It’s been a great 6 months. So why do I feel like giving up?

Escape Hatch on the HMS Portland

Hi and welcome back to The Clear-Minded Creative. As I’m writing this, it’s the beginning of July 2011, which means the year has reached the half-way point. And this blog has now been going for 6 months too. So it seems a good time for a little reflection.

I feel like I’ve achieved quite a bit since the beginning of the year. Three things that have happened since January 1st are amongst the biggest achievements of my life:

  • Starting this blog and getting a positive reaction to it
  • Getting consistent paid freelance copywriting work which I enjoy
  • Getting married (ok this one should have been no.1!)

All three of course are not just down to me – they’re all down to the help and support of other people.

So I feel especially grateful to have those people in my life as well as these amazing opportunities to reach new people through the blog and gain new experiences through my freelance work.

So why do I feel like giving up?

It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve given up on a good thing. In fact, I’ve done it consistently. For example I used to write a regular column/produce a podcast for a local magazine, but I gave it up as I felt the work involved far outweighed the rewards.

In retrospect it wasn’t always for completely the wrong reasons. Making some space in my schedule allowed me to get paid freelance work, after all. But now I feel like giving up again, even though I know I’m headed in a positive direction.

Impatience

The trouble is, I got impatient. I thought that now I had a bit of freelance work, maybe I could leave my day job. Maybe if I just got a bit more work, I could give up the security of the job which pays my mortgage and bills.

So I took on a few other pieces of work, and subsequently struggled to get them done. Not only that, but my work at my day job has also suffered – the worst of both worlds. Now I realise it was far too soon to expect to make a comfortable living freelance.

What’s even worse though is I’ve failed to keep to the schedule I promised to on this blog, even though I reduced the posting frequency recently from twice to once a week. I haven’t even managed that. And it stings.

Because I know I can do better.

And because I’ve become the polar opposite of clear-minded again. I’m overwhelmed, confused and frozen by indecision. And I’m trying to escape through reading all the blogs I follow in Google Reader and surfing my social media feeds – which only makes my mind more cluttered.

Hit Refresh

But hey, we all have relapses right? We all need to take a step back, reflect on what went right and do more of that and less of the other.

So I’m not going to give up. I’m just going to ask you to be kind and be a little patient with me, as I try and get back to full speed again. And I’m going to be a little more patient with myself and my situation and not try to force things to happen that aren’t meant to happen yet.

If you’ve not achieved your goals so far this year, could you turn things around? Or could you at least be a little kinder to yourself and celebrate the things you have achieved?

I hope so.

Here’s a wee video I made at the weekend to mark the six months mark of the blog and with a few hints of what’s to come for the rest of the year.

Thanks for sticking around so far. Let me know in the comments where you find yourself at the mid-point of the year and if you have a goal to achieve by the end of it. From now on I really want to bring the focus here back to how I can help others instead of moaning on about my own problems all of the time!

p.s. there’s more info on the record I mention in the video over at Song, By Toad.

p.p.s. In an effort to spend less time messing about with social media, I’m going to put Share Your Wares Sunday on pause for the time being, probably just for the rest of the summer. Thanks very much to everyone who’s taken part over the last few months.

warofart_cover_front

Clear-Minded Classics #2: The War of Art by Steven Pressfield

Image: Turf Wars – The Art Police by Pranksky

By turning the title of Sun Tzu’s ancient battle strategy The Art of War neatly on its head with The War of Art author Steven Pressfield is making a bold statement. But it’s not too much of an exaggeration to say that the book is every bit as fundamental and essential a read for creative people as the Chinese text has long been for the military (and the cunning business types who later adopted it).

Now a well respected historical novelist and screenwriter, his background as a US marine suggests that the word ‘war’ is not one that Pressfield takes lightly. But this is an internal battle, against the forces within us which keep us from moving forward.

Here’s how he describes his beliefs on writing and creativity on his website:

My writing philosophy is a kind of warrior code—internal rather than external—in which the enemy is identified as those forms of self-sabotage that I call “Resistance” with a capital R. The technique for combating these foes can be described as “turning pro.”

Now I’ve read a lot of books on creativity, and indeed many other topics, but I can say that none have had the dramatic effect on me that Pressfield’s book has. It was an instant wake-up call, making me realise that every day that went by that I wasn’t being creative was a wasted day because for whatever reason, I need to do it to feel good about myself.

It made me realise that the best way to stop being my usual miserable self was to get to work and practice my writing (and other creative skills) as often as possible. Now there has been the odd relapse, but I have written for approximately half an hour most days during the last six months and the effect on my confidence has been enormous.

