiration that’s clogging up the pipeline. Maybe it isn’t. I don’t know. All I can do is clear the pipeline. Or the stream. Or whichever water metaphor is right for this situation. And then hope the water starts flowing again soon. I know this is my dry season generally but that doesn’t make it all that much easier to be thirsty.

I would love if my obstacles were this clear. I’d go in there, apologize to the beavers, of course, but then start hauling branches to get that inspiration flowing.

This post was brought to you by my patrons on Patreon.

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist 

You can find the podcast on iTunesStitcherSpotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

screen-shot-2017-01-10-at-1-33-28-am

Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are on Spotifymy websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

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Want to help me clear some obstacles?

Become my patron on Patreon.

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If you liked the blog and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist

Or buy me a coffee on Kofi – ko-fi.com/emilyrainbowdavis



Making “Something”
August 15, 2021, 10:38 pm
Filed under: art, Creative Process, Imagination | Tags: , , , , , ,

In response to my post about the $5k arts grant, several sweet well-meaning people offered some suggestions for stuff I could do to take advantage of it. There were project suggestions and ideas for ways to game the system. But the parts I can’t stop thinking about are the suggestions that featured “making something” because that “something” is exactly the thing that’s at issue. The art happens in the “something.” That’s the place where the idea happens. Deciding what the “something” will be is the hard part. If you have a good something – a lot of things can start to fall into place. But finding a good “something” is not easy.

Generally, I don’t have much trouble coming up with ideas. Ideas have, historically, come pretty cheap for me. I foster the environment for them to turn up and they do, often in numbers too big to execute. But an idea is not a “something.” An idea is not necessarily a thing I can make. I had an idea about a Butoh barista once but that little nugget had nowhere to go. It wasn’t anywhere close to a something. Let’s say this little nugget of an idea were to grow up into a play. Then I could imagine the places it needed to develop and it becomes a show in my imagination. That’s still not really a something. It could be somebody’s something but if I don’t have an idea about how to produce it, it’s just a full idea in my computer. I have bushels of those. They only become something I can make when either the conditions are possible OR I feel so fired about it, I’ll find a way to make it even without the right conditions. It is a long journey from an idea to SOMETHING and that journey is often a whole lot of work. But because it’s the kind of work no one sees it seems like the something just emerged fully formed out of my head, like Athena being born to Zeus. But you get a something the way you birth an actual baby – with a lot of pushing and crying.

I don’t know if maybe artists have somehow made what we do look too easy? Is this why people think we can make things by just wishing for them? Most art takes a ton of work. You want a swank artistic mural on your public square’s wall? That’s awesome. But settle in because it’s going to take a while. It’s not just the time it’s going to take to paint it. In a way, that’s the easy part. Your muralist is going to have to come look at the site, measure the wall, get a sense of the environment it’s in and maybe then, they can start playing with some ideas. They’ll have to draw the idea they settle on, figure out how it will work in the space and THEN get the approval of the person who commissioned it. That’s a lot of work before the visible work of standing in front of a wall with a paintbrush happens. Most of the public will think of the something as that time with the paintbrush but most artists think of that part as the easier bit. It’s the performance that people see, not the months of prep and rehearsal. The something appears to be the show but, in fact, it’s the whole process, even from that first nugget of an idea.

When you make something, context matters. You make a different mural on a door than you would on the walls of the National Palace. If you’re putting on a show, you put on a different something on a Broadway stage than you would on a street corner.

It’s not that I have no ideas. If someone said, “Hey – I’ll give you a Broadway stage and a Broadway budget,” – I’ve got six shows ready to go. What I don’t have in my back pocket are the ideas for no budget, no fuss, quickie street performances. I have had those ideas but I’m fresh out at the moment.

But let’s say you make stuff out of popsicle sticks. Maybe it’s not so hard to just make something because all you do is just sit down with your single material and see what happens. But even for a singular popsicle stick artist, with a grant like this, you’re going to have to make up a context for it. Figure out where to have your popsicle stick show or figure out how to involve an audience. You’ll need a whole something that isn’t just the making of your something.

