The Voice continues

I am traveling again, this time on the 6 a.m. train to Washington DC. And again, I am thinking about the Voice in my head (I first wrote about it a couple of days ago) and the other ways in which it can monkey with my creative plans.
This jabbering voice doesn’t resort only to vicious critiques to stymy my creativity. It likes to concoct diversions to distract me too:
Like, why make a drawings with the pen that’s in my pocket when I could plan a trip to the art supply store, and burn up money and energy instead? That’ll make sure I end up on the couch, dozing, my new art supplies still in the bag by the door.
Or, maybe I should just check out some of my pals’ blogs, see what they’re up to. Man, they are so creative and productive. I really do suck by comparison.
Or how about a snack? Maybe we should go out for a donut?
Okay, back to work. Wait, I should get some inspiration, do some research. Let me try to find that David Hockney book I have on the shelf somewhere. Ah, here it is. Hmm, so Hockney mentions a Franz Hals painting here, what did that look like exactly? Let me just pop open Google Images and see… Oh, look, that cat is cute…
All this activity makes it seem like I am doing something, but I’m not really. I’m just pissing away time and defeating my creative impulse with thoughts of fine art, chocolate, naps, sex… The illusion of productivity is the bone the monkey throws me. We’ll start tomorrow, I swear .
Negotiation is the monkey’s ploy. If it isn’t condemning or seducing, it’s bargaining.
But remember, the monkey doesn’t want what’s good for me. He is selfish and vindictive. He wants me slow and weak and distracted so he can have his way — uncreative, status quo,
Here’s another ploy: “There’s no point in starting until you have your act together so let’s get the ducks in a row”. A good stalling tactic but I wont fall for it. Back off, chimp. There are way too many ducks and rows are for accountants. Organization is irrelevant to making stuff. Art needs to be messy. A neat stall is the sign of a dead horse. Sure, it’s a good idea to know where you keep your pencils but being anal doesn’t help you create shit (as it were). The random juxtaposition of stuff and chaos is the seeds of art. If oysters were prissy about keeping out all the sand, we wouldn’t have pearls.
The fact is order, security, and perfection are all illusions. Life can never be perfect and again I am just wasting time.

(For some reason, I am reminded of those boat owners who sit in the marina drinking beer on board and never raise their anchors and head out to sea. Rather than adventures, they have the most expensive bar stools in town.)
The ape loves a good fight too. If I find I am quarreling with others and venting emotion inappropriately, chances are that I am not drawing, not writing, not thinking. Or alternatively, I may find myself overworking, nights and weekends (on projects fueled by drudgery and obligation not passion) living out of balance, out of harmony, out of fast food containers, far from my true self. The monkey loves french fries and insomnia.
In my job, I often encounter people who are driven to melodramatics by their inner monkey puppeteers. They act out, drawing attention to themselves, making excuses, having fits, being prima donnas, making demands, when they could just put their heads down and make more stuff. Client questions your decision? Throw a fit. Need to cover up a blunder? The best defense is a good offensive speech of self-righteous indignation. Not.
Making more stuff is the best revenge. Put your creative energies to work coming up with more ideas, not with histrionics. Get back to work.
Another monkey game is monkeying with my health, mental and physical. Am I not productive because I am depressed? Or is the other way round? Is this cancer or hypochondria? Start doing and see what happens to your mood. If something indeterminate ails me, I hang it up for long enough to write or draw a page or two of my dream. See if I feel better, less blue, more energized. My back won’t hurt, my allergies will recede. When I wake up at 3 a.m. with the ape chattering in my ear, I can only take so much lying there in the darkness. So I crawl out of bed, go to my desk and draw or write something, anything, Then my mind is eased, the chimp goes back to sleep and so do I.

How does the Voice monkey with you? I’d love to know…


  1. Eileen

    Thanks for this Danny. As you mentioned above, the voice is constantly telling me that I need to clean up my studio before I can create, or that a coffee is in order, or the laundry needs to be done, etc., etc. I have to work hard to avoid that voice.

  2. Ryn

    another bang on post about the evil chimp that can take over us!!! such truth…I love it….and I wish to keep fighting the good fight alongside you and force the evil chimp into long term hibernation indefinitely!!!!

  3. Chrisf

    If we “fix up” the ape in your head with the ape in mine, will they go off for a weekend together somewhere and leave us both alone?

  4. Arja

    I absolutely have the same problem and I think it’s because we are afraid to fail. I’ll do everything that needs to be done as far as housework, paperwork, checking my computer for emails etc. before planting myself in the studio and getting to it. And once I’m on a roll, that voice disappears.

  5. Norena Fox

    My monkey voice says: pen or pencil, colored pencil or watercolors or no color, gee, I think I should draw a series of fruit, or vegetables, portraits? I don’t think so, I can’t do that. Get off of this computer and draw, oh. one more search, Make a journal or draw, etc. Thank you Danny for letting me know that I am alone and can do better.

