Writing the Perfect MONKEY

Originally published on Artist Soapbox on 30 July 2018

Greetings, Soapboxers!

Earlier this month, several friends and collaborators gathered to read and hear the latest draft of my upcoming play, YEAR OF THE MONKEY. If you’ve ever put your work-in-progress up for critique, you know it is a singularly excruciating, insecurity-stoking and necessary experience. I clawed my way to that draft and now, armed with lots of helpful notes and personal revelations, it’s time to revise.

Great. I can’t stand this part.

I knew this was coming, but I’m annoyed anyway. Why am I making such a big deal out of this? I’ve got a lot of great feedback to plow into this thing but I feel angry and scared and, honestly, I have been so frustrated over this project that I have contemplated quitting several times.

Ah, perfectionism. My old friend.

At several points along the way, this project has felt like I’m using a tweezers to build a sandcastle. Thomases, by birthright, are unapologetically verbose yet I have no access to this endless supply of words. When I sit down at the keyboard, out come the tweezers. Why? Because I want it to be “right.” Because I want it to be “good.” Because I want to turn it in and never have to do it again because it took so much out of me the first time. Because perfectionism is my beast. Perfectionism would rather stop me before I start. Perfectionism would rather I edited my work and myself into non-existence rather than pick up that bucket and fill it with sloppy, wet sand.

Cue the irony.

After the script read-thru, two different people remarked that a few of the scenes felt unnecessarily short and they could tell I was editing myself. I had been so focused on cutting away anything I deemed extraneous (exposition, talkiness – bad!) that I didn’t leave enough substance to establish some of the objectives and relationships. Their advice? Haul ass and go for it. Fill up those buckets. Save the tweezers for later.

Sloppiness and precision both have their place in the process. Doesn’t sloppy sound more fun? I’m into it! At least in theory. This might be a “both/and” right now.

I know I will get to a space where I’m having more fun, feeling loose and making a joyous mess. But I also know there’s old pain at the root of the perfectionism and I want to make space for that. Pathologizing my stuckness isn’t helping me. Berating myself for not having more fun seems a tad counter-intuitive.

Maybe I’m not exactly where I’d like to be, but I am showing up. Every day. Maybe the words aren’t flowing like wine (note to self: BUY MORE WINE), but they’re coming. As I’ve told myself a thousand times, “Show up for the work and the work will show up for you.” Ugh, that sounds so smug I want to punch myself in the face.

This is eerily familiar. Perfectionism. Resistance. Finding ways to nourish yourself. Time to walk this talk.

‘Til next time, Soapboxers.
MT

Artist Soapbox: Take Your Work Seriously

Originally published on Artist Soapbox on 30 April 2018

Greetings, Soapboxers!

Next week, Tamara and I are launching our first Creative Accountability Group. I can’t wait!

I’m already inspired by the statement these artists have made by signing up for this group: they have put Creative Resistance on notice.

In his book The War of Art, Steven Pressfield posits that every artist is engaged in a war against Resistance. In his definition, Resistance is any act that prefers immediate gratification over long-term growth, health or integrity. Resistance is fueled by fear and Resistance never sleeps. The battle must be fought anew every day.

Does this sound familiar? Imposter syndromeprocrastinationperfectionismcomparison — these are all forms of Resistance. The good news is: we are not powerless in this fight. Recently we’ve talked about cleaning up and bringing in beauty as resources. Today I’ll offer one more, inspired by Mr. Pressfield: Take Your Work Seriously.

Do you want to write a book? Make a web series? Learn an instrument? You do? Cool! Quick question: HOW SERIOUS ARE YOU?

Serious enough to delete some time-sucks from your phone?

Serious enough to decline a night out with friends to do your work?

Serious enough to reach out to friends/mentors for help and feedback?

Serious enough to spend time actually *doing* the work?

In this context, taking your work seriously does not mean putting unnecessary pressure on yourself to produce something “Serious.” It means you recognize the intrinsic value of your artistic endeavor and prioritize it without apology.

One of the biggest lies Resistance wants us to believe is that we don’t have enough time. Do you have 5 minutes? Sit down and do your creative work for those 5 minutes and you have overcome Resistance. Do it again and again and your work is going to add up to something. I’m a big believer in this axiom: “Show up for the work and the work will show up for you.”

This is why I’m so excited to begin our Creative Accountability Group. This is a group of people who have said, to some degree, I am serious. I am serious enough to get some help. I am serious enough to show up and put my goals out there. I am serious enough to risk feeling less-than in front of other people. I am serious and I take my creativity seriously.

Next month I’ll be sending a dispatch from the front lines. In the meantime, we’d love to hear about the ways you battle Resistance. What works for you? Leave us a comment or email us at artistsoapbox@gmail.com .

‘Til next time,

MT

Artist Soapbox: Farewell, Creativity Obstructions. Hello, Creativity Resources!

Originally published on Artist Soapbox on 12/29/2017.

**Last post of 2017!**

Happy New Year, Soapboxers!

How does that salutation sit with you? How does it feel to be looking ahead to a fresh calendar? Hopeful? Scary? Exciting? Full of dread? Are you taking stock of 2017 or lighting a match and throwing it over your shoulder as you Auld Lang Syne your way into 2018?

