Do The Work

In Creativity and Inspiration, Pep Talks, Thoughts & Theory, Vision Is Better by David66 Comments

“The artist is nothing without the gift, but the gift is nothing without work.”
~Emile Zola

Lately I’ve had nothing but time. My feet are still weak and the closest I come to walking is fearful crutch-work across the kitchen floor as I put more and more weight on the feet. I have visions of the screws and plates popping out. It’s scary as hell. But if there’s one thing I know about physiotherapy, it’s this: recovery doesn’t show up on your doorstep. You don’t say, “I’ll do the exercises after my feet heal.” You do the work, the healing comes.

The same is true of photography, writing, or any creative endeavor. You do the work. There is no muse; at least not one that is beckoned by anything but work. There is no amount of talent that compensates for lack of work. Everything I have read about creativity echoes the same thing. And it is that we do the work. Our work. The work that others will call art, or for which they’ll credit us with genius (or not). But however highly we think of it, or don’t, it remains simply work.

There are frustrations aplenty in the creative life. We work within constraints. We have highs where not a soul could touch us if they tried, and lows where the same is true. In other words, it’s hard enough without on top of that worrying about the size of our talent compared to others, or whether the muse will show up, or if we’ve thought our last creative thought, made our last beautiful photograph. When you get frustrated, just begin. Pick up the camera and do the work. Sit down at the laptop and start the edit. Do the work.

Don’t worry about getting inspired, being original, or any of the other things that haunt the creative mind. The muse will show up, she always does. It’s she who’s waiting. Just start. Do the work.

“Inspiration exists, but it has to find us working.”
~ Picasso

“Just as appetite comes by eating, so work brings inspiration, if inspiration is not discernible at the beginning.”
~ Igor Stravinsky


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  2. Great post. And so true. The more I photograph, the better my photographs become. Thanks for the reminder that creativity is work. Hard work. Best of luck with the healing.

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  6. Excellent post. Apologies if you’re already familiar with this, but there was an 2008 article in The New Yorker by Malcolm Gladwell, entitled “Late Bloomers: Why Do We Equate Genius with Precocity?”. (It also appeared in a collection of Gladwell’s essays called “What the Dog Saw”).
    He talks about the stereotypical idea of genius (innate and expressing itself early in life). But he talks about an economist’s research into another kind of creativity and genius — appearing later in life and brought out by dedication and the consistent honing of one’s craft.
    Gladwell writes, “But sometimes genius is anything but rarefied; sometimes it’s just the thing that emerges after 20 years of working at your kitchen table.”
    This article was a revelation to me. It made me realize what might be possible if we commit to keeping our noses to the grindstone.

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  9. I’m guessing you realize that Steven Pressfield has a new book called “Do the Work”, right?

    And while I agree that nothing happens without work, I most definitely have a muse and tap into that creative energy regularly. In fact if someone doesn’t have a muse, I rather feel sorry for them as then it JUST becomes work.

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  11. Just started a new chapter of work – I’m challenging myself to shoot film – I have a few vintage film cameras and rangefinders – I think knowing how to shoot both will help me all around…and for fun a Diana Mini lomo camera…it’s so different using film, but a friend of mine develops her own black and white film, so she’s going to teach me how. Really excited! I also picked up an old Kodak Brownie 8mm movie camera – I wonder if I can still find film for it and a place to develop it? I totally want to use it! Now I’m going back to work! 😉

  12. Author

    Mervin, Great quote. A quick google search shows that it was Henry Wordsworth Longfellow who wrote:

    The heights by great men reached and kept were not attained by sudden flight, but they while their companions slept, were toiling upward in the night.

  13. That actually reminds me of a saying my father once told me as a kid – The heights of great men, rich and kept were not attained by sudden flight; But they, while their companions slept, were toiling upwards in the night.

    I am not sure who the author was because my dad was no poet. But, that saying still rings true with me and I see the concept being emphasized here.

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  15. Author

    Gene – That’s amazing, thank you for that quote. It’s perfect. And nice to get a break from all these dead white guys. 🙂

  16. I read this quote some years ago attributed to a dissident Chinese artist Wei Jinsheng, and it has served me well through some very difficult times:

    Inspiration is not a servant that comes when you beckon and leaves when you command.
    You have to pay a price for it.
    Those that do not pay in full end up mediocre.