  6. Ellen Ward

    My monkey tells me to do other “more important ” things —because doing what I want to do is ‘self indulgent’. The monkey did not move in with me until about 2007. I was doing fine without him. He arrived on the heels of a lot of upheaval and brought a suitcase filled with questions that were better left unsaid. One thing that is often overlooked about him is that he is very very cute—-so he wins one over by this gift. Recently I have told monkey to shut up and get his own apartment because he hogs the remote control of our shared creativity. Bad monkey…

  7. bohemianopus

    Thanks for putting into writing (and drawing) a problem many of us have. We can now collectively attack that evil chimp and get on with our work!

  8. Nancy Seiler

    Danny, thank you for putting words to this. I’ve only painted once since Feb. although I’ve taught some classes to kids and adults and therefore was forced to do some drawing. I have made time by referring one of my graphic design clients but have just been tired lately with monkey mind. But I know I just need to begin… (Again and again)

  9. Patti

    Well… are you my lost twin? I think it’s got to do with our education. Why every creative soul misses their childhood? Because then we where living in the present. Doing what we wanted to. Following our impulses. But when you are a child there’s always someone that reminds you to behave. And then when you are an “adult” you tend to think that being free is… somehow irresponsible. That’s why I think we have this “monkey” inside us making our lives “unlivable”. Well sorry if that word does not exist in english…

  10. Cindy Schott

    This book helped me when I was stuck:

  11. ruby opaltones

    Spot on. Interesting how what yo describe is so recognizable to so many of us. In Buddhist teachings, this “issue” is called “Monkey Mind”. You might find it fun to know that My monkey mind sends me to your books for inspiration :D

  12. Matthias

    Danny, again your words reminds me on my “ape”. The ape often tells me, that there are much more “important” things than drawing. But when I ask him, what to do instead, he always refuse me an answer, this bloody little devil-ape!
    When I stop drawing and obey the monkey, I fall in a bad mood, feeling a bit depressed… and so I think:
    This monkey is nothing more than a “destroyer”, he is not constructive! This unhappy beast! :-D
    So I learn more and more to ignore the monkey “I don’t care what the monkey allowes, I’m drawing like I want, any hour! ” –
    Drawing defends me from the “Black cloud crossed my mind
    Blue mist round my soul” (Yer Blues – The Beatles)

    and just in this moment, the bloody ape is telling me, that my english sucks???
    ( I’m so sorry…) :-(
    – Matthias (Germany)

    • dannygregory

      I love your English, Matthias! (Dumme Affen!)

      • Matthias

        Thank you, Danny ! –
        but my “dummer Affe” always tries do make problems –
        but one fine day I show him, that I am the BOSS in my home!!! :-D

  13. Adriana

    The monkey is really messing up with you Danny.
    I just wanted to say we like you for being you.
    Cheer that spirit!

    • dannygregory

      I’m fine. Just channeling thoughts I think most people have. And sometimes, I do too!

  14. Kathy Kelly

    My inner critic is the voice of my father, the voice of my guilt-infused religion. Until very recently, I woke up every morning – and spent half the day proving to myself that I really wasn’t a bad person. It had to do expiating guilt, before I could have fun. Now, I may be “wrong”, but so what?

    Drawing and painting seems to happen independently of this Voice, unless I start muddying my art with externally generated goals and worries about what people think. One thing I have tried recently is analogue drawings (explained in a book by Betty Edwards – Drawing on the artist within).

    Danny, you have influenced me greatly since reading your first book, Creative License. I like to draw out what I see, what I feel, without looking over my own shoulder. Just doing it. You are a good example. Kathy

    • dannygregory

      Thanks, Kathy. And I am indebted to Betty Edwards too.

  15. caymayowrites

    I think we must be related—We share the same monkey!

  16. Jean-Christophe DEFLINE

    Love it ! I’m so happy to see i’m not the only one trying to fight with that tricky monkey. Except mine is very very smart, whispering me things like life is not all about drawing or that i would be a dangerous monomaniac should he not distract me. And the bad news is I’m often mentally deficient enough to believe him.
    I understand better now why we say ‘malin comme un singe’ in french. Sorry bout this Danny; your favorite ape is gong to suggest you to open a french dictionary ;-)

  17. Anna Cull

    You are wise. You are crazy. A great combination. I hope you won’t mind if I appropriate your “A neat stall is the sign of a dead horse” line : )

  18. Janet

    Well, crap. How the heck? Either you’ve been to my house or we all struggle with the same obnoxious voice. That voice uses every excuse mentioned, except donuts. I like chocolate & naps & research, but I really like creating. So, my new mantra shall be: Draw now – distractions later, maybe much later. Thank you (again) for the reality check!
    *Closes computer. Grabs closest available pen & sketchbook. Voice prattles on to empty chair.

