Inspiration vs. Dedication

Being A Writer Personal

I'm coming at today's post from a slightly off-topic direction, mainly because I'm thinking about inspiration and discipline and the idea comes from an off-topic place. I hope you can forgive me.

For a few years now, I have been a photographic hobbyist. I have no aspirations to be anything other than a hobbyist and though I've sold a few prints here & there, photography is not something for which I would ever quit my day job. I am fascinated by the craft of photography and the fact that it allows me to translate all those pictures I get in my head without having to go to the trouble of writing them. What can I say but I am an instant-gratification junkie. Sue me.

Anyway, nearly a year ago now, I started a project. It's a simple project in theory: take one self-portrait every single day for a year. (I have less than a month left, and yes, I am counting the days.) For the purposes of the project, a self-portrait can be something traditional or it can be less so, a fragment, even: a knee or a foot or a hand or an elbow. The photographs can be artistic or bland, inspired or dull, and it doesn't matter. The only point is that I'm there every day, taking a photograph.

It's a weird project for a person like me to undertake anyway, because I'm not all that interested in myself as a subject. I am not overcome with vanity and I don't just looooooooove looking at myself. I look the way I look and I'm pretty ambivalent about it all, to be honest. Comments about my appearance usually gain nothing from me other than a shrug. Whatever. The point is that I chose the project not because I really really wanted to take a photograph of myself every day, but because I really really wanted to challenge myself to do something, just one thing, one relatively simple thing, and see it through to completion.

When I started, I'm sure I thought I'd be able to come up with something undoubtedly fascinating every day. But then I got into the project, the day-to-day drudgery, the days when I didn't feel like it, the days when I was sick or tired or busy, and I have most certainly had my fair share of days when all I could think to do was hold the camera at arm's length and fire. So be it. Just as I've come up with several shots that I'm rather proud of, shots that took planning and set up and work, there are just as many (maybe even more) that I just didn't give a damn about, but you know what? They're done.

All of this to say that I've learned a lot about creativity over this year. I've always been a creative person, and if I had to pick a defining characteristic about myself, it would be my creativity. It is something that drives me. I love to make things. But the thing that I have learned, the most important thing, is that much of it is drudgery, much of it is work. I have always approached creativity as something that happened almost by magic, something that came about when I was inspired. But -- and maybe this isn't news to anyone but me -- waiting for inspiration leaves so much stuff undone. I don't always feel like creating. I don't always want to do something. Sometimes I just want to watch TV. But even when I don't feel like it, I make myself take a photo anyway. Not always, but occasionally, those photographs end up being more interesting than the ones I felt like making. So it goes.

In doing this project despite the many days when I wasn't actually interested in doing this project, when I wanted to hang it up and call it good, I have learned that making art (ha -- not that I would call the vast majority of my self-portraiture art... I might be pretentious, but I'm not that pretentious) and completing things is not a romantic ideal but work. Often the work is fun, and I sometimes end up having a good time working on something even when I started out being cranky about the whole business, but it still requires showing up and doing something, even when the inspiration isn't there.

And now I'm going to get to writing. (You thought I wasn't going to, didn't you?) Writing has been my life-long love, and something I've been good at, struggled with, enjoyed, hated, did, didn't do, etc., etc., I approached it like it was this magical thing that would happen when the moment was right, when the stars aligned perfectly, when I had something to say. But it turns out that it doesn't actually have to be like that. Or that, perhaps, it shouldn't be like that. Writing, like anything else we take seriously, takes dedication. Inspiration is all very well and good and I am not scoffing at it, but there are days when I don't want to write anything, yet I do it anyway. It isn't always good, it isn't always pretty, but it's written. And what's written can be edited, can be worked with until it's better, but the stuff that doesn't get written because I'm too busy waiting for the moment to be right never becomes anything.

The point is that through making myself employ dedication and stubbornness to an unrelated project, I have become a more productive writer as well. Last year, I interviewed Greg Fallis, who said, "The only thing that gets you past the dull, grinding bits is keeping your ass in the chair and your fingers on the keyboard. Putting words in a row." I didn't quite agree with him then, thinking that certainly there was more to it than that, that there was always some inspiration, some muse whispering brilliance in my ear, but he's right.