Going Pro

What Pressfield is saying is, if you really want to conquer resistance to doing your creative work (or any other major thing that you want to achieve, whether it be run a marathon or start a business) you have to get serious about it. You have to accept that this is a daily battle against the forces within you which would rather take the easy way out and keep you firmly within your comfort zone. Deciding that you will do whatever it takes to win that battle is what Pressfield refers to when he talks about “turning pro”.

Whilst viewing things from this perspective may seem daunting at first, it’s actually a great relief to realise that you no longer need to blame or criticise yourself for your lack of progress in the past. Resistance is a fundamental aspect of human nature, and you’ve simply been lacking the correct strategy to overcome it. By identifying it and committing to fighting it, the book offers you the means to conquer the internal forces that seems determined to stop you achieving your goals.

The Daily Battle

The War of Art unfolds over various short passages exploring different aspects of what constitutes resistance and ways of combating it by committing to being a pro. One of the most affecting for me is ‘What a Writer’s Day Feels Like’. Nothing I’ve ever read before has so accurately captured the feeling of frustration I have if I go for very long without being creative:

I wake up with a gnawing feeling of dissatisfaction. Already I feel fear. Already the loved ones around me are starting to fade. I interact, I’m present. But I’m not.

(–)What I’m aware of is Resistance. I feel it in my guts. I afford it the utmost respect, because I know it can defeat me on any given day as easily as the need for a drink can overcome an alcoholic.

As long as he can get his creative work done each day, Pressfield describes how he can then relax and enjoy life and spending time with his family. Beating the resistance within himself feels literally like a weight off his shoulders:

The tension drains from my neck and back. What I feel and say and do this night will not be coming from any disowned or unresolved part of me, any part corrupted by Resistance.

In the final section Pressfield explores the spiritual aspect of creativity, what he calls the Muse. Again from his website, here’s a summary of what he believes:

I believe in previous lives and the Muse—and that books and music exist before they are written and that they are propelled into material being by their own imperative to be born, via the offices of those willing servants of discipline, imagination and inspiration, whom we call artists.

My conception of the artist’s role is a combination of reverence for the unknowable nature of “where it all comes from” and a no-nonsense, blue-collar demystification of the process by which this mystery is approached. In other words, a paradox.

I can understand how this latter section might put some people off if they don’t share the same views, but most creative people at least acknowledge the mysterious nature of inspiration – even if it is only 1% of the creative process, as per Thomas Edison’s famous quote that “genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration”.

The War of Art is essential reading for anyone who has ever procrastinated and delayed doing something that they know will improve their life, whether it be creative or not, because it lets you identify resistance and gives you tactics to defeat it. I also recommend following Pressfield’s Writing Wednesdays series in which he shares his continued battle against resistance – he is also currently sharing some of the processes involved in the publication of his latest book.

Buy The War of Art from Amazon.com|Amazon.co.uk (Kindle edition) (affiliate links) or download the ebook (pdf & epub)

Have you encountered resistance to being creative or to achieving other goals in your life? Have you read the War of Art? Let me know in the comments.

Note: for weekly updates on the current Clear-Minded Creative Challenge, and for extra tips and links on Clear-Minded Creativity, please sign up to the newsletter which goes out every Monday.

I Want to Believe The Hype - Stallio

Is Your Scepticism Holding You Back?

Image: I Want to Believe The Hype by Stallio

A massive thank you to everybody who has commented, spread the word on Twitter & Facebook, or emailed me with feedback about the first week of The Clear-Minded Creative – the response has been fantastic.

The blog was even featured on The Guardian Edinburgh, which amusingly attracted my very own “hater” in the comments, who described me as “like Anthony Robbins meets Adrian Mole”.

Unfortunately for my hater, I actually take that as a compliment – I was a big fan of Sue Townsend’s geeky creation as a kid, and I also think Anthony Robbins has a lot of good things to say.

What?? I hear you gasp!

Wait a minute – don’t tell me – might you be hugely sceptical or cynical about self-development?

If so, I can totally relate. It’s hard not to be in the face of an ever-increasing queue of self-appointed ‘gurus’, lining up to sell you the ‘secret’ or ‘hidden key’ to success, or a miracle cure for your insomnia/low self-esteem/alektorophobia (fear of chickens) – especially when you have to remortgage your house to afford it.

Anyone who sets themselves up as a guru immediately sets alarm bells ringing in our minds. Nobody’s perfect after all, so if someone’s selling us their lifestyle or personality as something we should be aspiring to, I for one can’t help wondering what they’re not telling us about this perfect life of theirs, like what skeletons they have in their closet or bodies buried under their patio.

