You have no idea how relieved I was when I found out that Stendhal Syndrome was a thing.
Ever since I was a child, I’ve cried at art.
I cried at the symphony. I cried at the museum. I left my own little trail of tears all over Paris.
Art – and when I say “art” I mean any creative work – makes me cry for a bunch of reasons, but the primary one is this:
I am deeply moved by any art that stands the test of time.
I mean, that’s what we all want, right?
To create something that survives after our death?
So, witnessing a creative act that fulfilled the artist’s vision of longevity…eternity, even…?
That just wrecks me.
“We work in the dark–we do what we can–we give what we have. Our doubt is our passion and our passion is our task. The rest is the madness of art.” – Henry James, The Middle Years
We work in the dark indeed.
We do not know where our work is going. We do not know what will happen to our work or our reputation once we’re gone.
Would Van Gogh’s impoverished life been different if he’d somehow known that he would go on to be one of the world’s bestselling artists of all time?
My grandmother made seriographs and lithographs, and I just heard from someone who bought one of her works 25 years ago. She wrote to tell me how much the piece had meant to her and to her special-needs child all these years.
I cried at that, too.
So my question for you is: what are you creating that will live after you’re gone?
It doesn’t have to be anything big or “important.”
“…Because you told me I was a stuntwoman and I believed you…” Painting by Lesley Perdomo
Allot Fifteen Minutes a Day to Your Project
If I could actually make you do stuff, the first thing I would get you to do is to spend fifteen minutes each and every day working on your project.
As it happens, you are the agent of change in your life, and I can’t really make you do anything.
But I strongly urge you to make this daily commitment to your project.
Do fifteen minutes every morning
— before you check your email, before you check your email, before you check your email…working on your project.
You will need an iron will to resist the siren call of the Internet, but it’s worth it.
Whatever’s out there can wait while you put yourself first for just a few minutes.
So get out your kitchen timer, or use the timer on your cell phone (in which case you can select an alert sound that you particularly enjoy), and even if you just sit still for fifteen minutes, you will profit.
I’ve heard from my students with attention deficit disorders that using a timer is an especially useful focusing ritual.
You will be amazed by how much work you can get done in fifteen minutes. You will be flat-out astonished by how much progress you make by putting in fifteen minutes a day, seven days a week, for a week, for a month, for three months, for a year.
Intellectually, this makes perfect sense. You know that if you practiced guitar every day for fifteen minutes, before long you’d be a better guitar player.
If you spend fifteen minutes a day writing a novel, eventually you will have written a novel.
If you spend fifteen minutes a day working on your abs, pretty soon you’ll have strengthened your core.
But emotionally this strategy doesn’t feel like it will work. It feels too small and too half-baked.
It may also trigger some feelings of rebellion, anger, despair, or fatigue. Sometimes those feelings show up right when you’re on the verge of a breakthrough.
You might want to think of this as your Daily Fifteen Minutes of Fame.
It ’s your chance to treat yourself like a famous artist for fifteen minutes every day.
After all, would a famous artist have any trouble claiming this small amount of time for herself ? Of course not.
Maybe you’re thinking, “Okay, Sam, but how do I go about this fifteen-minute thing?” Here ’s what I recommend:
Your Daily Fifteen Minutes of Fame — the Why
Quickly — without pondering — close your eyes for a moment and ask yourself, “What does this project represent for me? What value of mine does it represent?” and just let the answer bubble up from inside.
Maybe your answer will be “freedom” or “joy” or “self- expression” or “love” or “escape from the cubicle” or “to prove everybody wrong” — whatever word or phrase brings a little smile to your face is the right one.
You might even make yourself a little sign with your word or phrase on it and post it on or near your timer. (You could even grab a paint pen and decorate your kitchen timer if you were so inclined — a bit of glitter and glue, anyone?)
Your Daily Fifteen Minutes of Fame — the What
Working swiftly, brainstorm a list of fifteen-minute tasks.
