When I first started this blog, I was completely overwhelmed. I didn’t know how to carve writing time out of my schedule. I didn’t know how to meet deadlines. I didn’t know if what I was writing was worth anybody’s time.
I shared my fears with my best friend and editor-extraordinaire Dave over text. And at some point, a little ASCII art ghost started popping up. “OoooOOOoo,” he said, “this is Productivity Ghost…you’re doing pretty gooOOoood!” By the time I was done laughing, it was hard to remember my prior insecurities. He’d appear in texts now and then with encouraging words when I was panicking about a deadline, or at the end of emails full of edits to reassure me that I was still doing a good job. It wasn’t long before just hearing his signature “Ooooo” was enough to make me smile--and it was always what I needed to hear to motivate myself to do the next step.
This type of support is not a solitary occurrence in my creative life. Besides Productivity Ghost, Dave is responsible for the Broblique Strategies, and an entire vocabulary cobbled together from puns and internet memes and inside jokes that we use to motivate each other. I have a friend I refer to as my muse who always has a bad joke ready about my writing, or a worse drinking idea to get me putting words on the page. I attend Workday Wednesdays with my burlesque and circus performing friends, where we keep each other honest and on-track. I even have a submission buddy who pushes me to write more.
The thing is, there’s an incredible demand for art as a finished product. We listen to it and look at it all day—from the music I put on when I’m working to the book I read at the end of the day to relax. There’s also a certain societal prestige for being viewed as an artist. Or at least, there’s a certain reverence that we hold for someone who has already created art. I can’t tell you how many times people seem to have suddenly decided I was cool after seeing my modeling portfolio, or respected me more when they read my archive of blog posts. There are a lot of external motivators to have finished art.
However, just because the finished product is valued, it doesn’t mean the process to create it is. It can be really hard to make art. It requires holding space, energy, time, and resources away from “normal” life. Art requires taking risks when society expects successes. Even if you’re doing well at it, you aren’t necessarily getting that feedback, and trying to push through on your own can be exhausting.
So as a working artist, I have to counteract the societal obsession with finished product rather than process. To do this, I try to surround myself with people that promote good work habits. These are the people that understand the importance of the process, and of creating space for it, and that sometimes what you need is a push at the right time.
When I want to give up, my Workday Wednesdays group reminds me that we’re all in this together. When I’m stuck for ideas, my muse has something on hand to get me thinking. And when I’m feeling unsure about my work, there’s nothing quite like seeing a little cartoon apparition show up to haunt my text messages with tiny affirmations.
It’s hard to stay down on myself when my friends are behind me like that.
There’s a world of difference between trying to work in isolation, and working as part of a community that can prop me up through the tough parts. Maybe it’s because I’m a Golden Retriever and respond so much to feedback, but I also think it’s because it makes the long haul of making meaningful art as social as the payoff at the end.
So if you want to improve your work, maybe look to your community. Ask for help and give value back. Be a good influence in other people’s lives, both through your work and your support for them and their work. And let them support you in turn, in yours.
And remember, Productivity Ghost says you can do it. Ooooo.