It’s a riff episode!
Full confession: usually I put a lot of time into writing out the thoughts that I want to share with you on the podcast, but today I wanted to share off the top of my head something that’s been on my mind.
I want to talk about this big misconception that so many creators have. A huge misconception that kept me in a state of suffering for at least a decade, and has kept countless other people that I’ve worked with, people in my communities, students, and clients in a state of suffering, too.
Years ago, I used to walk around my apartment saying to myself saying to myself, “I wish I had time to make art for me.”
At that time, I made my living making art for other people, for clients, and I was really unhappy, because I was never making art for me, because I never had the time. Oh, how I wished I had time to make art for me!
The misconception that I was laboring under, the big lie, was that I needed great, big chunks of time.
Of course, I never had great, big chunks of time. It was impossible to find great, big chunks of time!
The only time I managed to get great, big chunks of time was once a year, when I would go on retreat with my calligraphy guild, the Friends of Calligraphy, when I would get Wednesday evening through Sunday lunch to do whatever I wanted.
Meals were prepared for me, I didn’t have to deal with telephones and email — at the time they didn’t even have wifi! — and all I had to do was whatever I wanted!
That was the only time, once a year, when I would create for me.
And I remember, every single year I would come home and create these elaborate schemes to create a quarterly weekend staycation to turn off the phone and turn off the computer and just make art all weekend long.
And then reality would set in, and I would realize there was no way I could take an entire weekend.
So I would lower my expectations and create a variation on the theme: a Saturday once a month, a Friday afternoon.
It never happened.
Then on February 1st, 2011, as I write about in The Creative Sandbox Way, I was interviewing an artist named Michele Théberge for my first online course, the Thriving Artists Project.
Michele is a fine art gallery-exhibiting artist who also mentors artists who aspire to fine art gallery-exhibiting careers, and you would think that her mentees would have no problem creating their art, but in fact they struggle with resistance just as much as the rest of us.
In the interview, Michele shared with me that she tells her mentees that if they can’t put fifteen minutes a day into their art, they’re making an excuse.
In that moment I felt myself getting hot and defensive.
Part of me, the mindful part of me, was able to step outside my defensiveness and notice it, and realize that yes, I was making an excuse.
Michele had absolutely nailed me.
Before that interview was over, I made the decision that I was going to commit to fifteen minutes a day on my art, every single day that month.
Now that was February, so it was a short month.
I did not think that fifteen minutes could possibly amount to anything. How valuable could that possibly be? But if Michele said this to her mentees, If igured it was worth trying.
And you know what? That teeny, tiny, ridiculously small commitment changed my life.
And just the other day, I was on a video conference call with a mentor that I’m working with, talking about my big initiative to take my message out to corporations.
Currently, I’m used to working with people on a private level — in my online community, the Creative Sandbox (which will be opening up for new members in January); in my annual retreat in September, Create & Incubate Retreat (which, btw, is already almost full from all the returning folks from last year, and I haven’t even opened up registration yet for 2017!); in private classes and workshops I teach; in private coaching, mentoring, and consulting.
Bringing my message into corporations is really new, so of course it’s bringing up all of my self-doubt gremlins. “What corporation is going to pay you to help their employees get happier and more creative?” they’re snarking at me.
Well, you know how other people can hone in on who you are and what you do with more perspective than you can? Because of course they have more distance — you’re too close to it.
Karen was able to say to me, “Melissa, what your specialty is, is small daily acts.”
That’s kinda everything I share. If you go to my Instagram, or go to my Facebook page, or listen to my podcast, or read my book, so much of what I write about and speak about revolves around that concept.
Small daily acts build creative confidence.
Small daily acts grow a body of work.
Small daily acts create joy.
Small daily acts change your life.
Small daily acts will change the world.
And small daily acts do not require great, big chunks of time.
So this misconception, this lie that so many of labor under, are stuck inside of — we need to blow that.
So here are a few examples from my own life of small daily acts.
Small Daily Acts 2011
Back in 2011, as I mentioned, I had this conversation with Michele Théberge, and I made that commitment that I would put in a minimum of fifteen minutes a day of making art, and then I would reassess.
It was an experiment. And it was transformative!
I had no idea. I did not expect it to be as profound and powerful as it was. I made so much art — I did not believe how much art fifteen minutes a day would lead to.
Here’s the secret: fifteen minutes a day gets you started.
The thing is, starting is the hard part. And when you set your commitment really tiny and “ridiculously achievable” (fifteen minutes is totally arbitrary — you can make it two minutes; you can make it, as my friend Laureen Marchand says, “Any amount counts” (which I now refer to as the Law of Laureen) — it doesn’t matter what the actual number is, as long as it’s small enough that it gets you past the starting friction, that’s the important thing.
So my rule at the time was, I got to spend more than fifteen minutes if I wanted to, but if all I spent was fifteen minutes, that was totally fine. That was a complete, 100% success. And there were plenty of days when that’s all I did was fifteen minutes.
Surprisingly, I discovered that fifteen minutes was actually enough to get me into a state of flow!
This completely blew my mind. I had no idea I could get into a state of flow so quickly.
In any case, over the course of eleven months in 2011 I made over 150 finished artworks.