Is there something I could make for this grant? Actually. Turns out there is. I applied for it a week ago. But do you know how that something came to me? Three weeks in a quiet place with access to a swimming pool. That’s how it came to me. My brain needed that kind of quiet and pleasurable movement before it could put any water in my well of inspiration. So this story had a happy ending but only because I happen to be lucky enough to be gifted such time and space. I don’t like the chances of the rest of New York’s artists to get the same sort of opportunities. Not everyone gets the chance to replenish depleted creativity wells and see a something emerge.

I feel like the thing to hold on to here is that somethings come out of resources. If someone said, here’s $5000, go make something; that would be a whole different world of inspiration. I would have $5000 to make something and something would emerge. If a Broadway producer gave me a theatre and a Broadway size budget, I would make a Broadway sized something. As it happens, I had a different sort of resource that allowed me to come up with something for $5000 but I needed those resources first. That’s why all arts funding is backwards. They ask us to tell us what we’d make with next to nothing when really, if we had the resources, we wouldn’t need to invent anything. The well would be full and ideas and somethings would pour out of it.

Oh look – Something hasn’t magically appeared on this page! How odd.

This post was brought to you by my patrons on Patreon.

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist 

You can find the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

screen-shot-2017-01-10-at-1-33-28-am

Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

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Want to help me make Something?

Become my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

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If you liked the blog and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist

Or buy me a coffee on Kofi – ko-fi.com/emilyrainbowdavis



An Idea Is a Little Monster
April 19, 2021, 11:56 pm
Filed under: art, Creative Process, Imagination, puppets | Tags: , , , ,

Famous writers and artists get asked about their ideas a lot. I feel sure I’ve read a few essays about having to respond to the “Where do you get your ideas?” question, which is, apparently a ubiquitous question for a successful writer.

For the record, I have never been asked this question. Though I have been asked the question that comes up at nearly every Q&A for actors in history which is, “How do you learn all those lines?”

I think I will know I have achieved a measure of success as a maker when someone finally asks me where my ideas come from. Obviously, they come from the idea store, where you can get a six pack of ideas for really cheap if you time it right. Ha! You know this isn’t true. I could never afford to buy my ideas!

For me, I’ve previously thought of ideas like glitter – and I stand by that concept but recently, I began to think of an idea I had as a little monster, demanding that I complete it.

It feels to me that some ideas, once they take hold, become tyrannical little demons. They’re not malevolent – just really persistent. They will not let me rest. Not all ideas are like that. Some are like butterflies that just sort of float around hoping someone will offer it a flower to land on. You can follow it if you like or let it fly on. But some ideas hook their claws into you and demand you complete them. They’re not full size monsters. They’re sort of cat sized and as unwilling to let you complete your regular work as a cat is. Wait, is the idea monster a cat? It’s close. But not quite. A cat will leave you when it gets bored. The idea monster will not get bored. It insists on itself vociferously. It WILL be completed. It will not be dissuaded by logic. You can tell it that no one cares about this idea, that it’s a waste of time, that it’s silly, that there’s no reason to do it – but it does not care. It wants to be realized. It will be realized. You might as well just go ahead and finish it if you want to get some sleep.

This makes it sound like the Idea Monster is a pest but the fact is, I’m never happier than when I’m in the hold of an idea monster. It is a persistent little bugger who captures my attention – but I love having it around. It’s an incredibly clarifying little creature. When we’re working together on something, there is nothing better, nothing more important. It is a little like a love affair.

When the idea is complete, the monster will vanish and I will miss it tremendously even if I do get a lot more sleep.

Anyway – I don’t know where the idea monsters come from but if anyone has a direct line to their place of residence, please tell them they are always welcome here.

I think the monster might look a little like this one (created by Marte Ekhougen).
This monster was the star of a video born from an idea monster. Monster circles!

This post was brought to you by my patrons on Patreon.

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist 

You can find the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

screen-shot-2017-01-10-at-1-33-28-am

Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

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Want to help me make a home for more idea monsters?

Become my patron on Patreon.

