how to make the art

It’s 7:45 at night and I eat Raisin Bran out of an over-sized bowl. Dinner for one. The house is quiet except for the rain, and I tap out the rest of chapter 7 just as the cloud cover begins to lift. The trees are black against a barely lit sky, and I consider how fast time flies when you’re making art. Ideas are showing up like bouquets out of baskets; colorful, happy, surprising ideas. And they tip their hats and curtsy their skirts and greet me like kind, new friends waiting to come alive in my company. They are delighted by my attention.

It’s time to stop, finished or not. This time, I meet my personal deadline for the day. I gather up the laundry, fold it in front of Pride & Prejudice (the Keira Knightly version, but still good company). I settle in to the warm couch, content to be alone with my pillows and my thoughts. I think about my word count today: I am now up to 31,000 words on my second manuscript. That feels like a milestone, more so than 10 or 20. I am pleased with the direction. I eat ice cream and grin.

***

I chase three Advil down with cold coffee. It’s a writing day, but the Muse doesn’t know it. She packed up her sparkly bags last Thursday and headed off to Tuscany, stuffing all of my passion and heart into those zipped up bags, tucking away my good ideas deep into her purse. But I’m a professional, and I no longer wait for a Muse to return from her long vacation. Instead, I sit in my chair, face the day, fight the pull of the internet and the dust on the baseboards. And I work. I type out 57 words and they are all ridiculous. For a moment I fear death, because I have written these words and someone may find them when I’m gone and think I was serious. Erase them, and fast! But I don’t, because then I will have nothing to show for the work. And today, the work is more important than my pride.

The phone rings. I get an email from my publisher. I remember my seven year old has no clean underwear. The dog barks incessantly. I have until 1 pm to work, time cut out and planned for writing. I look at the clock, I will write for the next 30 minutes no matter what. And I do, and it’s terrible. Laughable. Embarrassing. I begin to type I have nothing more to say just to see the word count go up. I know I’ll have to start over. I feel discouraged. Cry a little. Keep on writing. Check my email. Wash the dishes. Look at the oven. Think about dinner. Cry again. I fail to meet my personal deadline for the day. But it’s time to stop, finished or not. I pray for the Lord to redeem the time. I believe that he can, I have doubts that he will. But then I remember that he’s done it before. No day of writing is wasted, even a bad one.

***

And that is how it goes, from one writing day to the next. The only predictable thing about a day of writing is that work always has to get done. That is the constant. Everything else will change. And so you have to make your own constants. Show up. Stay there. Work hard. Believe truth. Resist criticism. Embrace today. Surrender yourself to a relentless pursuit of the art.

Repeat.

Comments

  1. Tay says

    Thank you for sharing about your struggles with writing. I too, sometimes struggle with finding a Muse.

    Thank you for encouraging me to continue to work hard on my art, which happens to be photography. Also, thank you for replying to my question about photography! It means so much that you would help me and give me advice!

  2. says

    “Show up. Stay there. Work hard. Believe truth.” ~Those words right there are a beautiful post in themselves.

    I’m so, so grateful for how you allow us glimpses into your writing journey. And I pray your “art” series becomes your 3rd book! :) Love you, Emily.
    Kristen-Chasing Blue Skies´s last blog post ..Mom Song Monday

  3. says

    Love it today. Think how much we could all accomplish if we would just show up in the first place. Hopefully tomorrow will be a better day. But, you are right. Any day writing is never wasted. Sometimes we have to get through the rough spots in order to reach the gems.
    Pattyann´s last blog post ..Charity Never Faileth

  4. says

    Yes! Writing is crazy and strange and terrifying… and amazing. It’s worth it to get the words on the page that really belong there, the words that have to be said.

  5. Heather says

    Thank you for sharing this– it is exactly what I needed to read tonight.
    Some days, the words just flow for me, and other days? Each syllable is a struggle, and I’m worried (Anne Lamott-style) that I’ll be hit by a bus and not able to delete the bad writing before someone else reads it.
    Thanks for reminding me that I’m not the only one out here wrestling with this.

  6. says

    Hi Emily – This is a beautiful blog and that was a lovely post, too. I cannot imagine what it must be like to write for a living; I do, but not in that way. Technical writing and writing for marketing is so different. Still, I feel the lack of creativity hit like a ton of bricks. What struck me in your post was that you acknowledged the Lord and that He can inspire creativity. After all, He invented it.