  17. You know, it’s funny, you mentioned War of Art to me shortly after we had our respective surgeries…I haven’t read it yet but it’s on my list…apparently it’s been an influence for you, huh? 🙂

  18. Wow, an issue I’m dealing with now! 🙂 Much time on my hands, visions of rods and screws popping out, and needing to find more motivation to kick it into gear! I thought I would tackle so many projects during my recovery, and it’s amazing how quickly the day can slip away…this week that was my motto really…only it wasn’t do the work, it was “Get Back To Work!!!”
    Hope your screws and plates stay in place – I confirm that mine are in place on the 26th! 😉 Now get back to work!

  19. Great post to motivate. I wish there was another word for “work” for creating an image. It seems like such a negative word for doing something you love.

  20. The highs and the lows… they shape us, always. It’s the only thing I can be sure of as I pursue the things I’m passionate about. As always, you put it so elegantly and honestly. I hope people are hearing what you’re saying David, and not just reading along…. best of luck as always with your road to recovery.

  21. Thanks David, as always. Wise words to remember about photography…and life. Just came off of a photograhy workshop (in Olympic Nat Park)…and had the highs and lows over the course of the week. I can confirm that the muse did not show up without the work.

  22. The doctors and the rehab. therapist know what they’re doing. So stop worry about screws and plates popping out of place. I had both knees replaced at the same time, and I can tell you that I know what your mind is saying to you. And that you will come away feeling like new ( that’s after the pain and tha agony of therapy) 🙂 Great post Dave!

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  24. one night, i walked a good distance to the beach to get some sunset shots. when i got there, the sunset was mediocre and so i only took 2 shots of it. mildly disappointed, after a short time i started paying more attention to what was going on with the sea. there were some wonderful waves crashing about in good succession and so i started to shoot them. the colour of the sky soon changed and darkened to a moody, dark beautiful mix of blues, and the colour in the ocean waves followed suit complimenting the skies. so, with all this gorgeous, moody energy going on in the sea, i had one heck of a great night turning my attention to it instead of being disheartened by the sunset. it does pay off to get out there and if you don’t get what you were expecting, if you disregard that, you may find something a whole lot more exciting to work with. that night is still one of my faves/best and the photos that came from that night turned out to be phenominal.

  25. Same message as one of my favorite books, “Linchpin” and it’s so true. Hard work beats genius almost every time.

  26. When I took up photography in 2009, I decided then to make everyday at least one step forward with my photographic work. Each day, I either shoot, edit or learn from books on photography or any other available resources how to do the craft better. This approach lets me move forward, yet still stay calm at heart and not blame myself for the things I can’t do know due to the lack of knowledge or the lack of pro gear, etc. Just one step a day:) After some time it is really nice feeling to notice your progress:) Thanks for the post:) It makes me realize that I am following the right path.

  27. That was just what I needed to read at this very moment. You always come thru!

  28. Sorry…Just read the blog because I was working…!!!

    Absolutly right… And when your working your tail off to develop new skills there is no better feeling than having it all start to come together..

    Get better real soon David…Take care..

  29. I try to think of “it” as play because all I do is work work work… Different quote I guess ;-).

    Speaking of different quotes:

    “If your ship doesn’t come in, swim out to it.” –Jonathan Winters

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  31. Here is another great quote in the same spirit:

    “Genius is 1% talent and 99% percent hard work…”
    — Albert Einstein

  32. A lesson I need to learn all-so well. Thanks for making it sound simple!

    Keep growing, healing, and you’ll be back on your feet in no time

  33. As always, thank you for your beautiful sharing. I’m picturing your feet better than ever and you and Jessie back in the wild lands.

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  35. You are so right David, whenever I get frustrated with life, I pick up my camera and go shoot. Sometimes it all clicks right away, sometimes it takes patience and many hours of waiting and work to come together. No matter what, just starting to work seems to set me on the right track. Always love the work and words David, thanks for sharing.

  36. I’ve never been in your situation with broken bones, so I don’t know how it feels. I don’t know whether what happened to you might be a blessing to a lot of people who follow you with your inspirational thoughts.
    Just to let you know, you and Michael Frye are the two voices I respect and listen too.

  37. I like the Stravinsky quote, David. I’m reconnecting with my photography, moving it ever more towards the direction of a vocation, but being recently unemployed (forced “You Should Probably Quite Your Job” a little earlier than planned) from a pretty laid-back job at a drug/alcohol life skills program, my efforts to work harder at this craft, at this quite large digital learning curve, is just that…WORK! 🙂

    Your constant encouragement, and other’s, is a boon to my efforts. Bless you all!