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Some Invisible Gifts of Theatre Training

A lot of my theatre friends have been working in other fields lately, partly due to not being able to actually work in theatre in these times. I’ve had a fair number of conversations about how weirdly non-theatre people do things. (Apologies to all you non-theatre folk. I know we’re really the weird ones but you’re weird to us in some ways!) This has made me think about some of the things the performing arts train us for, that aren’t just singing high notes and how to do pas de Bourrees.

One thing I’ve really come to value about theatre people (and performing arts people in general but I’m going to let theatre people stand in for everyone since I know them best) is our ability to collaborate. And I know, blah blah, we all know collaboration is a thing. I can’t tell you how many theatre education meetings I’ve sat in where we sell the fact that we teach kids how to collaborate. But what does that really mean? We teach folks how to work together. Okay. Who out there in the work force thinks they didn’t learn that? Everyone thinks they know how to collaborate. The thing is that theatre people know how to collaborate in a very particular way. We know how to work with a group of disparate people with multiple specialties and work together to get something done on time and on budget.  Theatre people are always on time and on budget when it comes to deadlines. This means we not only know how to collaborate, we know how to do it quickly. The curtain is going up at a particular time on a particular day and we are built to make sure that happens to the best of everyone’s ability. Show folk know how to do things quickly. We know how to get on with it. We know how to make it fast and we know how to pivot on a dime.

Example: We can’t afford the orange shoes? Ok. Maybe we get some white ones and dye them or shine an orange light on them and how much do we really need these orange shoes? Can they be purple or can we just do the show without them? And show people will make that call in a few minutes.

One thing I’ve noticed about meetings or collaborations with non-theatre folk is that even the smallest decisions can often take an unholy amount of time. And by unholy I mean infinitely frustrating to a theatre person who is used to working quickly. If you are in a meeting with a theatre person, you should know that they are very likely imagining clapping their hands and thinking, “Go, go, go, go, go!” Sometimes I feel like half of the job of theatre directing is telling everyone to pick up the pace. And I’ve also wanted to say it at every non-theatre meeting I’ve ever been to.

Another thing I’ve come to appreciate about theatre is our understanding of the need for a leader. I think this is related to the awareness of the curtain time. Even the most collaborative of processes, the most communal of groups, recognizes the need for someone to be the voice of leadership even if they’re not the boss. We have stage managers who will make sure we take a break. We have directors who make the final call on a lighting question the designer’s been wrestling with the costume designer about. There is always someone to decide. There is always someone running the show. And if no one is running the show in another context, outside of the performing arts, I can almost guarantee you that the performing artist will step up for that role if they care at all about what the group is doing. Theatre people sense a leadership vacuum and almost everyone will step in to fill it if necessary. If the dance captain is not there to run the rehearsal, someone else will do it. Same goes for the marketing meeting.

Theatre people would almost always prefer to be doing instead of talking about doing. We want to get through a meeting quickly because we need to get back to rehearsal. And we open in three days! Also, moving quickly is a great way to actually make things happen instead of getting stuck in talking about them. Sometimes I think 90% of my work as a theatre educator was just shouting “Five more minutes” even if we actually had ten. I’m sorry I lied to you, students – but it was the best way to get you moving.

Another obstacle my theatre friends are running into in other fields is a lack of creativity, particularly in problem solving. Theatre folk love to solve a problem. Sometimes we make problems just so we can solve them. Ever hear about someone making drama? That’s us. (Though we really do prefer to keep it onstage.) But really, we make problems to solve. Sometimes those problems are relationship or story problems (What will the Prince do when the ghost of his father tells him he was murdered by the current king?) and some are design problems. I used to describe the heart of my theatre making as just problematizing. I’ll give you an example from my real creative life. First day of rehearsal/devising on a project. I brought a bunch of newspapers, tape and string and asked my actors to stage scenes inspired by several highly visual paintings. This is a problem. There isn’t a logical solution. Whatever they invent is not going to look anything like the source material. But results are a study in creativity. That’s exciting stuff for me.

Theatre people are built to find a way. It’s part of the reason we can be kind of annoying when someone tells us something is impossible. We can make the sun rise in a small space using only light and imagination. We’re not inclined to believe that things aren’t possible.

