Monthly Archives: August 2013

Sweating the small stuff:

how to get creative work done

golden retriever makes a snowman

But I like making stuff! — CC image “Chevy Worked Hard Building His Own Snowman” courtesy of Chevysmom on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

Going to the library should not have been a big deal.

It’s pretty small stuff. Question: where will I do my writing today? Answer: the library.


It’s like the dilemma about changing the channel on the TV when you can’t find the remote. Truly, not worth thinking about for more than 2 seconds. Library: quiet, air conditioned, no distractions. [1] A good place to do thoughtful work.

Except I questioned that should take that step, and almost got zero writing done that day as a result.

The easy way out of creativity

Have you ever known you needed to do something, but were looking for the easy way out?

Like most creative people, I’m fairly bruised from falling off and jumping back on the wagon of disciplined work. On a recent foray into more structured creative behavior, I came across this article from the Huffington Post outlining five bad habits that freelancers fall into. Number 5: Working From Your Bedroom caught my eye particularly.

“Working in your bedroom is only one step away from doing the laundry, two steps away from taking a nap, and three steps away from cooking in the kitchen,” #5 says. “Studies also show that working from your bedroom can cause you to have problems sleeping and resting when you’re not working.”


I’ve written before about the benefits of literally taking a new perspective — sitting in a new seat in your room or office when you work, for example. So I responded to the common-sense nature of Voakes’ advice right away. Great, I thought. Today I’ll go to the library!

Then I thought, If only it wasn’t 90 degrees outside…

Artists’ no. 1 excuse: If only…

Beware this phrase. Have you ever caught yourself using it? “If only” is the number one way our Inner Procrastinator brainwashes us. “If only [XYZ condition were met], I’d have this all taken care of…”

Which really translates into, “I’m letting myself off the hook by choosing a precondition that I know won’t be met. Sorry, art!”

Who cares if it’s 90 degrees outside? The library is air conditioned! Staying at home, faffing on the computer, would have been just as absurd as refusing to change the TV channel because I don’t want to get up out of my chair and the batteries are dead in the remote.

I had a goal to do creative writing work. I had decided to take both my own good advice on changing my physical perspective, and the accepted wisdom of freelancers everywhere that sometimes, we really do need to get out of the house to get things done. Going to the library would accomplish both goals.

Except getting there meant walking for nearly half an hour in the heat, getting even more hot and sweaty than I already was.

Now, I ask you, is that really a bad thing?

Work should make you sweat

Michael Phelps didn’t become an Olympic swimmer by sitting on his hands. Charles Dickens didn’t publish more than 30 books (but who’s counting?) by fretting about the temperature. And neither will you or I ever get where we want to be, creatively, if we’re afraid of a little sweat.

Which is why I think sweating the small stuff is a great strategy for getting creative work done. Working at the library versus working at home? Not a big deal, really…

Getting zero words on paper versus three hours of focused, dedicated writing and nearly two completed drafts?

Definitely worth the sweat.


What did you sweat creatively this week?

1. Unless you count books, of course. Those distract me all the time, but ironically, the otherwise siren call of literature becomes a soothing hum when I’m doing my own work surrounded by hundreds of tomes.
Back to the text

A Tale of Two Bed Frames:

recognizing when we use petty problems to cover more serious self-examination

Have you ever come to the unpleasant realization that you have participated in your own cover-up?

rows of metal bed frames lined up on a dusty street

CC photo “Beds” courtesy of cerebusfangirl on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

That you were your own architect, director of misinformation, and willing dupe? That, in fact, you’ve been avoiding a certain situation by creating some ancillary drama?

I have.

As I sat at my table/desk the other day, trying once again to organize my life, I surveyed the scene in my apartment.

It was a mess. I could only see patches of floor space between the scattered belongings. Everywhere I walked, I stepped on grit. Toppling arrangements of paper and books adorned the surfaces of tables.

My apartment had been a mess for going on two weeks, and was getting worse. The cause: bed frames.

I had two, in a small studio apartment, and I wasn’t sleeping on either of them. I was sleeping on the floor.

I sighed, thinking about all the other parts of my life that weren’t working, either. Then, I suddenly connected the dots.

Bed chaos = life chaos.

The disorder in my apartment was a microcosm of the rest of my life.

Behold: there were two

One of the bed frames, a white metal daybed, was loaned to me by a friend for a few months. Now was the time to return it. Disassembling the daybed was easy: one T25 screwdriver to remove four screws that held the center of the daybed frame to the head- and footboards; eight more screws (two per leg) attaching the head- and footboards to the metal spring frame. Final count: four metal pieces (headboard, footboard, center piece, and frame) and a handful of screws.

I couldn’t fit the frame into my car, as I discovered after I disassembled the bed and lugged all the pieces down two flights of stairs. My friend, who has an SUV, couldn’t pick up her bed for a few more days. I decided against putting the bed back together, and stacked the pieces against the wall in the corner.

The other frame was from IKEA. I got the cheapest wood option. The box containing the pieces was sleek enough: a long, flat rectangle, about 7 feet by 10 inches by 3 inches. There were a considerable number of pieces, however. The headboard alone contained seven pieces of wood, 10 wooden dowels, and four screws.

The IKEA frame was my Frankenstein, only I couldn’t find the spark of life.

I put together the headboard, and the footboard, and was in the process of trying to connect them via the long pieces which support the mattress, before I decided I’d much rather throw the whole lot out the window rather than wrestle with them any further. The long board did NOT want to attach to the headboard, no matter which long screw I used. About one AM, tired of cajoling splintery pieces of pine, I shoved aside my tools and put the mattress on the floor to sleep.

That’s where all the pieces stayed for another week. The headboard and one incompletely connected long piece of the IKEA frame lay on the floor and leaned up against another wall, catty-corner from the daybed, taking up more valuable space. I left the remaining screws, dowels, and metal supports scattered across tables and chairs.

What a disaster, I thought occasionally over the course of the next few days, looking at the stacks, the dust, the sprawled mattress and pieces of bed frame scattered around the room. If only I actually had a bed and all this went away...

Which was when it dawned on me.

I could clean up this mess… and then what?

If the bed frame mess magically went away, I had other aspects of my life to complain about. A list of disasters, in fact.

The bed situation was just a cover.

I’d deconstructed the simple, the straightforward, and borrowed, but I wasn’t able to clear it out of my life. I waited. I hung onto stuff which I would be better served letting go.

Then I’d chosen a cheap and complicated replacement, which turned out to be needlessly difficult to incorporate into my life, and of poor quality. I chose it for myself although I wanted better, because I thought that was all that I could get.

Sound familiar? I’m willing to bet that most of you can relate.

Don’t be fooled.

The bed frames are just a cover. If you take a closer look, I’m willing to bet there’s another mess hiding in the wings that you’d rather not examine. Confession time: when was the last time you created a little drama to distract you from a deeper issue?