    Be well and I’m looking forward to reading more of your work.

    Cheers,
    Tia
    Tia´s last blog post ..Fear as a Signpost

  7. says

    I love this post! You certainly weren’t lost for words when you wrote it, I love the poetry of the way you’ve written and the pictures your words form in my mind.
    I think it is more than a picture of writing, it is of creativity in general and more generally of the way life is. There are days when life is easy and joyful and others where we struggle to accomplish anything of note or worthy of remembrance. But, that is part of the work of the Holy Spirit, to bring pressure to bear to keep us centred, balanced and dare I say it..humble! That is why we can still rejoice..for it is still the day that the Lord has made, perfectly!
    Naturally Carol´s last blog post ..Back on the Black Couch!

  8. says

    This is SO what I’ve been through lately, going strong one minute, the next doubting absolutely everything. Is it okay that I envy your privilege, playing with words, while I work to transform my art into something more than the words that come like breathing to me?

    Think it is worth it?
    Kelly Sauer´s last blog post ..A Restless Heart Blind Vows

  9. says

    Loooooove it. I don’t struggle with writer’s block, I struggle with writer’s distractions–in the form of everything else in the world I’d rather be doing than sitting in front of a blank screen, berating myself. This post really speaks to me. A lot.
    Joyous´s last blog post ..Making Goals a Reality

  10. says

    Love this post, Emily. So true.
    And my Muse packs it up and heads to Paris.
    “I heard a preacher say recently that hope is a revolutionary patience; let me add that so is being a writer. Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you don’t give up.”
    — Anne Lamott (Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life)
    Susie Davis´s last blog post ..What is God Saying

  11. Kelly says

    Thank you for keeping it so real in your post today. Creativity is a labor of love, and labor IS work…by its very nature work is not always easy. I think our entire-easily-distracted society needs to remember that more often.

  12. Nadir@StitchSense says

    Beautifully said Emily. I struggle with creating for my shop very often & hate that I excuse myself time after time. It’s always “the house needs to be cleaned, I have laundry to do or I’m too tired” The truth is, its perfect timing for me b/c I have no little ones to keep up with (yet) & a very supportive husband who wants to see this dream of mine, to own my own handmade business but I’m to scared to dive off the deep end just yet & am comfortable with “just ok” right now. I ache to grow my business & make it my own but something always stops me. Your words are always an encouragement to me & remind me to keep trying, keep pushing, keep dreaming… thanks you for always being so honest in your own artistic journey. It means more than you know :-) Blessings! ~Nadir~

  13. Danielle M. says

    A few years back, I went through a really hard time in my work world. Everything shifted and I found myself completed thrown into a new position with no desire and no knowledge of how to do it. I remember when anxiety was a bedfellow, no matter how hard I battled.

    Up to that point, and in my previous position, I was a workhorse. I was one of those folks known for how fast, well and efficiently she worked. I was one of the go-to people in my job. Then the great shift. Then the anxiety.

    And then the slow work, because you cannot be fast when you have no idea what or how to do it. I had a friend extend copious amounts of grace to me during that time, verbally reminding me: just because the day does not look like 100% to you does not mean it was not a successful day. You cannot give 100% of yourself 100% of the time. I am still not sure how I feel about that last statement, but I have to say that hearing her say those things released pressure on me. I showed up. I worked. I literally did the best I could at the time, and that WAS good enough, regardless of whether or not I accomplished what I intended. I pray grace for you as you continue the process. :)

  14. Cynthia says

    I can not even begin to imagine what it takes to write. I am not a writer except for journaling on my blog regarding my personal journey with God and those are just written when they “come” to me. However when reading this post something resonated within me. The part on creating your own constant and embracing today grabbed me and wouldn’t let go. Now to figure out what that means to me. Thanks for the challenge!