In other fields, when someone says, “Oh, we can’t change that rule because we don’t have the data,” the non-theatre folk will shake their heads and say, “That’s too bad. Oh well.” The theatre person asks, “How do we get the data?” And eventually this leads to a heist movie with six union reps breaking into an administrator’s file cabinet. No, no, it probably doesn’t. But we would entertain it as a possibility! Theatre folks don’t give up when a problem is on the line.

This is part of the reason that I’m convinced that if someone had entrusted the vaccine rollout to theatre people we’d all be vaccinated by now. Seriously, there’s an entire field of people out of work who are used to managing large groups of people, who do things quickly and efficiently and are not daunted by impossible tasks. Let’s get ourselves a new WPA and our first show is The Vaccine Rollout.

Can theatre people be annoying? Yes. The most. We are the worst. But we tell good stories and there are a lot of things we learn to do that are worth every silly penny of our theatre training education.

It might seem like I’m here to pat theatre folk (and therefore myself) on the back – to give out some awards in a year where there definitely won’t be any – but really, it’s a plea to recognize that some of the gifts of an arts education are not obvious and yet also extremely valuable. Arts funding has been gutted. Money for arts education in the city where I live is gone. I understand why that happened. (How do you teach theatre on Zoom? Personally, I don’t know but I know a lot of people who’ve figured it out, so hey – bring it on back!) but the results have an impact on things far beyond the artists who lost their jobs or the students who lost their art class. Every time I hear about my theatre friends’ experience in other fields, I am reminded of the gifts of an arts education that even I hadn’t noticed. Sometimes we try to sell our work as good for collaboration! Or great for teaching empathy and tolerance! Or – I don’t know what we say any more. But maybe we need to get more specific. Maybe we need to lay it on the line. Talk ourselves up. Give ourselves some awards.

Also – if you’re looking for an employee who completes projects on time and on budget, who knows how to take charge in a group and who can problem solve creatively and quickly, might I suggest a theatre person? They’re all out of work right now. You could probably get any one you wanted. And you’re sure to get some good stories to go along with them. Just be prepared to pick up the pace.

When you can’t afford a real dragon, just make one out of lamp shades and hula hoops.
Photo of Research and Development of Messenger Theatre Company’s The Door Was Open by Kacey Anisa Stamats

This post was brought to you by my patrons on Patreon.

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist.

You can find the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

screen-shot-2017-01-10-at-1-33-28-am

Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

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Help this theatre person spread the theatre news

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Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

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If you liked the blog and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist

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Creativity Might Be Seasonal
January 22, 2021, 6:50 pm
Filed under: art, Creative Process, writing | Tags: , , , , ,

Someone asked me what my next project was and I panicked. “I don’t know! I don’t have anything lined up! My well has run dry! The last thing I wrote is probably my last thing ever! It’s all over.”

But then I realized that last year, at almost exactly this time, I had a similar panic. I wrote a piece about it that has been one of my most popular podcast episodes and of course the well hadn’t run dry. I subsequently produced a whole season of an audio drama and wrote its second season as well.

It would appear that January tends to be a fallow time for me. It would appear that there are, perhaps, predictable seasons of creativity for me – and maybe all of us. I’ve long been aware of how wanderlust strikes me in September. I’ve noticed that I often end up producing plays in the late spring (always always when whatever fruit I’ve written into the play as a key plot point is decidedly NOT in season).

I guess to everything there IS a season and creativity is no exception. I would have thought I was pretty well aware of my own patterns as so much of my life has been arranged to suit them – but I hadn’t really factored in the year’s rhythms, wasn’t even aware of them, really. It takes this many decades to realize it, I guess. Like, you need three decades of creative data to really see the pattern. And it is a pattern. It’s clear. And helpful.

Writing through a fallow period is not easy. Every word feels labored, every idea feels stupid. When conditions somehow prevent me from writing the play I’m working on, I think, “Oh, that’s fine. It’s a terrible idea anyway. I’m just spilling ink on that thing.” But of course I’ve thought that sort of thing while working on things that ended up being someone’s favorite.