Okay, I have an over-active imagination but you might have the same nagging sensation that the image they’re portraying is not quite the whole truth.

Throughout my adult life I’ve fluctuated between wide-eyed naivety (or open-mindedness depending on your view), and a stubborn cynicism. The truth is though that I regret the extended periods where I was most sceptical and closed-off to the possibilities of self-improvement.

But Surely It’s Good to be a ‘Healthy Sceptic?’

Now I do believe that there is such thing as healthy scepticism, because people need to have a sense of when people are trying to con them and scepticism of generally accepted “truths” can be a very healthy thing. We need to challenge pointless traditions and out-dated systems and opinions.

However if a person is too sceptical about things that could be helpful to them surely it is counter-productive.

Old-School Self-Help

We’ve all heard of self-help gurus who have become hugely successful such as Anthony Robbins, Deepak Chopra and Brian Tracy. Whilst the advice these people offer can often be very helpful for anyone willing to put in the hard work to implementing it, they also often charge a premium for their services and use pushy sales techniques which could put people off.

And many people can come away disappointed because they thought there would be an easy answer to their problems.

Despite this, I personally have benefited from the advice of these old school self-help types because I gave them the benefit of the doubt and listened to the useful things they had to say.

And the likes of Anthony Robbins have inspired others, such as life coach Tim Brownson who is bringing self-help kicking and screaming into modern times with his no-nonsense, but highly effective approach. You can tell just by reading his excellent blog that Tim is no ordinary life coach.

Aesthetics are Important

These days, someone like Chris Guillebeau who uses fresh and modern design is more likely to get the trust of the modern creative person than someone like Brian Tracy with his old school aesthetics. But sometimes it’s worth pushing past your preconceptions.

The Advantages of an Open Mind

This excellent article on the same topic at The School of Life suggests we need to reclaim a sense of ‘sceptical optimism and down to earth happiness’.

With an open mind you can look past things like aesthetics and find some useful information.  And no-one’s saying you have to agree with everything a person says to get something useful out of it. Each person is unique and a critical eye is of course necessary in order to pick out the specific things that apply to your own personality, talents and life situation.

Do you agree or disagree that there are benefits to having a more open mind? Have your say in the comments.

Self Portrait by chefranden

3 Simple Questions that are Difficult to Answer

So you’ve seen the name of this blog and maybe it sparked your interest – but you might still be wondering if being a clear-minded creative is even possible. Isn’t it a contradiction in terms?

After all, aren’t most creative people the opposite of clear-minded, with so many thoughts going round their heads they feel as if they might explode? Aren’t creative people spontaneous, confused and more often than not intoxicated?

It’s on the tip of my tongue..

I can’t deny that confusion, spontaneity and occasional hedonism are often part and parcel of a creative life. However there are great benefits to getting as clear-minded as possible if you want to really achieve something remarkable.

You know when you have the name of something on the “tip of your tongue” but no matter how hard you try you can’t think of it? Then ten minutes or an hour later, when you’re involved in something else entirely, it suddenly comes to you out of the blue?

Inspiration is like that – it needs space to grow, just like you need to make time to practice if you want to get better at a creative skill. The more clear-minded you are, the more access you have to that mysterious input.

Becoming a clear-minded creative takes a lot of hard work and determination. It begins with learning about yourself and making changes where needed. It involves setting up habits and systems that help you achieve as much as possible. And it involves continuous awareness.

Read on for three simple questions that are difficult to answer but key to being a clear-minded creative:

Happy New Year!

Hello! I’m excited to kick of 2011 with my first ‘proper’ post on this new blog – and I decided to record a quick video just to explain a bit further what you can expect.

In the video I talk briefly about the need for creative people to gain clarity, consistency and confidence in order to move ahead with their work.

The lack of any of these can seriously hold you back – and coincidentally, straight after I recorded it I was checking my Google Reader and found this excellent video by Chris Brogan on the exact same topic: My Escape Velocity – Confidence is a Key

I think he might be copying me with that beard though..

I’ve now also added an About Page in case you’re interested, and over the next few weeks I’ll be exploring what I mean by Clear-Minded Creativity a little further. In fact, posting here regularly is my ‘blogging new year resolution’, as you can see from this post over at Blogging Teacher in which I and 34 other bloggers reveal our intentions for the year.

What Have You Got Planned?

As I mention in the video, I’d love to hear about the creative projects you’ve all got planned for 2011 – please let me know in the comments!