Creativity means creating. Just showing up and doing the job. And despite its drudgery, despite the days when it doesn't feel inspiring or interesting at all, and the only thing that keeps it going is sheer determination, what a fun job it is.

9 Responses to "Inspiration vs. Dedication"

by judih on

Wow, i love the anti-spam word device.
Can i hire him to write my dedication?

Well-written, jamelah. Your 3hundred almost sixty-five day project is truly an inspiration of doing something daily and producing a product that can be examined.

It's not like doing daily physical exercises, where the only visual proof comes when i can still bend an elbow (as opposed to sprouting a third) but it is like doing daily exercise. If only I would realize that daily writing beyond daily poetry jamming can be satisfying just in the doing, then I might actually get those projects done.

You are an inspiration for doing this particular doing and reporting about it in this particular post.

by Jaimef on

You take great pictures. Your hard work has really paid off. Great color pictures with the right choice of light. I would say there is a "Colored" black & white feel to them...you know what I mean?

by dan s on

I think what you learned taking the photo every day is a valuable lesson in creativity. Something I noticed with myself – I was a sweating-blood writer in most of my 20s. I was able to reach a turning point in my inner life, unrelated to art, and I began a program of writing every day no matter the results. And doing this a while I noticed I could stop for a few days, or a week, and then sit down at the keyboard, and there was no block, no questioning, no frustration. Martial arts has muscle memory, when you block an attack repeatedly until when it comes later from that angle you instantly react. It seems I was able to develop some muscle memory with my muse. My method now is to ask myself, okay, what’s in there today. And something comes out, unblocked.

Levi thanks for keeping up this terrific site for all this time. I found lit kicks maybe 10 years ago when I was in the throes of my Beat discovery, the time when I cross-referenced the various pseudonyms employed by Kerouac for his friends, and that. What a resource this place is. And more, I dig your blogs and reviews, daddy-o. It’s great to dip back into past months and ladel this content into my brainbowl.

I’m with you on McCarthy but I thought Firmin was cutesy. It showed well why Houellebecq in Whatever, as a jest, made his narrator an author of animal stories.

by Bill Ectric on

Jamelah, some of your photographs are amazingly artful. You really have a knack for it.

As for writing, yeah, I used to think of it as you say, "A magical thing that would happen when the moment was right." I now think of it as building a house or something, making all the parts fit while also making the parts enjoyable for others to behold, but in the midst of this, I still experience the magic. I don't have to force it - it just comes.

An important tip someone once gave me (wish I could remember who) is this: What some people call "writer's block" is really just a natural part of the process. It's called resting. I leave it alone for a few days and come back to it. Sometimes, I think of really great ideas when I'm not trying to write, like when you are trying hard to remember something, and finally, when you quit trying, it comes to you.

Also, Jeff VanderMeer says that getting plenty of excerise is condusive to writing. He should know, too, because he writes a lot. Good stuff, too.

I recently finished a novel of 56,900 words. I thought instead of self-publishing again, I would see if anyone else would want to put it out, so I'm shopping it around now. It took me almost three years to write, but I've been doing all kinds of other stuff. Now, just for the hell of it (whatever that means), I'm thinking about signing up for NaNoWriMo where you write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. You should do it too! We all should do it! Yeaaahhhh!

by catalyst on

great post. i don't think writing would be as fun as it is WITHOUT the frusteration, the blocks, the fear of not living up to own expectations, etc.

by Warren Weappa on

I met a retired producer at a party and then met him again at another party and I told him that I was just grinding out my current project and he said, "That's what you got to do."
Nowadays, I'm trying to do an A4 page a day.

by faller on

Poetry is one thing, but prose, fiction or otherwise, is like pulling lumber on a green-chain in a sawmill. Hour after hour, exhausting and full of frustratation. Why do we do it, again?

I agree with faller. Prose fiction sometimes springs fully born from your finger tips, but most of the time it needs to be dragged out line by line. Type type type - tools - word count - only 500 words? Crap. Type type type ... hmm ... wonder what's on LitKicks ...

by Cheuph on

It must have been a day of kindred entities. As for me, I went to You Tube and found various singers that appeared on Hootenanny-it really took me back! Isn't it a strange thing to have done this and then checked here to find, "oh wow man, today someone else thought about the same thing as me. It's a happening!" Thank you for the blog that entwined my day with your post!

Cheuph

Add new comment