25 Sep Do the Work

This is my first year pursuing music full time, and while I had vague notions of what that would be like – namely sitting in my studio (read: spare bedroom) sipping coffee and writing hits all day while the checks poured in – I was not prepared to confront the hard truth that creativity is a discipline, and I am undisciplined.

There seems to be much talk of late in the social-creative-hipster-intellectual-productivity-sphere (SCHIPS?) about the tension between inspiration and discipline, so I won’t try to write another exposé on the topic. That tension is obviously real, as everyone in history who has done creative work can attest; I just didn’t know how real it was until I tried to make my home in it.

As a songwriter I have long been a slave to inspiration, and if I went weeks or months without writing, I chalked it up to block. In reality I often just wasn’t trying very hard; if I sat for more than five minutes and brilliance didn’t come pouring out I would give up immediately. That defeatism was a reaction to lofty expectations, built from a couple false ideas: that inspiration is the most important thing, and that all of my work must stand in comparison to that of my idols – every time.

The Fickle Muse and The Dangers of Comparison are their own topics, but in this context I’ll simply recognize them as obstacles between me and discipline. It’s a huge relief to realize that while I can’t choose when to be inspired, I can choose to work hard on my songs and enjoy the satisfaction of that hard work, even if the result is less than brilliant. I can choose to acknowledge the difference between progress and product, and avoid the inappropriate comparison of the former with the latter.

All of that leaves me with the freedom to “do the work” without, hopefully, judging myself too harshly. I still find those obstacles popping up, but a new understanding of the role of discipline in creativity reassures me when I want to quit. And if the SCHIPS is right about all of this, my best work is still to come.

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