How to Avoid the Artist’s Race Against Time

How to Avoid the Artist’s Race Against Time

Often, a specific panic sets in when I feel like I’m not making good use of my time. Suddenly, I start to experience my work as a race against death. Every second wasted not making something that will go into the world is a waste of the tiny amount of life I’ve been allotted. I become unworthy as an artist and a writer – undeserving compared to those who toil late into the night, who sacrifice relationships and social norms for the sake of Art. I am doomed to mediocrity. I lack the focus and authenticity needed to be truly great.

The story takes hold. The blinders go on. The intensity increases. My output accelerates for a time.

Then, nothing. The problem of “wasted” time becomes the much bigger problem of creative depletion.

When you hit that point, the more you push, the longer it takes to recover. You’ve extended past healthy exercise into muscle strain. The quality and amount of output start to suffer, which can lead to full-blown despair. That’s when you can’t imagine how you ever thought your goals were feasible, only the thought’s not that clear. It just manifests in an inscrutable sense of inaction and an attendant self-loathing.

You’re right to loathe yourself in that situation – at least insofar as the “self” dug this hole for you in the first place. That’s not to say that I believe we have a limited creative capacity that can’t be changed, though. Pushing yourself in the right way is essential to growth. It’s all a matter of how you do it.

Creativity at its best is about welcoming more of life’s pain and splendour into the present. It’s about expanding time rather than racing against it – thinking in three dimensions (more!), not two. It’s about leaving the senses – both external and internal – raw and open to wonder. It’s about becoming a flâneur, soaking in culture, visiting galleries, discovering new music, talking with people, pulling out your earphones, smiling like an idiot, exploring anger, facing frustration, feeling things directly, experimenting, absorbing, getting kinetic, getting quiet, reading voraciously, noticing that you are not alone, noticing that you are, appreciating ambiguity and lack of clarity: in short, making the most of time.

Because in the end, you can’t will yourself to be focused: Things just come into focus as they do. Your job is simply to facilitate, however possible. Otherwise, when fear starts to guide the creative process, scary things are sure to follow.

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