A blank page or canvas can be both exciting and terrifying.
Exciting if you’re filled with ideas; terrifying if you’ve got nothing. The best advice I’ve been given about this is to give myself something to work with for the next day. To stop writing when you know what comes next, or to stop drawing or painting while you still know where you’re headed. But this doesn’t always work.
There are times when you have no idea what comes next. And if you’re under a deadline, unlike projects that you generate on your own, you can’t simply set it aside and work on something else. You don’t have a choice. If you’re a professional artist or writer, there’s always someone on the other end waiting, and if you turn in a poor job as a freelancer, you hurt your chances of future work. Your client might have loved your last two assignments, but give them something make-do, or worse, poorly crafted or unprofessional, and they may never call you again.
The reality of being a freelancer is that you always have to hit the mark.
Every once in a while you may soar above it, but you can’t afford to drop below it. Drop below it and you don’t work.
I wish I had the perfect answer for you, but the truth is: you have to find a way to work through it.
If you’ve been doing this for a while, you should have a foundation of craft to lean on. But there are always mornings when you wake up and feel like you’ve forgotten how to write, or draw—particularly if, for whatever reason, you haven’t done it in a while. (Which is the greatest argument for doing it every day. But I digress.)
This means: You’re going to have to write, or draw, or whatever you do poorly, until you don’t anymore. Those skills don’t disappear, but that doesn’t mean they always come easy. There have been days that I’ve spent spinning my wheels, when nothing gets done, when I can’t seem to put together one passable sentence or drawing. But if you’ve been doing this for a while you will recognize this as what it takes to do what you do, and to do it well. You have to spin your wheels every once in a while to get to that confident place again. And if you’re under a deadline, this might take all night.
But you will get there, because this is what you do.
And if you’re not willing to work through it, if you aren’t willing to push to get it done even when you aren’t inspired or don’t want to, then you probably shouldn’t be doing it. At least, not as a profession.
I’ve never been interested in the argument about what makes a “real” artist. I don’t know what a “real” artist is, or what “real” art is, but I do know what makes art the thing that you do, versus a hobby or pastime. And this, to me, is it. I don’t think getting paid defines the difference, but certainly a willingness to work, to look at that blank page, even when you hate it, even when it terrifies you, and simply to get the job done.
Which isn’t to say that work done without this discipline isn’t worthy, or can’t be great. But it’s more likely to be a thing of quality if you are able to routinely make yourself get over the hurdle of that blank page, even when it feels insurmountable. It should never be joyless, but it should be work. It’s this—the labor of it—that makes art-making a true occupation, that makes it what you do, rather than just something you do.
Photo from Wikimedia Commons.