It also feels important to note that it’s not that I’m not writing at all in this fallow period. It’s actually a very fertile time for the blog. It’s just the creative work that feels dormant at the moment. I don’t think of blog writing as creative work but of course it is. Of course. It’s just a different lane.

Cluing in to this pattern might be helpful next January. Maybe before I panic, I just prepare for the fallow period and just know that I’m going to feel panicked and useless for a bit but that it will fade.

I’ll write through it the way I write through everything – but knowing what’s happening really does make a difference. I don’t need to fall into a full on creative panic. I can just recognize that this is the part of the growing season when the ground is cold and hard and nothing really will grow. I won’t discount the possibility that some little green sprout might shoot up out of a pot somewhere – maybe in a greenhouse or something – but acknowledging that the fields are fallow in this period might help me get through the dark winter months.

This post was brought to you by my patrons on Patreon.

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist.

You can find the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

screen-shot-2017-01-10-at-1-33-28-am

Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

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Want to help get me through the fallow periods?

Become my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

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If you liked the blog and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist

Or buy me a coffee on Kofi – ko-fi.com/emilyrainbowdavis



Now Would Be a Hard Time to Start a Creative Practice

For well over a decade, I have had a daily writing practice. I’ve developed various pieces of it over the years but it has included, consistently, at least an hour of concentrated writing. I have written about it before – here, here and here if you want to know more.

The thing about a practice, the practice of anything, I suspect, is that it is not always easy but the fact of it makes some other things easier. Let’s say I had a daily swim practice (which, lord knows, if I had access to a pool I would have). It might be hard to get in the pool somedays but surely I’d get better at swimming over time and perhaps even challenge myself to learn new strokes as time went by. Days wherein I didn’t swim might feel strange somehow and a little off. This is true for a writing practice, as well.

But the real gift of a practice is when the times are tough. Take now. This coronavirus situation has made it incredibly hard to put pen to paper. (Side note: I wrote this two months ago. Just publishing now. Now there’s even more going on that might make writing challenging.) Every time I sit down to write, it is a fight. But. I keep going because it is my practice to write even when it’s hard and usually after a few pages, I’m back in business. If I did not have the benefit of a previous practice, of mountains of evidence that wading through the hard parts was worth it, I’m fairly certain I’d have quit in the first 10 – 15 minutes. As it stands, I suffered through about three pages of agonizing slow word by word garbage before I started writing this piece, which, has flowed rather easily after all the halting resistance at the top. That’s the practice buoying me up, keeping me flowing when I feel like I’m going to sink.

If you don’t have a practice yet, I’m not sure now is the time to start one. I mean, give it a shot, if you want to – but it feels to me like it would be very hard to begin something new in this time – or even to learn something new. I know everyone’s yammering on about how now is the perfect time to learn that language you’ve always wanted to study – but I’m skeptical. Human brains learn best when they are safe and secure. When there’s a lot of excitation and fear around, learning doesn’t tend to stick. At least that’s the theory we work with in Feldenkrais. From what I understand, we are most receptive to learning when we are comfortable and when our safety is not at stake. For many people that is not right now.

I feel like establishing a practice is similar. You create one in good times and it will sustain you in bad times. I’m so grateful for mine right now but I would not want to start it at a time like this. It feels like it might be doomed to fail. I can feel all the moments I’d be tempted to give up and toss away my pen. I write through those moments because of practice. That’s what practice is for, I think. Not so much to create genius writing but to be a support for us when the sky is falling. Dancers with a dance practice keep dancing, even if they have to adapt to their small spaces and such. Singers keep on singing – even if it disturbs their neighbors in confinement. We just keep afloat doing the practice we’ve always done and it will keep us going when all else falters.

Y’all know this is not my writing set up. First, there are lines on this notebook. Second, uh, water?! Just water? I’m going to need some coffee.

This post was brought to you by my generous patrons on Patreon.

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

It’s also called Songs for the Struggling Artist.

You can find the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

screen-shot-2017-01-10-at-1-33-28-am

Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

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Want to help me keep my writing practice going?

