Anti- and Procrastination.

An interesting discussion on procrastination and its antidotes flared up on our Facebook group this morning. In case you’re not yet a member, I am reproducing my response here. There were even more  interesting POVs from other members posted there.

Self portraits with blotches
Self portraits with blotches

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” – Lao-tzu

I find that if I really want to do something, I find the time, The question is how to make myself really want to do what I think I should do. Sometimes drawing falls into that category because I know that if I become more and more irregular in my practice, the results are less satisfying which decreases my desire to do it, and so on.
The biggest obstacle generally lies across the threshold, the first step is the biggest one. Once I start in on a project, it becomes all encompassing and procrastination is no longer a factor. The ball is rolling.
My most potent solution has been to break any task into bite size pieces. I can conceive of  doing a small drawing in ink but not painting a whole canvas or filling a sketchbook. So I think about it when I walk to work, mull over the things I could draw and what sort of significance they might have to me. I find that writing is rolle dinto that contemplation and sometimes I’ll write down a sentence on the pievce of paper I carry in my jacket or text myself a line or two on my phone. That sort of early work keeps the embers glowing so when I get home, I am raring to go. Then I’ll do the drawing in ink, telling myself that’s all I need to do, it’ll just take a few minutes. Then , as I get into doing the drawing, I find time evaporates and I spend more and more time until I like the results. Then I walk away. One of the things about working with a dip pen is you have to leave the piece a while to let it dry. That brief intermission gives me perspective and then I think of the painted layer as a new project, but also bite sized. I have all my paints and sumi ink hand and I just hop on it. Sometimes, I am too impatient and screw things up because my India ink is still not 100% dry. I guess that sort of sloppiness is my signature style, at least that’s what I tell myself.
Anyway, this approach, convincing oneself to just spend a minute climbing to the first rung, seems to work quite well for me. I have written a  dozen books this way, one paragraph at a time (Anne Lamott calls it “One bird at a time” in her book of the same name), fitting in the time to create between meetings and obligations and family time and haircuts.
It’s how I wrote this overlong answer to your question*, when I really should be brushing my teeth and getting to work.

* A member kicked off the discussion with her question: “Procrastination seems to be a real roadblock to creativity…I do it myself, I would like to hear how others overcome the urge to *do other things* instead of art…”

What do you think? Answer here or on the Facebook group page. Don’t put it off!


I’ve been following a discussion on the Everyday Matters group and it has gotten my wheels turning. The talk has been about the utility of specific drawing assignments suggested by others, whether there’s really utility or purpose to everyone deciding to draw a piece of fruit one week, a pair of shoes the next, and then sharing their work and discussing it. While some people love it and have made it the main business of the group, others have complained that it has diverted the purpose of the group and distracted it from its original intention.
I’m not interested in taking sides because I think any sort of drawing is a good thing. However, I’d like to clarify what I’m up to with my drawing. While I have done some nice drawings here in Rome, I’m not interested in being a travel writer or an illustrator or a fine artist.
I want to live my life to its fullest and I find that drawing what I encounter deepens my appreciation. While I share my work with others, I make it for me. When I have unusual and interesting experiences like I’m having in Rome right now, my drawings seem to have a wider interest. But my core philosophy is that every day matters. Every single day. The day you meet the president. The day you have a baby. The day you find a special on sirloin at the supermarket. The day you get your shoes back from the cobbler. I find that drawing helps me to commemorate those events, large and small, dull and transformative. For me, that’s the point of art. To deepen my understanding of my life.
If someone else’s suggestion that I draw a particular thing opens my eye to fruit or glasses or the pattern of sunshine on my counterpane, then that’s great. But ultimately, we all live different lives and are handed assignments by each dawning day. Each day we’re handed a new set of challenges, new rivers to ford, new choices and wonders and pains and lessons. If we think the day is full and familiar, we need just dig deeper into it, look for fresh insight, peel back the layers of the onion. I find that drawing helps me do that.
Art lessons familiarize one with the tools but they are not a substitute for digging one’s own ditches, constructing one’s own nest. They are just abstractions and life is very concrete. I enjoy what I learn in life-drawing classes, but learn far more by drawing my wife’s sleeping body, my reflection in the bedroom mirror.
To draw, one must draw. Exercises and academic and books provide examples of what one might do, but experience is the real teacher. Take tomorrow as your assignment. Draw your breakfast, your bus stop, your bathroom wall while you’re shitting, your laundry as you fold it, your children as they watch TV, your pillow as you wait for lights out.
Be bold with your exploration. Capture what you do and have always done. Then push yourself to new experiences if only to draw them. Visit new neighborhoods and draw them. Meet new people and draw them. Try new foods, read new books, smell new flowers, do anything that will deepen your understanding and your appreciation of your world and your place in it.
I don’t care if you think your drawings suck, if you are ashamed to show them to anyone else. What matters is that you pause and contemplate. If your record of that contemplation is inaccurate, try again. Feel deeper. See deeper. Slow down. Relax. And tomorrow, do it again. You aren’t being graded or evaluated on your drawing. No more than you are being evaluated on your life itself. The only thing that matters is you. What you experience. How you experience it. How much you get out of this day and the next. This is your life. Dig into it. Embrace it. Notice its curves and angles. Explore its corners. Feels its edges and put them down on paper. The pen, the page, are just tools for you to take time and slow it down. I can’t make you do it my way, any more than I can force you to live your life my way. You decide, you forge your style, you pick the line that draws your life.
Take tomorrow and instead of hesitating and questioning and doubting and fretting, draw your breakfast, draw your day. Then try it again the day after. With each successive day, you’ll be clearer and deeper. If you miss a day, don’t freak out or beat yourself up. Just take on the day after that.
Share the results if you’d like. By sharing you will find commonality and support. But maybe you don’t need more than self sufficiency. In that case, keep your drawings for yourself. Or toss them out as you do them. The drawings don’t matter, the drawing does.