Four Ways to Embrace the Tedious Process of Doing Creative Work

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If we get in the habit of relying on ourselves for entertainment, we can deal with solitude and boredom and drudgework much easier.

Do you often experience boredom and restlessness, like Lil’ Chimp? Do you search for endless ways to fill up your free hours, doing things like consuming alcohol or drugs, mindlessly surfing YouTube and watching the newest show on T.V?

If you’re a writer/ artist/ photographer/ singer, do you hate putting in the long, dull hours necessary to do your work?

You’re not alone. We all try escaping boredom and we all hate doing drudgework.

Ours is a society that caters to the lazy and the bored. There are endless activities to do, books to passively read, video games to play, and drugs to ingest. Society has developed to the point where, when left to our own devices, we don’t know what to do with ourselves.

(Thousands of years ago our ancestors never had the luxury of being bored—every day they struggled to find food and to survive.)

I can’t speak for you, but if you were born in North America, your basic needs—securing food, water, shelter, relationships and even luxuries—are probably already fulfilled. Most of us, then, are left with spare time to somehow to pass by. Corporations constantly build newer, weirder services and products that cater to the restless public—and we gladly consume them.

We’ll do anything to escape boredom: eat fast food, watch movies on Netflix, suck cigarettes, guzzle glasses of gin. As a consumer-driven culture, we’ve become heavily dependent on external things to pass the time. (My big time-wasters are Xbox and endless reading on the Internet.)

But when we turn to outside things to satisfy and entertain us, their effects soon wear off. We can go to as many parties and watch as many ‘talking cat’ videos as we want, but eventually the high will fade. We sober up and we’re left as bored and restless as before.

Two ways to deal with boredom

A)    We can turn to things outside of us for passive stimulation and entertainment, always searching for thrills that are more potent than the last.

B)    Or we can look at boredom as an opportunity to look within for pleasure. We can dedicate ourselves to mastering a craft, so that we develop skills that bring us real, lasting satisfaction as opposed to fleeting pleasure.

If we get in the habit of relying on ourselves for entertainment, we can deal with solitude and boredom and drudgework much easier.

When confronted with a stretch of solitude, we can learn to control our squirminess and force ourselves to sit down and practice our skills. By doing this, we’ll slowly lose our impatience for the slow and tedious and even come to enjoy it—well aware of the real and undying pleasures that lie ahead.

Potential Pitfall:

Let’s say you decide to use your down time to write a novel. But all the work that lies ahead intimidates you. The thought of writing 350 pages of prose can prevent you from even starting on page one.

Once again, you feel bored and restless. You want to distract yourself with something that brings immediate pleasure. You want to skip the process for the shiny reward.

But nothing worth attaining in life can be had without self-discipline and a continuous grind toward some end goal. You must learn not to loath this process, but to love it. Consider the following as ways to train yourself to embrace the arduous process of doing creative work.

1. Start small and simple

Think about a big goal that you want to achieve, e.g. writing a book or making an album. Then write a list of small things you can do today that will bring you one step closer to achieving that goal, e.g. outlining the book’s central topic or getting the guys together to brainstorm the album’s theme.

Get into a habit of working on one small thing each day (or every other day). The key is to develop some self-discipline, to learn the benefits that can be gained by being patient and engaging in consistent, deliberate practice. You’ll soon feel some momentum generating.

2. Immerse yourself in specifics

Train yourself to concentrate deeply on technique. If you are painting, set aside at least 30 minutes each day and focus on the details of the portrait. What isn’t working? What are you getting better at? Pay attention to your results. Then adjust and tweak your approach along the way.

Instead of imagining how great the finished piece will look, bring yourself into the present moment. You’re going to be bombarded with distracting thoughts—bills to pay, relationship issues, cats that need attention—but try hard to hone in on what you’re doing. There is no greater feeling than losing self-awareness and getting absorbed in a process. Mihaly csikszentmihalyi calls this flow.

3. Move to higher levels

The thrill of mastering something small and advancing to higher skill levels is greater than any cheap pleasure that can be had. This is the stage when you should be learning to enjoy the process for what it is. You will start to get excited about practicing your craft because you know that just around the corner lies another exciting stage for you to conquer.

4. The process is the reward

It’s tempting to desire success and recognition and accolades after all the hard work you’ve done. And there’s nothing wrong with that. If you’ve done the work and put in the time, you deserve to be rewarded. But don’t let the desire for success take you away for what you really should be focusing on—giving your work everything you have and staying true to your vision. If you’ve done that, then the work becomes its own reward and external success will become less and less of a driving force in your life.

I like author Steve Pressfield’s advice:

That Lincoln or Cadillac is taking us nowhere. The action is here on the sidewalk, where we are right now.

Best,
Aaron.

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Image by Linda (jinterwas)

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6 comments on “Four Ways to Embrace the Tedious Process of Doing Creative Work

  1. Nice post, Aaron! You hit on a lot of the distractions that plague us. I had to make a conscious effort to tune them out when I started writing seriously. I was making the excuse that I didn’t have time to write, but when I sat down and mapped out how I spent my time, it was clear that I had plenty of time – I was just using it badly. I think it stems from fear and anxiety – what if I can’t do it? what if I fail? what if nobody ever reads it? etc etc. The fear paralysed me, and I distracted myself with TV, going out to the pub, etc. Cutting out the distractions left me face to face with my anxiety and I had to just deal with it and create.

    • Thanks, Andrew. Starting to write was hard for me too. I agree with you, putting it off stems largely from fear and anxiety about how the work will be received. There are many ways to get over this, but usually just starting and building off of self-generated momentum helps.

      Cutting out distractions has definitely worked for me too. It has forced me to actually enjoy the process of writing; without T.V or other entertaining things to turn to, I have no choice but to engage with my writing instead of doing it half-heartedly (which is what I used to do). Thanks again for the comment!

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