Forget Practice

In A Beautiful Anarchy, Creativity and Inspiration, Pep Talks, Rants and Sermons, The Life Creative by David24 Comments

20150111-Hokkaido-1003Boat under Snow. Hokkaido, Japan. 2015.

Yesterday I linked my social media accounts out to an old blog post – Toward Mastery. One of the replies I got was refreshingly honest: I’ve hit a brick wall, and no amount of practicing is working. Twitter isn’t the kind of place to reply meaningfully to that kind of candor, so if you’ll indulge me, I’ll do it here. I know there are a lot of you out there that need to hear it. I’ve met you. Talked to you. I’ve been you, and most days, I’m still you.

First of all, you’re wrong on the most basic level, because I’ve seen your work and there’s some really great stuff in there. It’s consistent. It’s alive. There’s an energy there, and I’d look at those images any day. So it might be that you need to ask yourself what you even mean by, “it’s not working.” What are you hoping to achieve? What is your photography not doing for you that you want it to? It might have nothing to do with practice. You might already be there. You might have already honed your craft to the point that practice is not what you need any more.
Maybe you need to venture out into new directions? Maybe what you are shooting is your safe place now and there’s no risk anymore, and you need to do something new, something scary. Maybe you need to impose some creative constraints so you have something new against which to strain – a little like building muscle, our creativity grows only as we encounter resistance. Perhaps you need to play more, and take yourself less seriously? Perhaps you need to find someone to collaborate with.

Practice, forgive me for flailing so unkindly at a sacred cow, is not the be-all, end-all. When it is suggested that our first 10,000 images are our worst, I suspect strongly that creating them, looking at them, and reacting to them, playfully and without losing the joy of creation and discovery, is much, much, more important than practice -which to me seems to suggest repetition, not play. Repetition makes permanent, but it’s no way to spend our lives. The muse gets bored quickly.

The only wall you’ve run into is one that you’ve created yourself, and you’re not being remotely as creative in getting around, over over, this wall, as you were when you created the photographs I’m looking at now, on your Flickr stream. Ask yourself: what do you want, creatively? If what you’re doing now isn’t it, then abandon it. Try something else. But like so many others I talk to, could it be that you’re just wrestling with the great discontent of being a creative person? I mean, don’t we all wrestle with the longing for our work to be better, to more powerfully express the ineffable things we’ll probably spend our entire lives trying to say? To eff the ineffable, as Nick Hornby once wrote. That’s the challenge. It’s not the obstacle, it’s the path. Find a way to enjoy that tension, to use it to push you forward, and to look at the work you’ve done and love it for what it is, or was – something you thrilled to make, something imperfect that is, all the same, part of you, and a gift to the rest of us. Lying face down on the cobbles is likely to make any road look like a brick wall. Stand up and start walking, it’ll become a path again. It always does.


  1. Pingback: Self-Taught Photographer - Matt Korinek | Photographer

  2. David,
    I’ve just retired and I decided to dedicate time to really explore your website. You mention the walls we encounter. I’m relatively new to photography and find it exciting, challenging and very often frustrating. I’m trying to decide where I’m going on this journey. When I get frustrated I remember what Randy Pausch said about walls (He’s the famous Carnegie Mellon “Last Lecture” professor”). He said “The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something.”

    Thank you for your inspiration.


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  4. Really wonderful words to read before closing a day down. Sometimes you need a different challenge, so I started my work on collecting the sponsoring for my first book.

  5. Thank you for yet another eloquent, touching and helpful post. I read and enjoy them all, but who can help but love to be told to stop practicing and start playing. A great reminder to reconnect with the joy that drew me to photography in the first place.

  6. Hey David,

    Your words are so powerful! Well done. I might need to have my eyes examined, read the photo title as BOOT under snow. Combed the entire image looking for a boot 🙂 Nice image, love the tonal contrast and the angry sky (and the boot) Hey, there could be a boot under the snow!



    1. Author

      I was wearing boots at the time. They were well under that snow. 🙂

  7. Great, inspirational article which gets right to the issue facing us as creative individuals. I am facing the same struggle just now and it’s reassuring to hear your thoughts on it.

  8. Thanks for sharing more wisdom honed from so much personal experience. You are inspiring!

  9. So eloquently put. Being creative isn’t always easy; we can be so hard on ourselves. I’ve always thought that action is what gets met out of a rut, but reflecting on it, I’d say that’ it’s actually “new action” that gets me out of a rut. Another great post!

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  11. Read other photographer’s and artists. Read Marcel DuChamp who exhibited a toilet bowl and mustachioed Mona Lisa to “put the eff in effable”. Thank you for yet another kick-start!

  12. Amen, is all I can say. Personally, I don’t understand blocks, I think it’s a mental thing we inflict upon ourselves. No matter what’s happening in my life all blocks disappear when I begin to work. Then the joy of being alive and creating take over and blocks just simply vaporize…

    1. Opps, sometimes I get carried away, that’s an incredible image,so alive and full of vitality. The contrast between sky and snow buried boat is wonderful.

  13. “Lying face down on the cobbles is likely to make any road look like a brick wall. Stand up and start walking, it’ll become a path again. It always does.”

    You’re kidding, David, right?! Wow, how can one man be so eloquent, so full of spirit, have words that lift people up like you do.

    I pull my hat to your ongoing passion in being there for all of us.

    Thank you.

      1. I locked on to the very same words. Like much of your writing, it applies not simply to photography, but life in general. Thank you.

  14. This is why you are my photography crush. You’re like the good friend that tells you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear, Thank you!!!

  15. One of the most impactful observations I’ve heard you make was in ‘A Beautiful Anarchy’. You compared creativity to ocean swells, waves, and troughs. I think this applies here as well. All of us have peaks and valleys, when it comes to creative output – whether it is a surge or a lull in our output, or feeling like our work is more impactful last month than it is currently. In the middle of the trough though, when all we feel is down, it is hard to remember that there will be a surge in the future, we just have to get ourselves there.
    Remembering that lesson has been key, for me. For my creativity, and likely for my sanity, as well.

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