Include a wide variety, since some days you might wake up feeling bold and want to tackle something brave such as “entering poetry contest,” and on others you’ll feel quiet and shy and want to do something simple like doodling or daydreaming. With this list at hand, you can quickly select the task that matches your mood.
For example, if I were writing a play called Romeo and Juliet, my list of fifteen-minute tasks might look something like this:
• Write a quickie character sketch of the nurse.
• Research poisons and sleeping draughts.
• Work on the balcony scene.
• Call agent.
• Brainstorm titles (Capulet vs. Montague, Why Fifteen-Year-Old
Girls Should Not Be Allowed to Go Dancing Unchaperoned )
• Write an author’s bio for the back cover.
• Double-check penalties for dueling.
• Write a blog post about doing the wrong thing for the right reasons.
• Research whether a rose by any other name really would
smell as sweet.
Your Daily Fifteen Minutes of Fame — the When
I usually suggest working in the morning, just because getting stuff out of the way first thing seems to work for a lot of people, including myself, but you might find that working after school works well (family homework time?) or just before bedtime.
Some people like to work in the middle of the night. Experiment.
My friend Emilie Beck is an award-winning playwright and theater director, and once she wrote a play (two plays, actually) in twenty-minute increments.
She had two small boys at home and a very demanding full-time job, and twenty minutes each day during her lunch hour was truly the only time she had.
It was not her preferred method of working, to be sure, but she made the best of it.
She found not only that she was able to do some great work but also that the action of writing every day helped remind her of her life goals, and kept her in touch with her artist-self, which was, I imagine, in danger of getting temporarily swallowed up by her mommy-self and her executive-self.
LESLEY’S STORY (In her own words)
I will be honest, I didn’t believe you at first. You were so adamant about how only fifteen minutes a day can help you complete a project. “Yeah, right,” kept sounding in my head. It was that same voice that always held me back from starting a project because I never knew where to start.
Whether I was starting a necklace or a painting, I always felt that if I started it, then I would have to finish it right then and there. That is a lot of pressure, so I would sometimes just shrug off some great ideas.
I figured I had nothing to lose by following your advice. I set the timer on my cell phone and started a neck- lace right away. It took me three fifteen-minute sessions to complete one, but by the end of the week, I had three more necklaces than I had anticipated.
I filled in my fifteen minutes with production, and I started to value what fifteen minutes can bring you in a day, a week, and a month! So I decided to transfer this wisdom to my paintings.
Sometimes I would feel inspired to go longer than fifteen minutes. However, if I had only fifteen minutes to give to a project, I was okay with it.
What I am sharing with you today is a painting that I started in February 2011 and finally completed it August 2011. This painting is very meaningful to me and expresses the journey that I have embarked on since starting the fifteen-minutes-a-day process.
The background is a tile collage of different tattoo images that I found in various tattoo magazines (during my fifteen minutes a day I would skim through magazines and cut out my favorite images). Soon I had collected enough to fill up the canvas (again, in different fifteen-minute segments, I glued them to every quadrant of that canvas).
Once the canvas was filled, I started painting the woman. (In those fifteen-minute segments I learned how to get the skin tones I liked, and I played with shadow.)
I will be honest: sometimes during my fifteen-minute segments I would just stare at the canvas and try to figure out what my next move would be. But those fifteen minutes of thought are what helped bring about the spiderweb, the filigree, and the crystals, all of which helped me complete this painting.
I call this painting the Stuntwoman, which is something you once called me. I have found balance in my life, in my career, by just appreciating fifteen minutes every day.
By the way, I gave Lesley the stuntwoman idea because once as she was talking to me about feeling overwhelmed by her schedule, I suggested that she consider the idea of being busy without buying into the story that busy equals being stressed out:
“Think about being busy in the same way that a surgeon is busy during an operation,” I told her. “Be busy like a trapeze artist flying through the air, or like a stuntwoman — just cleanly moving through each task with great clarity, concentration, and grace.”