I’ll be honest, this month I didn’t show up for my creativity as much as I would have liked. Can I get a show of hands from all the folks who have been running around ragged this month? Holiday parties, traveling, work and/or family obligations… December is NON STOP. While I treasure time spent with friends and loved ones, I can feel my creativity squeaking out a quiet “Remember me?” in the background.

I hear you, creativity, and I haven’t forgotten you. You are important and you will not be ignored.

Is your creativity talking to you? What is it saying? What does it most need from you in 2018?

So far in this blog series, Tamara and I have discussed different obstructions that present themselves when you’re on your creative path.

  1. Imposter Syndrome: Who do I think I am? Why even try?
  2. Perfectionism: I’m so afraid that my creation will not be perfect that I never actually do it.
  3. Comparison: I’ll never be as good as that person. I should probably quit.
  4. Distraction: I’ve convinced myself that all these other things have priority over my creativity.

This framework has helped me when I’m struggling creatively. I can remember that these feelings are part of the process. They are normal but that doesn’t mean they’re true or that I need to indulge them.

Right now I am definitely guilty of #4. But you know what? I’ve made progress on the others. They don’t have the hold on me that they did even one year ago. Change is possible, friends! But here’s the fine print: it took work. It took facing down fears and doing it anyway. It took getting out of my own way. It took hours at the keyboard doing the actual work of writing a script. It took hours of self-resourcing to help me navigate re-writes and self-doubt and the excitement and stress of seeing the work come to life.

In 2018, I would like to share with you and learn from you the things we do for ourselves that resource us. That give us confidence. That align us with our hopes and dreams for ourselves. That give us a boost, whether that’s emotionally, physically or creatively. Because I gotta tell you — creativity can be scary. It can be vulnerable. Performing in front of people, sharing your words with others, displaying your paintings or drawings — these are courageous acts. I truly believe that we must unapologetically care for ourselves to be able to share these parts of ourselves with others and maintain our emotional, physical and creative health. Let’s talk about how to make this happen for ourselves and our creative community.

What do you think, Soapboxers? We’re all in this together. Thank you for supporting the Artist Soapbox endeavors this year. It has been a pleasure to share with you and especially to hear from you! Please leave a comment or write us at artistsoapbox@gmail.com .

‘Til next time!
-MT

Artist Soapbox: Make More Pots

Originally published on Artist Soapbox on 11/11/2017.

It’s a rainy, shit day in Durham and I want to talk about perfectionism.

I was one of those insufferable kids for whom school came easily. Worksheets, spelling tests, you name it – my goal was get everything right and be the first kid who finished. While that allowed me to skate through 3rd grade, it didn’t do me many favors later in life when I actually had to study or learn new skills. I thought any evidence of a struggle meant that I was an idiot. Young Me was harsh AF. Perfection was the goal, and if I didn’t nail it on the first try, I instantly jumped to the conclusion that I was a complete failure. Have you ever felt that way about yourself?

If you read my first post for ASBX, you learned how “Nobody Cares” became a touchstone for me to move past fear and perfectionism during the writing process. I received another excellent piece of advice that day related to this story.

The story describes a pottery class where one half of the class was instructed to make perfect pots. The other half was instructed to make as many pots as they could. At the end of the semester the students entered their best pot into a contest. Overall, the students who made the most pots also tended to make the best pots. In essence: Want to get good at something? Do the thing. Again and again. As much as you can. Aim for the practice. The product. The making. That is the goal. Perfection MAY BE a byproduct. Maybe.

Wait: Do you mean this might take work? I can’t simply sit down and watch the magic pour forth onto the page?  There might be missteps and frustration and straight-up garbage ideas along the way? That’s the message? Why would anyone do this?

Then, the same message arrived in my tea cup. (In case you were wondering, yes I do, on occasion, take guidance from the sayings on tea bags.) I couldn’t ignore this one: “You don’t manifest epic projects without bowing deeply to your daily grind.” What the shit? Now my tea was telling me to practice? FINE. Message received.

For most of my life, nothing sounded like a bigger drag than practicing. But now I know that the more you practice, the more fun you have when you are doing the thing. The kinder you are to yourself when things don’t go as planned. The more easily you can hear feedback because you don’t have so much invested in your precious, perfect creation.

When I think about perfectionism now, all I can see is the fear behind it. Furthermore, I cannot think of a more absurd concept to apply to creativity. Someone please bring me a perfect piece of art. I’ll wait. [insert nail-polish emoji]

Perfectionism does not want me to embrace the inherent messiness involved with creating. It tries to convince me I’d be satisfied with a life where I never created anything but at least I never made a fool of myself. What’s it gonna be, Mara? Repression or self-expression?

To some degree, I will probably always battle perfectionism, but it is rapidly losing ground to the rhythm of practice. Much like that pottery class, practice is showing me that at best I might make something worthwhile, maybe even great, and at worst I am learning and getting better and getting braver. There is no downside.

We’re all in this together, Soapboxers. I’m interested to hear from you. Leave a comment or email us at artistsoapbox@gmail.com .

‘Til next time!

-MT