How to kick monkey butt.

I’ve written a lot about the nature of the inner critic that confounds our creativity. And so far, I’ve urged you to fight it by just getting to work. That may not be as easy as all that, so let me be more specific with some ways you can push past that hectoring little voice in your head.

Just start. Do one small drawing on one small piece of paper. A Post-It. Or draw a loose grid on your sketchbook page and fill in one single square with a line drawing of your foot. Whistle while you do it. If the monkey starts to grumble, hum louder. Push off that inner criticism for 120 seconds until you can get something down on the page.

Creating something, anything, can break the logjam. And it can give you something to look back at hours later, to get excited about. Initially, the monkey may sneer about your tiny attempt but go back at it and look at it again. Find something to love in it. It’s in there.

Don’t talk about it. If you are having block, don’t endlessly discuss it and seek solace from others. The more you do, naming it and broadcasting it, The more you solidify the block, the more of  a living entity it becomes. Give it a name and you give it power. Stress over it and you become twisted and jailed.

My words here are a double-edged sword. I want you to be able to see that your problem is a common one, that you don’t suck any more than the rest of us. But the more we dwell on this discussion, the more attention the monkey gets, and the less time we are spending making something.

Give him a banana.  Try holding out some sort of reward to yourself. A bribe to get it done. Say, “if I do three drawings today, I can buy a new fountain pen. ” “Or I can watch TV for an hour if I draw during three of the commercial breaks”. Or “I can eat that donut, if I draw it first .”

Use this tool judiciously. You don’t want to end up obese, broke, or in jail.

donut

Get your lazy ass up. If the monkey tells you are a hopeless slug, agree with him. Tell him you want to improve and so you are going to set the alarm a little earlier and start the day right. Sit down and draw before your first cup of coffee. Fifteen minutes of drawing the reflections in the toaster as the coffee perks. Monkeys are lazy bastards too and they can’t get it together so early. I find I do my best work before I start reading email and talking to people and dealing with the day. Then for the rest of the day, I glow with that knowledge that I have already made art today and the rest is gravy. By knocking out a few drawings with the dawn, you will lubricate the wheels of habit while the monkey turns over and keep on snoring.

Do something you definitely suck at. Buy a medium that’s absolutely new to you. Draw on your iPad for the first time. Paint with ketchup on the kitchen counter. Play the digeridoo. By doing something you have never done before, you have the perfect excuse for sucking. If the monkey pops up, you can say, yes, yes, I know but this is my first time. Have fun. You’re making something. Sure, it’s no good. But keep going. Keep making. Keep exploring.

The great ape debates. If you can’t screen out your monkey, tune him in. Really put his critiques to the test. Ask the monkey to take the stand. Grill him.  But this time bring your inner lawyer to dissect his arguments.

Give the primate the benefit of the doubt. Take his arguments at face value and see if they hold any water. Maybe you do have room for improvement — none of us is perfect. You can learn and grow from self-examination. The thing we must avoid is self-destruction and abuse.

So, write down his complaints about you and come up with strong rational responses.  Write these down too. Next time the monkey levels these same criticisms at you, just tell him, “I’ve heard you and responded to the charges. What else you got?”

Stock your own arsenal. Sit down, like I’m doing, and come up with a bunch of ideas to trick yourself into sitting down and coming up with a bunch of ideas. If you want, start by critiquing my suggestions and then making up better ones that will work for you. Hate the idea of getting up at dawn? Fine, then draw at lunch, draw in the train, draw on the toilet. Come on, plus my ideas. What works for you?

The Voice continues

monkey-2
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.

no-pearl
(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…