  19. zookyworld

    Several gems here, along with the biggest one of the monkey keeping the artist from getting to work and creating. My favorite of your gems: “The random juxtaposition of stuff and chaos is the seeds of art.” Wonderfully said.

  20. Christie

    My voice wants me to be doing “more productive, less indulgent things”. It tells me I have talent enough to balance on the head of a pin, but no more. I am learning to ignore what it is saying because listening to “the voice” leads to depression and a spiraling decrease to creativity. Strangely, this voice often sounds like it is concerned for my welfare…. Hmmm. Time to create is hard enough to carve out of my day, arguing with my monkey brain wastes what little time I find! That being said, I am going to paint!

  21. Susan King

    My monkey tells me to go read your book instead of drawing LOL

  22. Gayle

    I feel a real relief reading about all these monkeys. Now I have a name for it that isn’t as self-destructive as all the ones I regularly use. (Lazy, no-talent, ADHD, frozen-scared, too-late-for-me-anyway, bound to fail, depressed, etc., etc.) Thank you, thank you, thank you Danny and everyone else here.

  23. Suhita Shirodkar

    Danny, your monkey puts a face to the voice in my head. maybe it’ll be easier to defeat now that it has a face. Your art and your writing have been such an inspiration. From a kid that drew incessantly, I grew up to be a Graphic Design major that forgot she loved drawing. I came back to it 4 years ago. Everyday Matters got me back. And for that, and all that has followed, thank you, for always! Now to get off the web and go do a sketch!

  24. Corliss

    Well how about that? So many monkeys and apes and gorillas on so many people’s backs! My little devil of a monkey has been very sneaky and hides himself from me so that I am constantly stressed out. Actually been leading me to believe I am too old to cut the mustard so why bother?
    Thank you so much for shedding the light on your little furry bastard who (I believe) is the identical twin of mine! xo

  25. Sandy Guderyon

    Hi Danny and thanks for writing your thoughts on the monkey! I think that The Monkey (great name) is a combo guy made up of The Doubter and The Realist. As a life coach, I hear this all the time from everybody except one client. These parts of us don’t like change and they worry-all the time! A great tool to help this ease up is to think of The Monkey like a little child that tugs on our pants leg to get our attention, and will do that until it does!
    So: ask ‘it’ what it wants, tell it you will take it under advisement and send it to the kitchen for a
    cup of tea! It’s probably telling you things like-what are you thinking, do you have enough time, you don’t have the money…whatever. Think about whether it’s telling you something that really does need attention.
    Every time you answer it, the voice lessens.
    Otherwise, it just keeps yelling at you.
    In the end: YOU are the boss of it.
    IT isn’t the boss of you.
    Also: you can interview your Monkey…on paper. Works great!
    All the best at your conference.

    • dannygregory

      Great and inspiring suggestions, Sandy. Thanks so much!

  26. Corinne Korda

    Hi Danny,

    looks like your monkey has a lot of cousins all over the place – the one in my head is certainly a relative. By the way, it also tells me that reading your book is better than drawing…. which is great fun anyway! Regards

  27. Lynn

    I just laughed like a chimp upon reading this…oops! That’s probably a bad sign….

  28. Ruth Altheim

    I too was listening to the critical voice within when, a couple of years ago, I met an artist actually painting in a gallery at a Smithsonian museum. She recommended a book that changed my thinking forever and I highly recommend it. Author Julia Cameron “The Artist’s Way.” Link: … If you read this, you will re-focus, regain your direction and energy, sorry, I sound like a commercial. I’m a retired computer consultant in my third year of studying art at my local university and before reading this book, my thinking and passion to visually communicate was adrift, lost and listening to the stuff that went on in my head.

  29. Kooky

    ‘it’s a good idea to know where you keep your pencils but being anal doesn’t help you create shit’ is going on my next journal page. My monkey can’t get me there…

  30. mikebone

    My monkey just sabotaged my reply that I had all typed out & submitted then disappeared. I ain’t laying down that easy monkey…

    My monkey as of late tells me to put off creating until tomorrow. After all, whatever I create will have wrong perspective, proportions, etc & not be realistic looking enough. It’s the Perfectionist Monkey, and I’ve given that monkey the bird lately by sharing all the work i’ve been doing – the good, bad, and ugly. I’ve also told my PR Monkey to take a hike. He tells me I have to concentrate on building up my public profile & ego by sharing only my success. But I’ve found that what’s really helpful to others is when I share from my weakness and failures. My response has been to return to blogging myself ( with more confession & authenticity. So that monkey can go choke on a banana.

  31. Who cloned that monkey!

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  1. Beautiful Mess