Artististic Self-Doubt

I had a thought about why artists tend to suffer crippling self-doubt — Every creative person’s training begins with the proclamation that there is someone, or multiple someones, whose skill they will never surpass. If asked, “Who is the greatest writer of all time?” we* are expected to say “William Shakespeare.” What about the greatest composer? Mozart. Greatest rock band? The Beatles.

It doesn’t stop at “greatest.” I’ve read interviews where skilled artists preface their influences with some variation of “I’m nowhere near as good as they are!”

I’ve mentioned that I’m working on my drawing skills. It’s not false humility when I say I have a long way to go, and that I am not currently in the same league as my heroes. And, since art isn’t my job, I’m okay if I don’t reach the level of, say, Emma RĂ­os — but it’s not arrogant to say that if I worked my ass off, then I could be that good. The idea of reaching that level is what motivates me to practice when I could be binge-watching teevee shows on Netflix.

We’ve internalized the myth that some people are born with innate abilities that set them on a higher level than the rest of us, that despite our best efforts we will never be able to advance past a certain tier. I hate that myth. It makes us roll our eyes at young people who say they want to write like Bob Dylan. It makes people who don’t sing feel self-conscious doing karaoke with their friends. I want to emphasize that last sentence: People feel bad when they can’t do things they’ve never worked at.

Creative skills are like any other skill — if you have the time, the opportunity, and the necessary functional body parts**, you can do any of them. You can improve.

I want to live in a world where kids can aspire to surpass their heroes without being shamed, and where adults who never practiced drawing don’t feel the need to apologize for sketching stick figures to communicate ideas.

* By “we” I really mean white people who speak English — we’re the kind of people who assume our opinions are and must be universal.

** Not everyone has all of these things, and it’s worth noting that many of the most famous and successful creators have tons of money that reduces the amount of time they have to spend doing things other than honing their craft. They aren’t superhuman, they just have more time to work.

5am: Day 1

I stayed up to watch the Super Bowl with my wife last night. After that, I had trouble falling asleep because my body was basically saying, “Dude, what are you doing? It’s not even midnight yet.”

5am arrived sooner than I would have liked.

Thankfully, my wife — who is awesome — had set the daylight alarm clock to go off at 5am, so when my tablet started playing music at me, the room was already bright.

My gym clothes were already laid out, so I got changed, ate a yogurt, and got to the gym a bit before 5:30. I worked out for an hour and was home by 6:30. After showering and eating a banana, I had my coffee ready to go by 7am — my regular wake up time.

I generally start work at 8am, so with an hour to play with, I decided to fire up Medibang Paint and create some art. It only took 30 seconds of staring at the blank canvas to understand that my brain is not quite ready for kicking ass this early, so instead of shooting for “art”, I just played around with the different brushes that the program offers, just to see what kinds of things they do.

The end result is basically a toddler’s fever dream:

I hope this isn't the one thing I do that survives the ages.

I hope this isn’t the one thing I do that survives the ages.

I feel good. I’m tired from not getting enough sleep, but I think that will work itself out over the next few days. I love that I’ve already exercised today. I’m going to need extra coffee, and I need to eat more food, but I’m glad I tried this.

Trying Something Crazy

My wife recently read a book called “The 5am Miracle,” which she summed up as, “You can get a lot done if you get up really early.” Obvious, right? Sometimes we need to read a book about something obvious before we give it a shot. Does anyone else do this?

The book doesn’t use 5am as the magical wakey time that works for everyone — the idea is simply to do some stuff in the morning before your obligations kick in. This week, I’m thinking I’ll just go all-in and set my alarm for 5.

Currently, my average day goes something like this:

  • 7am: Wake up
  • 8am: Begin work day
  • 4:30pm: End work day; begin sitting on couch, possible nap
  • 6pm: Maybe go work on something for a bit, like writing or drawing
  • 7:30pm: Begin TV or video games, maybe.
  • 9pm: Decide not to go to the gym; tomorrow night?
  • 11:30: Get ready for bed; stare at tablet or phone
  • 12 or 1am: Fall asleep

This week, I’m aiming to get up at 5am and go straight to the gym. Once I’m home and showered, I’ll have time to write for a bit before I start working. Depending on how long I work out and write, I may shift my work day back a bit, or maybe just find another thing to do in the morning.

But man, 5am sounds brutal right now. We’ll see how well it works and if I can stick to it. I’ll write about the experience next week.