Now, I didn’t make a piece a day — that’s not how I approached it. I worked on large sheets of paper over, which I might work on for several days or even a few weeks. Then I would tear that sheet into a dozen or fifteen or more pieces, which I would then turn into finished pieces over the course of a few days.
So that initiative, that commitment, fifteen minutes a day, February 1st, 2011, resulted in a body of work of over 150 pieces over the course of eleven months. Which I then continued to make in 2012 and 2013.
Small Daily Acts 2014
In 2014 I started playing with Loopy HD app on my iPhone (and later iPad) to layer my voice and other sounds, so I can be a one-person chorus and one-person band.
I’d been wanting to do this for years, and finally realized “there’s an app for that!” and for a number of months I was creating a new loop every day and uploading it to Soundcloud, which then automatically posted it to this part of my blog.
My commitment to myself was to post my loop tracks, let them be imperfect (this was hard), even though people might actually listen to them and hear my voice cracking, hear my imperfect harmonies, and get over my fear of creating imperfect things.
I was basically improvising a new song every day for something like a hundred days.
And before that (I totally forgot!)…
Small Daily Acts 2013
I did a year-long project! Project 3x5x365.
Every single day for a year, I grabbed a word out of a book, randomly, and used that as my prompt to fill a 3×5 card.
I just wrote, and filled a 3×5 card.
It doesn’t take that many words to fill a 3×5 card
I confess, my ulterior motive was that this initiative would turn me into a great poet. I am living proof that a year of filling a 3×5 card will not turn someone who is not by nature a brilliant poet into a brilliant poet, but it was a fantastic exercise. And very challenging.
And I was tempted about 360 out of those 365…
Most of those days I thought, “Oh, my god, this is total crap…”
But part of the challenge was to get used to posting crap and mediocre work! And the beautiful thing is that now when I go back and look at Project 3x5x365, I don’t remember what I wrote, so I can look at it with fresh eyes, and some of those cards I actually like.
I wrote 365 pieces of writing. Poems, prose poetry, pieces of writing. A stack of writing five inches tall.
That is a body of work.
Small daily acts.
Small daily acts created a body of work, and in that body of work are a few — maybe more than a few — that I actually like, and that I never would have created had I not decided to take on small daily acts.
Small Daily Acts 2015
I did a whole series of paintings — fast, small, paintings. 6″ x 6″, 5″ x 5″, a few 8″ x 8″.
My goal was to learn how to paint quickly. I was tired of always making paintings that took hours and hours to complete, so I set myself the task to develop a style that I could do fast.
And you know what? I ended up making dozens and dozens of paintings!
I think I have sixty hanging on the wall by the ceiling encircling my dining room, and that is just a fraction of the number I created.
A body of work.
Small daily acts.
Small Daily Acts 2016
I realized that I wasn’t getting to my art table every day.
I figured out a long time ago that if I want to get something done, the best way to make that happen is to do it first thing.
The best way to make that happen is to do it while I’m still in bed.
If I want to get creating while I’m still in bed, it’s not going to work very well to use acrylic paints… But (I reasoned) if I bring sketchbooks and Pigma Micron markers, and (more recently) watercolor pencils with water brushes with the water in the handles, guess what? I can create in my bed!
Before I even get up and on with the rest of my day!
So I started doing that at the start of 2016, because I realized that I wasn’t getting to my art table.
Guess what? The little doodles, the black and what drawings that I was creating, those ended up in my book, The Creative Sandbox Way!
They ended up informing what my book became!
Small daily acts.
Small daily acts.
Busting the Lie
We do not need great, big chunks of time.
We want them. I am not saying to not take great, big chunks of time! What I am saying is, do not let the absence of great, big chunks of time prevent you from creating!
Now, it just so happens that I popped over to Facebook, where I have the Newsfeed Eradicator plugin installed, so instead of seeing my newsfeed, all I see is a random quotation.
(I do this, because when I see my Facebook newsfeed I get sucked right down a rabbit hole, and it can be hours before I’m able to extricate myself.)
It just so happens that the quote that was on there right before I started recording this podcast was this:
Doing just a little bit during the time we have available puts you that much further ahead than if you took no action at all.
~Pulsifier, Take Action, Don’t Procrastinate (from the Newsfeed Eradicator Facebook Plugin)
Small Daily Acts
That is the lesson I want you to take away: doing just a little bit.
Small daily acts.
For me that has come out as my ArtSpark artworks. It has come out as looping. It has come out as 3×5 card poetry/prose writing. It has come out as my doodles.
It always seems to circle back to something visual for me — that seems to be a grounding force. Figure out what your grounding force is, if you have one. Though maybe you’re different from me.
What is that thing, and where are the pockets, the nooks and crannies in your day, where you can always fit something in?
For me, it’s first thing in the morning. That might not work for you, but where is your first thing?
It might be first thing after work.
It might be first thing after you drop the kids off at school.
It might be first thing after breakfast.
Where is that first thing time for you? How can you build it into your day?
If it’s not built into your day, if you’re leaving it up to chance, if you’re leaving it up to when you find the time, it’s not going to happen.
Small daily acts.
Small daily acts build creative confidence.
Small daily acts will change your life.
And small daily acts will change the world.
Thanks for Listening!
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