New Year, New Habits

Creativity is a habit, and the best creativity is a result of good work habits. Twyla Tharp

We hosted a New Year's Day party for a couple of years, but stopped when I realized I didn’t want to share January 1st with other people, no matter how much I liked them. What I really love to do on New Year’s Day is pour a cup of tea, sit by the fire with my journal, and reckon up the past year. What were the surprises, what were the disappointments, what were the successes? (The successes always seem the hardest for me to record--but that's another blog post. . . .)

Susan Abbott, “Self Portrait by Window”

Susan Abbott, “Self Portrait by Window”

New Year's Day also means looking ahead, and the possibility of fresh starts. What do I want to be different, and what to stay the same? What are my goals for the coming year? Which habits would I like to break, and which would I like to grow?

This preoccupation with choices, goals and habits comes with being self-employed. When we have no boss but ourselves, every idea and every decision comes out of our own heads. How do we keep motivated, and even somewhat productive day after day? Or, you may be thinking, how do we even get started?

Below are five ideas I’ve found useful for developing and maintaining the habits that make independent, sustained creative expression possible. If you’ve made a resolution to get more art (or music, or writing, or whatever your creative dreams are) accomplished in the New Year, give them a try, and let me know how they work for you!

Hurvin Anderson, “Backdrop”

Hurvin Anderson, “Backdrop”

1. Just show up.

Sit down with a pen and paper, and write down your normal daily schedule. When is there time in your day, or evening, to do your creative work? If it's the two hours your kids are in preschool, or an hour after dinner when you normally watch TV, or fifteen minutes in the morning before work, then that's your time to "just show up" for your art.

Don't worry if the art you are making is any good. I know, that's hard to do. But try to put in your time without judging what you come up with. If all you do is stare at your canvas for fifteen minutes, that counts as work, too.

It's better to focus on your art for even a few minutes each day than for an afternoon every two weeks. By showing up daily, you're building the habit of a studio practice that will, in the long run, serve you better than occasional bursts of inspiration.

Catherine Murphy, “Self Portrait with Pansy”

Catherine Murphy, “Self Portrait with Pansy”

2. Think small.

Can you really get anything worthwhile done, creatively speaking, in fifteen minutes? Yes! Even a short session with your art will keep it in the front of your mind for the rest of the day. You'll be thinking about the painting you just began, or almost finished, while  you're carpooling, or at the gym, or sitting at your desk at work. You'll be eager to start again the next day when it's time for your studio session.

Plus, if you set your timer for that fifteen minutes, you may find yourself so engaged that you keep on going. Getting started is always the hardest part.

Giorgio Morandi, “Natura Morta”

Giorgio Morandi, “Natura Morta”

3. Track your habit.

Have you heard of Jerry Seinfeld's "Don't Break the Chain" idea? Every day that Seinfeld meets his creative goal and writes new material, he puts a big red "X" on a wall calendar. His goal isn't to write something that's good, it's just to keep the chain of "X"'s moving across the calendar every day of the year.

I find tracking habits helpful. Sometimes I'll take a walk at the end of the day just so I have the satisfaction of checking the "exercise" box on my daily to-do list! You also may find that making a simple written record every time you "just show up" keeps you motivated, and helps you track your progress.

Agnes Martin, “Grid”

Agnes Martin, “Grid”

4. Make your creative habit inviting.

Creative work is difficult, and we often have to fight a bad case of inertia to get started. To conquer procrastination, it can help to throw a few pleasures into the mix. How about taking your first cup of coffee for the morning into your studio? Or maybe listen to your favorite music only when you're doing your creative work? And it always helps to have a well-lit, pleasant work space. (So, if you're still down there, please come up from that damp, dark basement!)

Pierre Bonnard, “Still Life with Fruit”

Pierre Bonnard, “Still Life with Fruit”

5. Give your creative habit a home.

Speaking of work spaces, if you're going to cultivate a creative habit, you'll want your art area set up and ready to go. It can be a table in the corner of your bedroom, an unused guestroom, your garage, or a rented office. The important thing is that the space is private, and that it's there for you, supplies at the ready, when it's time to work.

Don't be afraid that having a routine will hamper your imagination. As Picasso said, " “Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.”

Avigdor Arikha, “Red and Blue Portfolios”

Avigdor Arikha, “Red and Blue Portfolios”

For more ideas on forming habits, check out "The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life" by Twyla Tharp, "Atomic Habits" by James Clear, and "Daily Rituals: How Artists Work" by Mason Currey.

Your comments are welcome below!