Monday, March 22, 2010

A Paradigm Shift

Here we go. The initial cover design for the next issue of Swill. I tried to sell the last one in a couple of stores in Berkeley. Like an idiot, I designed it as an art object rather than a fucking magazine, and as a result, we sold one copy. This time I'm adding the little things like price, issue number, etc. Thank Globs I don't have to stick one of those horrible zebra labels on it...

So, I've been having an interesting week. I've totally changed my work habits.

I spent most of this winter in a state of paralytic creative malaise. It was fucking miserable. Part of this was, of course, classic self-nagging. "You ought to work. You ought to get up and work right now. You should be working eight hours a day; no, make it ten. Your commute consists of walking upstairs, dude. You should buy a time clock. You should track your hours. Working writers write a fuck of a lot more than you do. You should get your draftsmanship back by sketching every day. You should be learning 3D and photography and start cartooning. Learn some new chords on the baritone uke. Practice your bass every day. You need to study plot, too. You are the luckiest man in the world; you have the time to make art. Get to it."

And so I'd find myself pacing from the living room to the kitchen for hours, unable to decide on a course of action. Or I'd go online and intentionally waste time by trolling around for images of coconut crabs and videos of bug fights and blogs by amusing freaks. Or I'd get drunk and watch TV. (For me, alcohol is the gateway drug that leads to television...)

By an act of sheer will, I dragged myself from the slough of despond and wrote a short story.

But then something changed. Last Monday I woke up too early, as usual. I lay in the dark thinking about my position.

Here's the thing. I've had some terrible, terrible work habits. I'd only work on one project at a time, in steps, and when I reached the end of a step, I'd stop. Or if I had too much to do, I'd stop. Or I'd work until lunch, and then stop -- because a lot of writers are only able to work three or four hours a day. Never mind that I could have switched over to another art form, or another project.

When things were all lined up and I was going on all cylinders, I'd put in a twelve or fourteen hour creative day without even noticing it. I wrote the first draft of my movie script in a fucking week. It's not unusual for me to knock out three or four thousand words on a good day.

As I lay there in bed, reflecting on how good I felt when I was working that way, I realized something. Creative work makes me feel good. It isn't something I ought to do; it's something I want to do. I was never a person who hated work because it was work; I've had lousy jobs, but they were never lousy because of the work I had to do. If I cleaned toilets, I liked the act of cleaning them properly. If I moved boxes, I moved tons of boxes and knew exactly where they were at all times. If I dug a ditch, it would be straight and neat. Because I like to work.

But I've never been able to work for myself with the dedication I've given to my employers.

I got up at five and started working. With breaks for meals and a writer's group meeting, I stopped working at ten in the evening, capping my day off by sending out the new story. (It's a grim little unit, let me tell you, and it makes the reader do all the dirty work.)

Over the course of the week, I wound up getting almost all caught up with my online writers group, worked on three different digital paintings, including the cover above, posted on the blog, sent out the first part of a new writing project, and so on and so forth.

My new rule is that unless I'm specifically doing something else, I'll be arting my brains out. And I'll try and ditch the, "You need to do this, you have to do this," mentality and just say that as long as I'm creating or assisting someone in their creation then I'm working. That my default setting is 'art,' whether writing, visual arts, music, whatever.

On Friday, the missus turns to me and says, out of the blue, "You've been really easy to get along with this week." I know I've been in the best mood I've had in months.

Let's see how long I can keep this up. Man. First I stop hating myself, then I find out one of the secrets to unlocking my work ethic.

You'd think I was starting to grow up...


Glendon Mellow said...

Pleeeease, for the sake of myself and my wife's sanity, tell me how you unlocked this secret.

And please tell me the secret involved Frank's Red Hot Sauce.

I'm terrified and thrilled of the idea of going part or full time freelance. I need Oaf's secret.

Peter Bond said...

Wow, breakthrough! Congrats! Is the key then... get up early?

This tends to be my problem with unprodutiveity. If I'm not called in to work (substitute teacher), then I tend to sleep the day away, watch a movie, and do nothing creative.

I want to learn from you...

Sean Craven said...

I looked back on the post and realized that I hadn't spelled things out.

I think this is a worthwhile enough subject to turn into a post. So I did so. Gentlemen, I hope it's what you want.

Sean Craven said...

Oh, and Glendon? Try Valantina Extra Hot -- it's about two bucks for a liter and it is insanely delicious.