1. Write down all the activities that you typically do in a day, such as:
drive in the car pool
make phone calls
get the mail
work with clients
play with the kids
plan upcoming travel
coordinate volunteers for charity event
go to the grocery store
2. Now put an asterisk next to the tasks that only you can do.
So the asterisked items might be:
work with clients
play with the kids
3. Find a way to get the un-starred items off your plate.
You may need to hire someone, or you may need to simply ask some of the other grown-ups in your life for help.
Teach the kids to do the laundry, and get a co-chair to work with the volunteers.
Yes, you will have to get over some of your perfectionism — nobody else is going to do as good a job cooking dinner or sorting the laundry as you do.
But guess what? You have bigger fish to fry.
Your creative life is never going to take precedence over your everyday life unless you make it happen.
Peter is a sweet-tempered screenwriter with a tendency toward pessimism. He usually works on his scripts while seated in a corner of his big couch in his living room.
As a consequence, his coffee table is covered with papers and CDs, and there’s usually a pile of source material, old copies of Variety, and various notepads stacked by his feet on the floor.
When I suggested that a medium-sized bookcase and a good lamp next to his couch might make the place more orderly, Peter demurred.
“I should really work at a desk. I’ll just move all this stuff to the desk.”
But I would not be put off.
“Peter, I notice that there are two desks plus a dining room table in this apartment, and clearly you are not using any of them. You like to work here on the couch, so let’s make your work spot work for you!”
One bookshelf, one floor lamp, and three CD storage cases later, Peter was happily typing away.
He sold both of the desks — and his latest screenplay.
Meredith loves to multitask and to be in the center of the action. As a writer who specializes in articles, essays, and short stories about children and family life, she found her little office in the upstairs bedroom isolating and ineffective.
It seemed like no sooner did she sit down, than one of the kids needed something, or she wanted a cup of coffee, or it was time to make dinner.
Or maybe she just felt like those things might happen and she would miss them if she were trapped upstairs. So she turned the upstairs room into a much-desired retreat for her eldest child and moved her desk to a little nook just off the kitchen.
She moved her files into the front hall closet (which, I must add, only works because Meredith lives in Southern California and so she doesn’t really need her front closet for coats) and turned the closet doors into a bulletin board.
Now she loves typing merrily away while the pasta water comes to a boil and her husband watches TV.
Frequent interruptions wouldn’t work for everyone, but Meredith finds that being in the midst of domestic chaos cultivates her creativity.
Nontraditional work spaces can work perfectly, if they truly accommodate your needs.
Do you have a nontraditional workspace? Share in the comments below.
Have you said this sentence to yourself about your creative projects, your clutter or getting your business off the ground?
“I know what I need to do…I just have to make myself do it.”
I’ve said it, too.
And it’s a huge, horrible lie.
The truth is this:
You are aware of one method that you could use to get your project moving and…you’re not interested in it.
It’s like you’re standing down at the bottom of a mountain….
You can see the top and you think, “Oh! I really want to go there!”
From where you are, you can see one big path up the mountain. Lots of people are on this path.
But for some reason, you don’t want to take that path. You think about it, but you don’t move.
It’s just…not for you.
You may even start to wonder if there’s another way up the mountain.
But then your big “rational” voice says, “Don’t be silly. There’s the road up the mountain. Just do it. Just make yourself do it. What’s your problem? Are you lazy? Why don’t you just do it already?”
This voice is amplified by helpful magazine articles and practical-minded friends and well-meaning fools who keep telling you, “There’s only this one way up the mountain and you know you need to climb the mountain so get on with it, why don’t you?”
And yet you don’t move.
You start to feel worse and worse — because you really do want to get to the top of the mountain. So maybe you work on your self-esteem or you say affirmations or you try enforcing your willpower… but still…
Here’s the truth:
You aren’t moving because, honey — THAT ISN’T YOUR PATH.
There IS a way for you to climb that mountain and accomplish your goals… it’s just not the way you think.
After all, you are a Creative Genius.
You think different.
Your life is about art and self-expression and healing people and laughter and loving and doing the kind of work that doesn’t even feel like work because you love it so much and you don’t even notice the time passing.