Creativity and Inspiration

Thoughts on Done

I sat earlier this week around the coffee table in my loft with three very close friends, all of them thinkers and artists and several margaritas into the evening. We talked, as photographers and storytellers do, about our art and the art of others, and the struggle we all love enough that we keep doing it. One of the things our conversation settled on was the idea of Done.

We love done (and so we should). Our egos thrive on done (enjoy that feeling). You can brag about done and show others what you’ve done. Accolades, if they come, come when you’re done. Getting done is not easy, but being done sure is. There’s no risk in being done, or close to it. It’s why post-production can be a little too addictive if we’re not careful. It’s polishing what’s done, and there’s no risk there. I can polish all day long, labouring over an open Photoshop window under the delusion that I’m doing my work. And in a small way, I am. But usually I’m just putting off the real work, which is shipping this thing, putting it to rest, and beginning again. Starting the next thing.

Seth Godin says real artists ship. They get the work out there. But they don’t sit around once they’ve shipped. Steven Pressfield, in the War of Art, talks about finishing a novel and telling a friend, “I don’t know what to do now that I’m done.” His friend says, “Start the next one. Tomorrow. Don’t wait.” Finish. Enjoy being done. Then begin something new. Probably the one you’re most afraid of.

Stay moving. It’s too easy to get cozy, resting on what we’ve done. It’s easy to polish. And it’s way too easy to put out a Box-set and a Best of rather than stepping into the unknown and the uncertainty of the What If…? that necessarily accompanies the creative life.

One of my favourite authors, Chaim Potok, begins one of his novels (In the Beginning) with this line: All beginnings are hard…especially a beginning that you make for yourself. That’s the hardest beginning of all.”

But what if we fell in love with the beginnings and the heady rush of discovery? What if we were as hungry for the exploration and seeing the birth of that new work, whatever it is, as we are for the end of the creative process? Would we make work that took more courage? Would we make make more mistakes and thereby open the door to more eureka moments?

Done has its own challenges. There’s something to be said for perseverance. It’s as easy to get distracted from our current work by the thrill of something new, as it is to be polish our work so often that we never ship it. But Michelangelo was a chronic starter who left a vast body of unfinished work, and while the argument can be made that it’s a shame he never finished, I wonder if we’d be impoverished of his true masterpieces by his completion of the others. We can only create so much. Sometimes you have to abandon good to begin – and complete – great.

Whatever that new project is. Begin. Don’t wait until you’ve got it all figured out – that’s what beginning is for. Just start. Now. Genius is overrated. So is inspiration. Inertia kills the muse.

Awake Enough.

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