Become my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

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If you liked the blog and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat.

https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist

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Charting the Journey of a Creative Ship
January 24, 2020, 12:18 am
Filed under: art, Creative Process, theatre, writing | Tags: , , , , ,

Even as I wrote the piece that shortly follows, I knew it was going to be true only for the moment. I knew that whatever happened before, I would feel differently after. I just didn’t know how. I wrote this about a month ago before a reading of my work and you can be in the future with me and know that it went as well as it could go. I saw very clearly what needed to change, as well as what format it should probably take and this story has a happy ending. But I thought it would still be worth sharing for those of you who might be standing at that precipice I was standing on when I wrote this.

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Tomorrow I will hear actors read the piece I’ve spent the better part of this year working on. I’m weirdly nervous. I’m not worried about what the people there will think or what they might say. I’m worried that I might discover that it’s not what I think it is – that it’s terrible.

As I wrote it, I never thought it was terrible. I was excited about it, actually. I never tell people about what I’m writing but this one, I blabbed about to several people. It evolved from what I thought was a short story into a novella or maybe a play. I’ve been with it all the way and never questioned it. It’s flowed the whole time. The other piece I’m writing right now is a different feeling entirely. I sweat every scene. After I finish one I think, “Wow. This is terrible. This play is garbage.” I write through that feeling because I’m convinced enough by the idea to suffer through some garbage drafts. I hope that by writing some garbage, I will find some jewels. There is no one way to be in a creative boat, trying to get somewhere and I suppose there has to be a “It might be terrible” moment, no matter how well the piece has gone from the top.

Coupled with the fear that my work will be terrible is an excitement around it. Being engaged in a creative process is the best feeling on earth, as far as I’m concerned and that good feeling also includes the terror that it will be terrible. The best part is when it’s really cooking and you’re in the middle of something exciting, when the piece is full of possibilities.

There’s a real possibility that this new thing the actors are reading tomorrow won’t translate – that what I imagined I created isn’t what’s on the page. In forms I’m more comfortable and familiar with, I have a clearer idea of how a thing will go down. I am more or less able to predict how the comedies I write will go down. This new thing is a new form for me – so I don’t know for sure. I think it’s gonna be good but it’s possible I’m wrong. Standing on that line in the middle of wondering is part of the joy of creating as well as the terror. Where’s it going to fall?

And how much work will it need to salvage it? Will it be a total overhaul or a little fix up? Or will it be unsalvageable? This is unlikely – though certainly a possibility. But even if it is unsalvageable – it will have been worth it. The pleasure and excitement I felt while making it were more than I’ve felt in a while and for that alone, it will have been worth it.

This post was brought to you by my generous patrons on Patreon.

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

You can find the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

screen-shot-2017-01-10-at-1-33-28-am

Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

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Want to help me navigate the rough waters of the creative life?

Become my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

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If you liked the blog and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist

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All the Times I Wrote My Last Thing

As I thumbed through the first draft of the zine that I make every year for my Patreon patrons, I thought “I actually wrote some good stuff this year.” In the same breath, I thought “That’s probably all I have. I’ve written all the best things. The well has run dry. I’ve just been coasting the last month and I don’t see how I could possibly get my mojo back. It was nice while it lasted but all I have left to write are sad documentary posts about the rejections I receive.”

I’d worry that I was in the middle of writer’s block if I hadn’t felt this same way many times before. I have felt this way and then a few months later, wrote something I was very proud of. It is normal, in fact, when you’re not feeling particularly inspired to be convinced that that feeling is permanent and you will never be inspired again. I felt it when I finished my novel. I feel it whenever I finish a play. I feel it about a couple of times a year with the blogs. Every time I write a song, I’m sure it’s the last one. Last year, I wrote a lullaby, brushed off my hands and said, “That was a good one to end on.” But just a few weeks ago, I wrote a song for the year’s final podcast.

I don’t know why this is a pattern. But I don’t think I’m alone in this. The fear of dry wells may have something to do with respecting the capriciousness of the muses. They’re not always going to show up and they’re not going to always give you your best. Sometimes I write good things. Sometimes I write mediocre things. On some bad days I write bad things. I show up at the page every day and write something whether I feel inspired or not. Sometimes something that I think is pretty routine catches fire in someone else’s imagination and goes. Sometimes I write something that I think is marvelous and it disappears like a puff of smoke.