  15. says

    It is always good to journal how you feel on the *good* days as well as the bad. So that when you have a bad day you can go back and read how the good day felt. And chances are there are more good days thanbad. Not that the laundry and dust and dishes ever go away, but the inspiration does return more often than not!
    Thank you for sharing with us!
    Bernice
    Living the Balanced Life´s last blog post ..3 ways to reduce stress in your life today

  16. says

    Exactly. Exactly. As I move from blogging when it suits me and when I feel like it to blogging as part entrepreneur with book writing aspirations I have found this to be true – unfortunately. I must show up – each day. Somedays it feels glorious, others it feels incredibly frustrating and ineffectual. But that’s what moves ideas forward, it what moves art forward. Doing the work, whether you’re in your groove or not.
    renee @ FIMBY´s last blog post ..Francesca – I really think

  17. says

    I always find writing therapeutic, and a journal/blog even more so, since you seem to share the good times and the bad, with someone. Also, I think most of us have experienced at least once “writer’s block” and have been in that stage where crying seems just around the corner of our eyes. Some of us just have more courage than others to let them flow.
    Phil@yacht charter croatia´s last blog post ..Yacht Charter Kastela – The Starting Point for your Croatian Sailing Trip

  18. says

    I woke up this morning wondering if today is the day I bag the blogging gig for good. After more than 3 years of blogging, and on-again-off-again freelancing, I have that thought every day. Sometimes it’s only fleeting. Sometimes, it’s overwhelming. As my coffee brewed at 6 am, I read your post. And it was enough to make me realize, today is not that day.

    Though, I have to admit…I was a little nervous when the post started. The “good” writing day. I was so relieved to read the second half. Which describes, more often than not, what it’s like for me.

    Thank you.
    Sandy Cooper´s last blog post ..Freedom From Perfection- Conclusion- Embracing Imperfect

  19. says

    Yes. That’s just the way it goes, whether you’re creating art with words or some other medium like watercolor. I have been doing battle with a watercolor pansy for 3 days now. A pansy of all things. My muse booked the same flight yours did. And I’m doing the same thing you are. Showing up again. Filling the water container and getting out my brushes. Because that’s the way we roll. Thank you, kind sister, for sharing the truth about making art.

  20. says

    Oh Emily, you’ve encapsulated a writer’s life. I live to meet that daily word-count and breathe a grateful sigh of relief when it’s met.

    I loathe the days when only stupid words come, but those stupid words press me in to God like nothing else.
    Julie Gillies´s last blog post ..A Holy Bulldozer

  21. Alexandra says

    I’ve been reading each one of your posts about art, and longing to have more time to create art. There are many creative things that I enjoy doing, but right now I’m in Seminary, and I have a Hebrew exegesis paper to write. As I read your post today, it struck me that it’s a lot like writing my papers, some days are good and some days are not. Blog reading and Facebook are always distractions. But your words encourage me to focus. Even if I can only write 57 words, I will write them. And I’ll learn from the discipline of meeting homework deadlines so that some day I can discipline myself to write when there is no one giving me instructions.
    Blessings to you Emily.

  22. says

    And so it goes for writing, or for any art that is important and that you put your mind to and work hard at. It’s good to remember the ebbs and flows for this and all of our endeavors.

  23. says

    Sweet Emily, I know this wasn’t intended to be a humorous post, but I confess to laughing out loud in a couple of places (like trying to up the word count by typing that you are out of words.. hehe). This so depicts the life of a writer, especially one on a hard deadline. There are times when you simply must write, with or without the Muse, but here’s the good news: God is … ever present.

    It’s been awhile since I worked on a hard deadline, but during those times, I used to sit down and say these words before typing or writing a single syllable: “Lord, if you don’t help me, I can’t do anything but make a mess,” and I meant it sincerely. How comforting to know that whenever we feel our weakest, He is at his strongest, which means I can do all things through Christ … we all can.

    Happy to see you’ve made a large dent in that second manuscript.
    Dayle´s last blog post ..The Stories of Your Life – Only you can tell them

  24. says

    I’ve been devouring writing books: On Writing, Bird by Bird, The War of Art, The Elements of Style…all the “classics.” And my main take-away is: Just write. Sit. Do it. Commit. There’s no magic formula. Just Write.