  38. Whenever I read your posts, I think how wonderful it is to have someone out there that can inspire and drive us to be better creatively. Today I thought the same thing. And then I started wondering, if you’re inspiring us, with your wisdom and wit, who’s inspring you? With all you’ve been through lately, what keeps you so driven and passionate? I’m not really looking for an answer as much just wanted to share the thought I had. You’re an amazing person and I thank you from the bottom of my heart for sharing yourself with us.

  39. That’s a very good article David, thank you. Next time I get frustrated, I’ll just pick my camera and get shooting.

    And that picasso quote is excellent.

    Get well.

  40. So very true! This message works in well with the one that has been going through my head lately. “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling for it is God who is at work within you both to do and to will according to His good pleasure.” David thanks for being part of the process. Now back to work : )

  41. Thank you so much, David..I needed the reminder. I tend to delay editing because I feel frustrated with my present skill level. Time for me to “Just start. Do the work.”

    Get well soon.

  42. Hi David. I’m struggling right now with some aspects of photography I’m trying to learn and my frustration level has been high. Your words have inspired me. No more complaining — I’m just going to do the work!!!! Prayers for a quick and complete recovery. Thanks for your timely post.

  43. Thank-you, just want I needed to kick procrastination’s tail. Usually shoot when traveling and wait for the muse to knock on my door at home. Time to get off my butt, load the camera gear, drop the top on the car and shoot! Your post today is my motivator muse! Glad your healing well and one day those feet will hold you and all your gear and you’ll be traveling the world! Regards from South Carolina.

  44. It’s funny that you quote Zola in this particular post, ’cause Zola was a real pain for me back in High school, and I used to whine when the french teachers asked us to make an essay. To me, being able to write something interesting or do anything artistic was kind of a gift…

    And my french teacher taught me this quote from Thomas Edison :

    “Genius is one per cent inspiration and ninety-nine per cent perspiration. Accordingly, a ‘genius’ is often merely a talented person who has done all of his or her homework.”

    Nowaday, I agree 200% whith it

  45. “every day I’m hustlin…”

    Had a few shoots this week, *I* wasn’t happy with the results – client loves the work. I’m going to keep doing it.

    Someday what I create will catch up to my expectations of myself right? I get close sometimes, after keeping at it, always changing, over time… I don’t even really notice until it happens. I see a glimmer of what I want it to be, and then what I want changes, and I want more.

    I keep on hustlin.

  46. This is exactly the premise of Steven Pressfield’s books “The War of Art” and the follow up book of the same title as your post, “Do The Work”.

  47. Hi David:

    I’m a retired person with too much time on my hands. I need to do things to my days worthwhile. You said it right, work. Do something, whatever it is and you will be compensated by the muses.

    Thank you for making my days more meaningful. Hope to hear that you are running through the globe again…and taking pictures.

    Greetings from Panama in Central America.



  48. Very new in photography world and after some great fun have hit the frustration level because of increased expectation. I heard it would come but when it does, it just feels personal. I am being good about plodding along diligently but words like these help so much.
    I duplicate Christy’s kind, positive image . . “visualizing you walking easily across the kitchen floor…”. Hey, you’ll be practically walking with brand new feet. Kind of an interesting concept, eh?

  49. Ideal reminder and inspiration for me to read as I load up the car for biker land!

    Visualizing you walking easily across the kitchen floor…

  50. wow !! just the talk I needed today. Feel like I lost the mojo, may be ’cause I’m getting too comfortable. Time to do some work.

    Wish you a fast recovery.

  51. You are an incredibly inspiring man David…..Your photography is absolutely amazing and your marrow, so to speak, is even more incredible. I have been following you for several months now and you truly inspire me with your words and your photography. I’m relatively new at this and hit a creative rut a while back, so I took a step back and indulged in some of my other passions for a while and then one day just picked up my camera, flipped open my laptop and began “doing the work” again and sure enough the muse made a return. Thank you for sharing with us all. Hope the recovery continues to go well!

  52. Oh, thank you – I needed that! Best get to work. Nothing has turned up on my frontsteps today, so I guess I have been surfing the Internet enough for today… My last excuse was that I have to wait for better light, so during the sunset – in a few hours, but as you say – do the editing or some planing before sunset wouldn’t do any harm..
    Have a nice day – and be well soon.
    Kind regards from Norway

  53. ” You do the work, the healing comes.”

    Spot on David! Continue healing, the rest will come.

  54. Great post David!! You are so right. Also, I really hope you keep feeling better and better every day. Big hug to you from Spain.

  55. Ok, Ok, so I’m turning off the computer and getting to work…thanks for the nudge. Hope the recovery is coming along….

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