Thursday, April 9, 2015

The Blank Page

Last week I listened to a podcast of The Conversation Hour in which Jon Faine was talking with Rachel Power, Clare Bowditch and Pip Lincolne about the book Motherhood & Creativity: The Divided Heart.

And there was a moment that really resonated with me.  It was a good conversation, interesting, inspiring but there was a singular moment that really punched me in my heart.

Rachel Power said this:

"There isn't that 'what you put in you'll directly get out'.  You're not going to work and you'll get paid for those set number of hours.  You're trying to maintain a practice and you can spend three hours wrestling with a blank page with no outcome at all and how do you justify that when you've got mountains of washing piling up and a family that needs feeding?"

You know for me, I don't really relate it to Motherhood.  Not entirely.  I mean being a Mum has impacted, sure because I am now responsible for two small human beings and they need me to be there both physically, to provide them food and shelter, and emotionally, to hear them and help them.  So I cannot just pursue my creativity on a whim, whenever it suits me or when I feel inspired to do so.

But to be fair, I don't think that my lack of creative output can solely be put down to the over reaching commitments of parenthood.  Because when I think back to my pre-baby life then I was only creating on a whim, or when I was inspired.  That's a problem too because that is not maintaining a practice.

Unfortunately my lessons have come back to front.  I'm learning it's not so much being a Mother that impacts on my creativity it's lack of self mastery.  It would have been great if had learnt in my 20's that creativity requires discipline and tenacity much more than it requires talent and inspiration.  But conversely it is Motherhood that is teaching me that.

I am somewhat irked to admit I have spent too much of my adult life thinking that talent was some sort of prerequisite to creative success and endeavour.  I no longer think that is the case, haven't done for some time, but still it feels like the realisation came too late.

Sure, talent can help.  But it can also hinder.  Because even if you are talented, you still need to do the work.  Conversely you might start out not as talented as you would like, but if you invest the time and energy you will improve your skills, whatever your medium, whereas a talent not nurtured can fade.

I'm damn sure now that I would rather have discipline, commitment, tenacity and self-belief than talent.  Talent guarantees nothing.  Commitment at least will see you through.

There was so much in Rachel's comment that connected with me.  Firstly the notion that "you can spend three hours wrestling with a blank page with no outcome at all and how do you justify that" is a great one.  And to me it has less to do with the piles of washing that needs doing or the meals that need cooking than the feeling that spending three hours with a blank page is a sheer waste of bloody time.

I'm not good at process.  I'm learning to be better at it, but if I spend a couple of hours writing, or drawing or painting and all I come out with is a badly written something and a crappy watercolour  I feel like it's not worthwhile.  I'm still learning that this is all part of the process.  That you don't just sit down at the keyboard and write a novel from beginning to end.  Or paint a masterpiece in an afternoon.  You need to do the work.  And more often than not doing the work means grinding through the rock until you get to the gem.

It's just that for so long I have made these assumptions about myself: that if I could write - was really writer, or had any talent - that it wouldn't be so fucking hard.  Yes.  It's taken me most of my life to finally learn that it is fucking hard and you just have to get on with it.  Or not.  But the thing that makes me 'a writer' (in quotes because I mean this in a soul sense, not in a professional or legitimate sense) is that I want to write, despite the fact that it isn't always or even often easy.  It to some degree is not even a choice.  I've tried to not do it, but for me that is much, much harder than doing it.  And way less satisfying.

I've only recently been shown that it is hard for even the most talented and successful people.  But they don't assume that just because it's hard means they aren't any good at it.  They have the self belief to know it's not about them - it's just the process.  And they have the self mastery to keep going - to trust in that process.

I think I've spent way too much time and energy focusing on the big picture - grand plans and vast dreams.  Then feeling like a failure at them.  When what I should have been doing is just putting one foot in front of the other.  Sometimes one step is all it takes, followed by another and another and another.  Then you look back and realise you've come a bloody long way.

Blogging has taught me a lot about that.   And running.  With both of these activities you just have to show up and do the work.  So much of that has to do with taking ego out of the equation - the voice that says it's too hard or not worth it.  That says you are no good at it.  Shut that little guy up.

Like I said.  I just wished I'd worked this out a couple of decades ago.

Rachel also refers to 'maintaining a practice' and this really resonated with me too.  Because in meditation and yoga, two things I love a lot, the practice, the process is the whole.  There is no end game, no destination, no place to be - except right where you are, doing the work.  Both of these disciplines require an understanding that some days you will have "good" practice or "bad" practice, sometimes your mind will be busy and your body tight.  Other days you might feel like a Guru or a Yogi.  Neither of these matter, because good and bad are merely labels and cannot and do not define the act of the practice.

