Sometimes the most difficult part of the creative process is merely beginning. Merely showing up at the canvas or page or instrument and starting your work. For much of my own creative life, this was the struggle, where all my fears that I would have nothing to say, nothing to offer would rise to the surface and send me skittering away from the writing chair.
Years ago when I was first developing my writing life, I saw a short video about the phenomenally talented painter, Chuck Close. He said something that I carried with me, inside of me, like my Dumbo’s feather of hope:
“The advice I like to give young artists, or really anybody who’ll listen to me, is not to wait around for inspiration. Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work. If you wait around for the clouds to part and a bolt of lightning to strike you in the brain, you are not going to make an awful lot of work. All the best ideas come out of the process; they come out of the work itself. Things occur to you. If you’re sitting around trying to dream up a great art idea, you can sit there a long time before anything happens. But if you just get to work, something will occur to you and something else will occur to you and something else that you reject will push you in another direction. Inspiration is absolutely unnecessary and somehow deceptive. You feel like you need this great idea before you can get down to work, and I find that’s almost never the case.”
Madeleine L’Engle says something similar in Walking on Water. She says that we must serve the work (our art) in order to bring it to life. Serving the work involves showing up every day, working through our own issues and insecurities, and then just getting out of the way so the work can flow through us. So simple. So hard too, sometimes.
I love what they're saying, though. It's a job, like any other. You move forward, you produce, and you grow by punching in your timecard. And then, when the ideas hit, you've already got a pen (or paintbrush, or guitar) in hand. You never know what might happen if you just plunk yourself down and begin, inspiration or no inspiration.