I know it is not up to me to decide what is good or bad or even what comes out of me. I just write and release. I make the paper airplanes and float them out the window. Sometimes they fly because I’ve expertly crafted them but most times they fly because a powerful breeze appeared at just the right moment. I won’t stop making my planes just because I don’t feel inspired. I often feel that the plane in my hands will be my last…but it never is. I’ve made enough Final Planes to know that I probably won’t make my final final one until I make my final one, if you know what I mean.

Anyway – if you’re sure your well has run dry and you’ve made your final piece of art, just know that I understand, I sympathize and I don’t believe it for a second. It’s not over til it’s over.

This post was brought to you by my generous patrons on Patreon.

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

You can find the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

screen-shot-2017-01-10-at-1-33-28-am

Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

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Want to help me make some more paper airplanes?

Become my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

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If you liked the blog and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist

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Finishing Things
August 22, 2019, 5:50 pm
Filed under: art, Creative Process, writing | Tags: , , , ,

When I first started making things, I thought the hard part of making things was the making of things. I was always reading about people who never wrote their novels or their plays or songs or whatever. From reading all these creativity books, I got the sense that just FINISHING something would put me ahead of the pack. This sense is often reinforced, even now. Just the other day I was listening to a podcast about writing and the guest and the host agreed that 95% of writers don’t finish their manuscripts. They made it sound like, just by finishing something, you were already well on your way to success.

But I’ve been finishing things my whole creative life and I’m no closer to the front of the pack than I was when I began. Despite a large body of work behind me, I still feel like I’m running like mad to keep up.

I finish things. It’s not that special. I’ve got, just sitting on my hard drive – four novels, six short stories, three children’s picture books, twelve full length plays and eight short ones. There are also a couple of complete series of poems. I finish one of these blogs approximately every five days and record a song and podcast for them once a week, as well. Given all the hype given to finishing things, I think, early on, I thought a marching band might burst through the wall and play me a congratulatory fight song every time I finished something. But that has yet to happen.

In fact, if I want to see any kind of acknowledgment for ANY thing I create, I have generally had to create some kind of structure for it myself. Wanted to see my plays on stage? I had to produce them. Wanted to share my novel for young people with more people than I could read it to at a time? I recorded a podcast of it.
Wanted anyone to read my thoughts about struggling artistry or the state of the arts or feminism or whatever? No one would publish such things – I had to start a blog.

Part of all of this is that I am impatient. I do not want to wait to be discovered. I do not want to wait to submit to all the appropriate authorities or even wait to find out who the proper authorities are. I recognize that my “I’ll just do it myself” impulse is sometimes a block to finding someone to do it for me and therefore a block to a standard sort of success. Maybe if I were better at submitting and waiting, I might have found some other path after finishing – but waiting is just not my way. Finishing things IS. And I guess I feel like I was sold a false bill of goods at some point. Somewhere I got the idea that finishing things would make me so special that success would be more or less guaranteed. It is not.

I mean – sure – finishing stuff is important. An unfinished novel, play, screenplay, story, essay, whatever, is for sure going nowhere. But a finished thing can just as easily go nowhere. I guess a lot of people have to believe that the marching band will come in when they finally finish their thing – just to keep them motivated. But I have no such illusion anymore. I know that whatever satisfaction I have at the completion of a work has to come from the work itself and not whatever goodies I imagine it might yield me.

I read Marge Piercy’s “For the Young Who Want to” when I was young and wanted to and her line about work being its own reward has been strong within me ever since. Unfortunately, her poem didn’t tell me what to do when I finished something – so I had to work that out for myself. I’ll share it with you, in case you need that bit, too. Yes, finish something. Then start the next thing. And if you happen to get a marching band, enjoy it! Then start the next thing.

This post was brought to you by my generous patrons on Patreon.

They also bring you the podcast version of the blog.

You can find the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

screen-shot-2017-01-10-at-1-33-28-am

Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

*

You can help me finish more things.

Become my patron on Patreon.

*

If you liked the blog and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist

Or buy me a coffee on Kofi – ko-fi.com/emilyrainbowdavis

 




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