Let go of the labels and the ego will follow.

This whole conversation was really great, inspiring, enlightening, somehow nourishing.  But that one paragraph for me was the biggest take out, because it resonated so deeply about so many things.

I really recommend you have a listen here.

Something that struck me about all three women is that there is a grace about them - something that makes you feel like it's all really easy for them.  And yet if you listen, really listen to the words that they speak, what they are all actually saying is that you need to do the work.  Whatever the circumstances, small children, busy households, sick parents, big mortgage you need to find a way to do the work.  Make it happen.  It won't always be easy, and sometimes it will be really damn hard.  But it's just what you need to do if you want to live a happy creative life.

Finally I am learning the lessons.  Finally I am doing the work.  Finally I am understanding the process.  Better late than never.

Listen to the podcast and tell me, what was your biggest outtake?


  1. I loved the podcast and also resonated with that idea that creativity can feel wasteful - particularly when the house is a mess and my writing isn't going to pay any bills. The book is so great - reading it at the moment.

  2. Loved this podcast and your post. Creative projects take perseverance. And it can seem that the success comes easy but often there's a lot of work, self discipline and determination to make that success happen.
    I'm glad you've found your path.

  3. Just wanted to say I really loved this post, you've managed to put into words what I had been telling myself about different parts of my life, but I can see they are really a whole! I've been wanting to be more creative for ages and I'm just setting out with my own blog after years of thinking about it and also wanting to do more photography, yet I haven't approached it in the same way I do with my exercise and meditation practise, where I tell myself just turning up and doing it is the most important thing, not whether I have a "good" or "bad" session. You've given me a bit to think about! xx

    1. Gosh, Thanks Jacqui! I love that I've given you a lot to think about - that's the feeling I had after listening to the podcast and it's so replenishing. Love having good stuff to think about! Sounds like we are at similar stages on the path. Good luck with the blog - how exciting!

  4. Love the post will now listen to podcast. I used to think i couldn't draw or paint but as I got older I realised I could I just needed to practice. I wished I started earlier. Creativity is a muscle that needs to be exercised to strengthen and grow. My main obstacles to exercising my creativity are procrastination and self doubt.

    1. Exactly Claire. Nailed it. Hope you enjoy the podcast.

  5. I really enjoyed listening to that interview too Kate. I felt so happy that I am on the path of being more creative. I am a bit late to the party too, but it feels like the right time for me. The great thing is with all the research being done on neural plasticity I think we can feel confident that what we do makes a difference, so putting in the time to use the creative side of our brain. I am excited for you too , what a great thing to realise. Keep doing the work ( and remember that play is part of that "work") . Emily xx

    1. Thank you Emily - I need to remember that - that play is a part of the 'work'. I have a really bad habit of turning everything I do into a task or a chore. I'm not sure why I do this, but I'm working hard at lightening up (see, I've even made that a task! sheesh!) :) x

  6. Hmmm, really interesting stuff. I think you are at the right place with it though. However, I really want you to stop regretting that you didn't work this all out before. You keep coming back to that point and I think that when you let it go, your creative journey will become easier. You said this yourself, now you just gotta do it :)
    I always think of it as a creative journey. We all take different paths and some people don't even bother (which is very very sad) but the process is such a huge part of the outcome.
    My creative background is the performing arts and all my training was very much about process. I'm really grateful of that now because I am so much more relaxed about just working through things; with art and life. I sound all very guruish and I'm sorry because I am SO not.

    Lovely stuff, and a timely reminder for me to just trust the process. Thank you.

    1. Thank YOU Nicole, you are right. It's hard for me to turn off the reflective, critical-thinking part of my brain. But that need to be more in the moment and less reflecting on the past is part of the reason that creative 'work' is so important to me. Nice one. x

  7. Such a well-written post OneSmallLife. Putting in the work is key. So often, when we want to succeed at something, we want to be good at it NOW and not in a year or five years or twenty years. I had that conversation with myself the other day. I'm in China learning Chinese, and after a week of classes, I was overwhelmed with frustration at myself when I couldn't even have a basic conversation at the market. But then I thought 'Lighten up! You've been here a week! Do you expect to be fluent after a week? No! You've shown up, you're here, going to classes every day...every day you'll improve, but you have to do the work! Be patient'. Not always so easy to practice, patience, but the older I get, the more I feel like talent is secondary and patience, persistence and not making excuses (especially to yourself!) are the most important things. Thanks for the wonderful post! x

  8. Hi, I just found your blog via Emma at Potter and Bloom. I also just wrote a post this morning something along the lines of this one. And I do so agree ... you simply have to find a way to do the work and keep turning up and doing it! So why is that so easy to type and so much tougher to make happen.