Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Creative Life: Be Boring. (It's the only way to get work done.)

Technique Tuesday

It's not much of a confession to say I have no patience for the breathless, glitzy Hollywood gossip shows. They're simply an endless parade of celebrities behaving badly. The only reason those programs are worth a mention is that the people they feature are usually too busy being famous to produce anything that even loosely resembles art.

Austin Kleon's ninth point, in his presentation, "How to Steal Like an Artist," is, "Be boring. It's the only way to get work done."

There's a romantic notion that artists are tortured souls who straddle the boundaries of polite society, finding temporary solace in an excess of wine, women, and song (or sex, drugs, and rock 'n roll). As with everything, there are, of course, outliers, but as usual the exceptions prove the rule: riotous and dissipative living really gets in the way of working on your art.

Kleon explains it this way:
"As Flaubert said, “Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work.”

"I’m a boring guy with a 9-5 job who lives in a quiet neighborhood with his wife and his dog.

"That whole romantic image of the bohemian artist doing drugs and running around and sleeping with everyone is played out. It’s for the superhuman and the people who want to die young.

"The thing is: art takes a lot of energy to make. You don’t have that energy if you waste it on other stuff."
I'm sure you've had times when you were on fire with creativity. But if you're like me, the flames die down as soon as you start bumping into impediments, running afoul of inertia, and dissipating energy as friction. What I've realized is that those moments are the creative equivalent of afterburners--the speed is exhilarating, but it really sucks up your fuel.

Art, as a way of life, is really a long game. You win, eventually, if you have the staying power to keep showing up. Which means that, like the distance runner, you must pace yourself. Which really means that, like the distance runner, what you're doing is going to look boring to outsiders.

There's another important part of being boring that Kleon's Flaubert quote really nails: your regular and orderly habits are critical to creating the time and space where your creativity can flourish. This is why, for example, one of the most common suggestions for new writers is that they should find a way to write every day, preferably at the same time.

You'll have to decide the particulars of the regular and orderly habits that work best for you. But you'd be well-advised to think in those terms if you want to get something done.


Image: luigi diamanti / FreeDigitalPhotos.net