I didn’t want to write this blog post or record the accompanying podcast episode. It’s been a tough week – several tough weeks, in fact – and as I age, I find it harder to push through and make things happen as planned. Being a creative type person, I tend to plan big and see things on a grand scale that often ends up with a much humbler reality and it becomes a stretch to reach the finish line.
I’ve learned something about myself, though. I’ve figured out that if I put some thought into it and make reasonable plans, I can usually finish strong. I also find that I feel so much better overall when I utilize a powerful resource, even when I don’t want to.
That resource is discipline.
For years I talked the good talk and started what seems like thousands of projects, all with the best of intentions and the grandest of visions. Most of them were even doable, but I was easily distracted by something new and suddenly, I found excuses not to put in the effort that would see any of those projects completed.
Until very recently, I blamed it all on a lack of focus and while there is a bit of truth to that, I can’t lump it all into that category. The more I think about it, I realize that a lack of discipline has been my main problem. I get bored once the rubber meets the road. What I mean by that is the issue of being excited at first when the page is blank or the canvas is all white. I can’t wait to type that first paragraph or make that first mark. The reality is, however, that quality work takes time and patience, which is only achieved with a devout attitude of discipline.
Good writing requires editing and rewriting. Visual art is greatest when the artist pains over a piece until they feel its completion in their soul. Even great abstract art has a flow and a message – not just paint thrown onto a surface randomly.
I would wager that if any artist who has a problem finishing things would think it over and be honest with themselves, they would see lack of discipline as the root of their issue.
I have started novel after novel and could usually get to about forty or fifty pages before I was looking at something new. It wasn’t that I didn’t care for the story. It’s just that there was always another story that needed to be written and getting started is more fun and exciting than slogging through the middle. I have so many unfinished drawings and paintings that have sat in my studio and one that even adorns the wall. It’s been there for years and everyone says it’s done, except for me. I refuse to sign it because there are a few small touches I feel need to be made before I call it finished and my hesitance to complete it has nothing to do with inspiration. I just keep seeing other projects out of the corner of my eye that would be fun to start.
As an author, I seem to have solved the discipline problem. I’ve managed to complete two stage plays and a novel by being strictly disciplined and I’m starting to turn that corner with my visual art as well.
Here’s what I’ve come to know:
If you don’t get a handle on it and become disciplined in your artistic endeavors, you may die having never completed anything.
Ask yourself if that’s what you really want. I understand that being an artist is synonymous with being loose and carefree. You may not like the idea at all of being rigidly disciplined. That’s okay if it makes you happy. But I still urge you to ask yourself that question and be honest with your answer.
I know I don’t want there to be nothing to show for my efforts when I’m gone except for a bunch of unfinished stories and half painted canvases.
Isn’t the idea as an artist to leave the world a better place because of the art that you contributed? Don’t we want the world to inherit something from us that it can learn from or at least enjoy?
Discipline is the key. I’ve come to believe that wholeheartedly. By being disciplined, I can leave my own stamp on the world and while future takers in of my work may not be all that impressed, they’ll never be able to say I didn’t finish the race.
How do you become disciplined?
It’s simple. Tackle one thing at a time until completion. New ideas will come at you, hopefully, from every direction, but you have to store them somewhere. Write them down and give them an order of priority. Whatever you do, don’t stop the thing you’re creating at the moment until it’s done. A new idea may even come along that you would have prioritized over your current project, but it came later. If it’s that great, it can be the next thing, but stay on task. Stay disciplined. Give your work all of you and make it the best it can be to the very end.
When you don’t feel great, but you need to create, don’t make excuses. Create.
I said at the beginning of this post that I didn’t feel like writing this. I almost put it off for another day. I told myself to push through and do it anyway and now that I’m writing, I feel inspired and my fingers are speeding across the keyboard. I’m also excited to bullet point this and record the podcast episode as well.
We’re artists. We were made to create, but so often we sabotage ourselves by giving in to procrastination or tired bones. And while it’s true that we need to have rest and should definitely recharge and give our bodies what it needs, we also tend to use stuff like that as an excuse.
I’m going to urge you one more time to ask yourself that all-important question, the answer to which may change your life as an artist and help you finally see that goal of finishing what you start.
Are you going to become disciplined or are you going to continue flitting from one thing to the next with nothing to show for it?
The world is waiting to see what it will inherit from you.
I’d love to find out what you think about discipline and hear your stories. Comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Michael Blackston is the owner and founder of Blackston Arts Etching, Art By Blackston, and My Everything Arts.