New podcast: Ilise Benun

Here’s this week’s excuse. We’re in the middle of the biggest shoot we’ve done for Sketchbook Skool and I have been debating all week with the monkey on getting out this podcast.  We’ve been at it from the crack o’ dawn till well into the dinner hour every single day this week and the Fuggedabout-It monkey has been gleefully urging me to skip posting a new episode for the first time.

I almost gave in a few times until the Perfectionist monkey chimed in to say, “What!? I thought you said this was gonna be a weekly podcast. You can’t miss an episode, you lazy buttwipe.”

I would nod earnestly until another voice piped up to tell me no one listens to or cares about the podcast, another would say I never follow through with anything, another said I was being a slave driver and it was time for a cold beer, and on and on till the break a dawn.

Which bring me to the podcast itself which you are about to listen to (I hope). It’s about how the monkey moves the goal posts, giving any sort of contradictory advice it wants, anything that fits its agenda and derails mine.

I had a nice chat about this topic and many others Ilise Benun. She is the founder of Marketing-Mentor.com where she dispenses sound, actionable advice for creative professionals. Ilise has been coaching freelancers and creative business owners for thirty years and has written more than a half dozen book essential books on how to build and manage your practice, connect with great clients, and be smarter and happier in what you do. She is intelligent and empathetic, and her counsel is practical and clear.

Here’s the episode:

Or better yet, subscribe to the whole series on iTunes (and leave a nice review).

Or you can visit monkeypodcast.com and listen to the episodes right in your browser.

What’s your experience with your monkey? How has it affected you, and how have you overcome it? Record your Monkey Tale at dannygregory.com/monkey.

Inspiration Tuesday: Michael Nobbs

My pal Michael Nobbs suffers from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and yet is a creative and productive artist. We had a chat recently about how he does it and how we can all use his techniques to get more done each day.

Michael is also a teacher in the newest kourse at Sketchbook Skool. If you would like to more tips, suggestions and perspectives from him and our other new fakulty, check out Expressing at SBS.com.

From to-do to Done Deal.

I frequently risk being the prisoner of my ambition. I dream big and often, then wake up exhausted with a long to-do list and a sense of dread. How will I get it all done? How will I climb this mountain I have built?

I sit at its base, exhausted by the possibilities, wrapped in a sense of failure before I begin. That sense threatens to keep me from the first step. And the longer I wait to begin, the further away the summit will stretch.

Not doing can easily become a reflex. Like a hoarder with newspapers to the rafters, like a 700 lb. man trapped in bed, like a refugee clutching a trash bag of possessions and a child’s hand, it can all seem too big to tackle. Submission to failure and the monkey can seem the only possible recourse.

But doing, like failure, can be incendiary. I start by taking on one challenge, maybe the easiest, teeniest one on the pile. When I have surmounted it, one checkmark on the epic list, I feel a flicker of hope. I pull the next task toward me and the flicker starts to smolder.

I make the bed, I got to the gym, I do a drawing, I write a blog post, I arrange a lunch meeting, I write a chapter, and soon the flames are roaring, wheels are turning, we are half-way up the peak.

Not doing can easily become a reflex.

Then, I sift through the list. I discard the pointless, the distracting, the indulgent. I break the most overwhelming obstacles into a small series of do-able tasks. I beaver on. Soon the list is a scaffolding, a set of pitons leading me hand-over-hand to the top.

Last night we watched The Martian. It’s a great move based on an even greater book. It deals with an impossible challenge: surviving on Mars, with rescue years away. The solution is increments — tackling one small problem, then the next, and so on. The more bite-sized the problems, the easier the whale is to digest.

Dream big. Start small.

Pre-crastination

I’m sitting on a deadline.

Well, not on it ; it’s still a few months away. I don’t know when it is exactly, maybe late January or mid- February. I could look it up — but I’ll forget it right away. It’s a line and it’s dead and it sucks in everything around it like a big black hole.

Will I die if I cross it without my manuscript neatly tucked under my arm? Of course not, but the monkey tells me I might.

Could I extend it with a phone call? Probably. My publisher seems to like me and will certainly understand. But the monkey won’t let me try.

Am I scared of it? Not exactly. I feel it out there, inching toward me like Sauron’s armies, scorching everything in its path, but I know I need it.

I need it like I need Death itself, forcing me out of bed each morning, saying, ‘make the donuts, write the blog, tick things off your endless to-do list. Time is running out and there’s buckets left to do‘.

When I was twenty-one, I faced the biggest deadline I’d seen so far. My senior thesis was due sometime in April or May. I could see that date, a smoking rut, glowing on the horizon all the way from the middle of my junior year. So I started writing before the summer began, then through the fall, and finally deposited 400 pages on my advisor’s desk in early January. He glowered at me. “Couldn’t you submit this in the spring, like a normal person? I don’t want it hanging around here till then.” I left him with my tome, the responsibility passed.

Deadlines drive me. They drive me crazy. Drive me forward. Drive me to do more and better. So, this coming deadline, I’m pretty sure I’ll come under it and over-deliver. But for now, I’ll just have to feel it tighten around my windpipe every day. Besides, I’ve told myself all along that writing a book about the monkey was just asking for trouble, like writing with a loaded gun by my laptop, that I’d have to wrestle it away from my temple every day.

I’ve gotten loads written. At least I’m pretty sure I have. I type then toss each page over my shoulder into a growing pile. One day soon, I will push them all together, and start organizing a coherent whole. Each day, the monkey tells me that I actually have nothing, that it’s all chaos and crap, and I’m dying to look back and see if he’s right. But some force keeps shoving my head down and my fingers back on the keys.

The monkey says, ‘take a break and write a blog post about deadlines’  and I listen. But now I’m gonna stop and head back to the grindstone.

That deadline’s getting closer and I am surfing its undertow.

How to fight a critic.

critic

It’s tempting to fight back against criticism. But where does it get you?

Take Manet, the father of Impressionism. Outraged by a critic’s attack, he challenged him to a duel. They met in a forest, hacked ineffectually at each other with swords until they bent them, shook hands, and limped away. Neither man was badly injured and they both went back to work.

Take Whistler, a bad-tempered and thin-skinned genius whose memoir is called “The Gentle Art of Making Enemies.” When John Ruskin wrote an especially vicious review of one of his paintings, Whistler took him to court, strenuously defended his modernist aesthetic — and was awarded a farthing for his troubles.

In the long run, both men beat the critics with a different weapon — the brush.

Manet is known for launching impressionism, for making it acceptable to paint everyday life, for Olympia, Le Dejeuner, and the critic, well, his name was Edmond Duranty—ever heard of him? Whistler’s legacy is bit more ironic, due not to his critics but to fans of his most famous work, “Arrangement in Grey and Black No.1.”  After spending his life fighting against art based on moral lessons and maudlin emotion, he is known for a painting of his mommy. But it is a great painting and, even after the trial, he continued making many more.

Critics, internal and external, can raise any artist’s hackles. They can provoke you into violent defense of your work, into self-doubt, even into halting your creativity all together. One man’s opinion, published in a newspaper, or muttered in a gallery, or imagined in a moment of weakness, can suck up your energy and threaten your creative life.  Few critic’s opinions endure and that’s something to remind yourself of. Because opinions are products of the moment, influenced by current trends, by ignorance, by poor digestion. They are not eternal, objective, blanket truth.

Any condemnation of a work of art, whether it comes from a professional, from a neighbor, from a monkey’s voice in your head, should only be responded to with more work. Prove them wrong — if you have to acknowledge them at all — but never let them get you down.

Forget lawyers and swords. Make your case with a brush, a pen, a blog post.