To some people, this empty room symbolizes something profound, mysterious, and terrifying: the task of starting with nothing and working your way toward creating something whole and beautiful and satisfying.
It’s no different for a writer rolling a fresh sheet of paper into his typewriter (or more likely firing up the blank screen on his computer), or a painter confronting a virginal canvas, a sculptor staring at a raw chunk of stone, a composer at the piano with his fingers hovering just above the keys.
Some people find this moment — the moment before creativity begins — so painful that they simply cannot deal with it. They get up and walk away from the computer, the canvas, the keyboard; they take a nap or go shopping or fix lunch or do chores around the house. They procrastinate. In its most extreme form, this terror totally paralyzes people.
The blank space can be humbling. But I’ve faced it my whole professional life. It’s my job. It’s also my calling. Bottom line: Filling this empty space constitutes my identity.”
- Twyla Tharp, The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life
Every day I write for at least one hour on my iPad using the Ulysses app. Lately, this is all I need to show up for myself for my mayBE project.
I have shown up here for 26 days straight but the last few days, I have only been able to show up to write and haven’t been able to do my art. In previous years, I would have been harsh with myself. I am a little kinder today. I have a clearer view and a better habit of stepping back to look at the big picture. While art has taken a back seat, other blank pages needed to be filled.
My blank pages change depending on what is in front of me. Some blank spaces are easier for me to fill than others.
I am better at facing an empty page on the computer screen to write than an empty house that I need to decorate.
My blank canvas to paint was easier to face than a blank canvas of starting over in a marriage.
Blank lesson plans are easier to fill when my children write the first sentence.
It’s not as easy to see my body as a blank space with which to re-mold and sculpt as I age.
I have had many blank slates in my life: choosing a new place, a new community, and a new country to call home. And at other times, the blank slate was invisible to everyone outside of me. It only came from aggressively stripping away old beliefs, impatient with the old coat of bull shit chipping slowly.
But no matter what the blank page looks like, I show up for it.
”A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper.” – E.B. White
If I waited for my kids to grow up, to have a room of my own, to have the perfect routine, to have the art supplies all set up and organized, to be completely rested, to be happy and know what I wanted to create, I never would have fulfilled my creative callings.
I remember teaching 6-10 workshops per month and at one point, half of them were original classes that I had to create with 1-2 weeks notice. I worked with the art of story and paper at the time. I had four kids with one of them as a new baby. After the kids would go to bed, I would put the baby to sleep on the couch in the basement and spread out all of my art supplies on the floor and work until the baby woke up for the next feed.
I remember writing on this blog in the wee hours of the morning and in the middle of the night because I had to write something down.
I remember waking up at 4:30am to draw on the chalkboard hoping the kids wouldn’t wake up or I would do my Book of Hours in the car if the kids fell asleep on the way home.
But wait, you say. What about those Goldilocks Conditions that we mayBE’d about on Day Four? Yes but you have to find the balance, like the old serenity prayer, accept the things you cannot change while changing the things you can. If you have been following along for the month, what conditions absolutely need to be met and what conditions actually aren’t that necessary?
Maybe through this journey, you were able to prioritize and create conditions. But maybe not. Maybe it’s been a futile and frustrating effort. Maybe you have to lower your standard. Maybe your ideal conditions can’t happen for a few years because your kids are too young or you have to focus on one thing at a time like getting more sleep or helping your kids adjust to an emotional transition.
For me, I need my iPad and 1 hour because my creative juices have been building for 26 days. When I started the month, there were more conditions that needed to be met so I could get over the inertia.
Sometimes we need to face the blank page even if we are missing those conditions. Sometimes our sanity depends on it. Sometimes we are called to even if the rest of our life is falling apart because maybe it will be the only thing that will give us the energy to put it back together.
And if you missed some days, that’s cool because at least you show up.
Because as Picasso said,
“To know what you’re going to draw, you have to begin drawing.”
- Fill a blank page with words or images.
Whenever I face a particular blank space without inspiration, I copy. I copy a poem. I copy a drawing. I copy house decor. I copy a person who inspires me. It takes the pressure off and is the perfect way to begin without so much responsibility.
- Copy one thing onto a blank page.