    Your art series is an inspiration. I hope it becomes yet another writing book for me to add to my collection. :)
    Melissa Brotherton´s last blog post ..My Own Personal Satan

  25. says

    You’re right, “No day of writing is wasted.” It encouraged you to write this post, and helps remind me that I’m not the only one in the boat. Thanks for the reminder on a day when it’s easier to give in to the thoughts of “what am I doing, and why,” instead of realizing the gift of it all. Your series has helped me find a certain grace to the process of my art when there was once only the nagging annoyance of misguided attempts. Thanks Emily!
    Hayley´s last blog post ..Free Frilly Easter Basket Pattern

  26. says

    i would love to see your series on art in some sort of little book.. just what you want, right. one MORE thing to write. : ) even if it were simply compiled and only made available through your blog??

    your words have been filled with inspiration and your passion is contagious. and i think.. what a neat God we have that’s designed us this way. the Ultimate Artist that pours His beauty out before us – making the ordinary every days come alive with awe and splendor.

    thanks for this, emily. and pride & prejudice curled up on the couch w/ ice cream sounds perfectly cozy.. minus the laundry of course! ; )
    grace.to.be´s last blog post ..Wednesday- April 13- 2011

  27. says

    I just found your blog! I’m glad that I did! I have been writing my first book for several months now. I was glad to read your post. I speak to moms’ groups regularly and find it easy, but writing is very hard for me! I will persevere!
    Bonni´s last blog post ..I am NO Noah!

  28. says

    If we only had days that went exactly as planned and nothing set us back, where would our faith go? It’s the days that are hard to face, the times of not wanting to lift a finger, much less a foot to step in front of the other, that strengthen our faith. So thankful you use both kinds of days to shape you. God is going to use you greatly, Emily!
    Heathahlee´s last blog post ..Milk on Tap

  29. says

    Wow. beautiful writing…

    I am at a loss for words. No, I take that back. Rather than be at a loss for words, I’m going to go blog about a small piece of it; and you may take the credit for my inspirations if you wish to! Thank you!

    Corine :D

  30. e_schi says

    Oh, and I actually love the Keira Knightly version! I think it’s so beautiful, visually. I have to keep myself from watching it all the time.

  31. says

    Wait – did I write this? No? Well, I sure could have. That word count ticker often feels like both the life and death of me. It slides back and forth between the two on a day-to-day basis. I wish I could banish it forever. But if I did, how would I know that I was getting anywhere at all? Congrats on breaking 30k. That felt like a stinking huge thing to me, too! I lay in bed at night and do weirdo calculations like, “How many words do I need to average per week in order to have this done by late-May.” It comes out to something like 7,00. And then I cry a little.

    -SJ
    Flower Patch Farmgirl´s last blog post ..Why I Love Going Home

  32. says

    Love your words. Thank you for the encouragement to create and to work hard, but even more… the encouragement to stop when it is time. What a blessing that truth can be.

  33. says

    Emily, what a great post and picture of what this all entails!! Thank you for pressing on and encouraging all of us to do the same!!! I can relate to the many distractions – the dust, the dirty underwear, all of it can pull at us, but trusting that too will get done and focusing when we have the time to write is important, but still not easy!!! Thanks for reminding us we’re not alone and that’s part of the process!!! Blessings, Jill
    Jill´s last blog post ..Who am I – A Friend

  34. says

    Thanks so much for sharing your struggle. As a writer, today I sat down and wrote a page of terrible, no good, fluff. It was awful. But…it was something and I know in a flash it will be reworked into something wonderful. Have you posted more about writing on your blog? I’d like to read more.
    Blessings, CHrista
    Christa Sterken´s last blog post ..Blah- blah- blah Interested yet

  35. says

    Thanks so much for sharing your struggle. As a writer, today I sat down and wrote a page of terrible, no good, fluff. It was awful. But…it was something and I know in a flash it will be reworked into something wonderful. Have you posted more about writing on your blog? I’d like to read more.
    Blessings, CHrista
    Christa Sterken´s last blog post ..Blah- blah- blah Interested yet

  36. says

    Reading older posts. So glad this is here. Chasing my muse ! I am so glad I have been “fighting the pull” of everything in my life for just a few hours each day. Just like your writing, some days my painting seems fit for nothing but the trash. But I am trying to be kinder to my inner artist. The things I think and say about her, I would never speak that way to someone else. We are becoming friends again and have been trying to find our voice. I hope that what we have to say only glorifies Him.

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