Pushing Isn’t Pushing

We’re all familiar with pushing ourselves. Upping caffeine, lowering sleep, focusing intently, and sometimes actually getting something done before we burn out and pretend it was worth it. Creatives also push themselves, but I think we’re facing double trouble when we do – because there’s pushing yourself and pushing yourself creatively.

Pushing ourselves alone is a gamble – as I sarcastically noted above. You can try to go above and beyond in effort and hours, but also risk burning yourself out for nothing. Many a creative has a sketch or rough draft that makes them wonder “what the hell was I thinking” during their last caffeine-and-dubstep binge.

(I just assume dubstep keeps you going. Look, I’m in a retro jazz/exotica phase right now.)

But pushing oneself creatively and just pushing oneself in general is not the same thing and I think many a creative confuses the two. To push oneself creatively is to try new things, imagine different, try a new style. It’s to go to the edge of what we can do and dare to step over into unknown territory. It’s not the same as just plain long-haul overtime.

In fact, I’d say treating pushing yourself creatively as some punishing march produces too little payoff for the damage and gets it wrong.

Pushing oneself creatively is a case of openness, of wandering, of experimentation. You have to do things more, different, and in other directions. Yes you may have to push yourself effort-wise, but it’s to push past boundaries and blockages and habits, not just sheer head-against-wall effort. Treating it as some kind of struggle like a marathon studying session puts you in the wrong mindset and focusing in the wrong thing.

Pushing yourself creatively always has an element of unsurety, of play, of going in circles for the sake of seeing what happens after a few rotations. Turning it into a grind, of “I have to ram through this,” or “I have to try these six different things no matter what” really just means you stop focusing on creativity and focus on metrics or just plain making sure you suffer appropriately. It’s not going to make you more creative, it’s going to make you more miserable.

There’s a time in place for a creative to push themselves in sheer effort. Sometimes it can help creativity, with some boundaries, like seeing how fast you can write, or trying a scene differently, or, hell, ALL of NaNoWriMo. But you need to have the space to push your creativity by being creative and that doesn’t always lend itself to the grindset mindset.

In closing, let me recall a friend who went through some tough times. They focused on their creative projects, which did take effort, but they kept that state of play. They not only improved on their own projects, it also got them through said tough times. It was a push, but a push that was fun and actually sustained them.

Next time you’re on the creative grind, ask just what you’re trying to do. You might do more with less pushing. In fact, you might find it’s time to get more done by playing.

Steven Savage

Hard Because We’re Inside

Writers, artists of all kinds, can be incredibly hard on themselves. If you’ve dealt with such creatives, you know it. If you are such a creative, well, you’re nodding along. I myself can be harsh towards my skills, abilities, and works.

I’ve wondered why we do this. I mean sure, not every artist or writer self-flagellates, but it’s common enough that I feel there’s something to it. We creatives can turn on ourselves.

A book could be written on this – indeed I’ve written about it before. But one of the reasons that comes to mind is simply that we’re inside something no one else can experience.

Each creative person is living inside their own unique experience and creations. No one can see the flaws of our work because only we have them inside our head. No one can see the flaws in our process like we do as we are the process. No one lives with them as much as us – only we know what that’s like.

We experience our creations and creativity so intimately its easy to see the flaws. It’s also hard to express or connect as no one can really get what’s going on as they’re not us. It’s lonely, in our face, and intense.

Solving it is also hard because our self-loathing is so intense and personal. For us creatives wanting to mitigate this – and help others, I think there’s a few lessons.

First, any creative has to be aware of their own mental health and use our awareness of how personal our experience is. Being aware that yes, we have unique experiences, yes its hard to share, we can approach our own well-being better.

Secondly, I think we can network and connect with fellow creatives so we can support each other better. Being aware we’ve got some isolation, we can mitigate it as best we can socially, in writer’s groups, etc. It may be hard, but we can try – and our fellows can tell us when we’re being too cruel to ourselves.

Third, we have to remember creative support groups – writer’s groups, art jams – have to be about more than what we make. We have to talk challenges and problems in being creative and what we face. You can’t just talk word count and editing them go away. Creative people need people because hey, we’re people.

We might be in our heads because we do a lot of work there. But we can have guests and we can visit. With a little less sense of disconnection, with more people to understand, we can get more done and maybe get over those times we’re hard on ourselves.

Steven Savage

Remembering Good Enough

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com, Steve’s Tumblr, and Pillowfort.  Find out more at my newsletter, and all my social media at my linktr.ee)

My latest book Think Agile, Write Better is in its final read-through, and I’ll be formatting it for e-book next week.  This book has been through many edits to get it right, but my biggest challenge lately was to realize that “it’s good enough.”

I’d gotten into an “editing binge” when one pre-reader found some flaws with first third of the book.  I went through the suggestions carefully, rewrote them again, kept going, and kept looking for what else to fix.  I knew there had to be more to do.

That’s when the same friend read it and said basically “ok, seems solid” which surprised me because I’d expected yet more to fix.  I’d gotten into a habit of editing and looking for flaws, not realizing if the book was “good enough.”

It’s easy to get into the zone where you edit, edit, and edit some more.  Looking for flaws leads you to find more flaws, and sometimes even imagine them or second guess yourself.  You can get to the mental place where your book will never be “good enough” because you can’t recognize it and aren’t even looking for it.

There I was, with what was basically a finished book and I didn’t even know it.

I think there’s a skill to recognizing a book is done, a skill with two facets.

The first facet of the skill is to recognize that a book is good enough on a technical and content level.  This mix of organization, intuition, empathy, and technical knowledge is one that a good author just develops over time.  I don’t think it’s one you can train in, more one you get to by just doing it.

The second facet of the skill is psychological –to be in the mental space to recognize that a work is complete.  Based on the experience of myself and fellow authors, this “skill facet” of being in the right mental space to say “done” is less common than the ability to see the work is done.  Many of us have met authors with it what is clearly a finished work that authors clearly can’t stop editing.

I can relate.  I still rethink past writing, but there is a time just to realize it’s good enough and move on.  If one doesn’t move on, one will never publish what they’re working on, let alone publish anything else.

I’m glad I caught that moment of being in the mental space of not seeing “good enough,” as it not only kept me moving but it was also a good reminder to move on.

I might not know what’s next, but at least I know there will be a next.  All because I could say “good enough.”

Steven Savage