Every time one of my letters disappears from this box, mail comes back with topic suggestions. I really appreciate these ideas. One of the most frequently requested is “procrastination” — a subject of which I’m proud to be an authority. Just as it takes a somewhat recovered alcoholic to stand up in an AA meeting, I’m your guy.
For those who are so afflicted, a good place to start is the realization of how insidious and dangerous it is. Procrastination ruins careers, pocketbooks, marriages. It saps energy and hinders creativity. I’m not going to go into its causes this time, but I will show you how to get it under control. So debilitating is procrastination, so difficult to overcome, that it requires a minor religion.
First, you need a symbol. This symbol is the circle. The circle means that you can start any process at any point on a circle. This is a basic principle — there’s no single spot in the book where it says “start.” You need to pin the circle on the wall over by your colour-wheel.
Then you need a statement of faith: “There is always now,” is one of the most holy. It should be printed out big and hung on your easel. “Do it now,” and “Simply begin,” are others. I think the best are where you put your own spin on your statements.
Then you need a prayer. This is not to ask for a special dispensation from a higher power — it’s an affirmation of intention and commitment.
Then you need a retreat. For most of us it’s right here in our studios. We artists have a deep need to become one with our work — unsullied, un-tempted, unspotted and uninterrupted. Incidentally, genuine contemplation-time is not procrastination. It’s a part of working. When you are properly in retreat your work grabs you.
Finally you need an anthem. “Start” can be simply when you turn on the radio — or it can be favourite canned music. Music that encourages marching or dancing is good — it stirs the blood. Incidentally, when you turn the music off — you can be off as well. You’re outta here. One day at a time.
PS: “Great journeys start with the space between one’s feet.” (Lao Tzu)
Esoterica: For chronic procrastinators, making lists can be a bad idea. Lists imply order, and the creative mind is not always ordered — nor is it always desirable to be so. The creator needs merely to “keep going” in the direction of most immediate and effective accomplishment. Thinking on your feet, big and difficult tasks can be divided into smaller and easier tasks. As well, multiple projects are more finely realized through the gift of simultaneity — “keep busy while the paint dries.”
This letter was originally published as “There is always now” on June 25, 2004.
Download the new audio book, The Letters: Vol. 1 and 2, narrated by Dave Genn, here. Proceeds of sales contribute to the production of The Painter’s Keys.
“The time will never be ‘just right.’ Start where you stand, and work with whatever tools you may have at your command, and better tools will be found as you go along.” (Napoleon Hill)
Reply To JR Cancel Reply
Monique Jarry is a Canadian and a graduate of the Ecole des Beaux-Arts de Montreal.
Personally , I like lists. One list to note art supplies needed or to try [ a new paint colour for example]; another list for things to do – e.g. look up a new artist, search for new art books to order from the library, ideas for paintings, inspirational things; things to update on my website, blog ideas ……. I don’t put dates on things on my lists unless I must do something [ e.g. wire a painting for an exhibition for example]……… but when something gets done, I cross it off the list……. in this way I begin to notice if I am procrastinating and not getting anything done …… When I worked in an extremely pressured environment, I learned to do the thing I most did not want to do first……. and thus could enjoy the rest of my day without that nagging feeling that I had to get to something I didn’t want to do …… it works well
I always have done this, since high school. I am now 82! Always have lists to cross off
ME TOO, BARBARA………AND I’M 91……IT’S A HABIT I PICKED UP BEFORE I RETIRED FROM BEING A FEDERAL AGENT……..THEN IT WAS A NECESSITY, BUT THE HABIT CARRIED OVER TO MY RETIREMENT, AND BECOMING A FULL TIME ARTIST……………………
Words fail to completely describe the level of appreciation I feel for having invited your correspondence into my life. Thank you, the combination of you and your Dad’s articulation of spirit, brought about by living these inspirations, is clear and powerful.
This reminder of the moment and, one day at a time, are very near and dear.
I love that instructions to help remedy are included. I certainly know the symptoms, but to also have some different flight instructions to apply is brilliant.
Thank you Sara and Robert!
Sending bright wishes to all, it is lovely that we are all in this together, be well.
I feel the same as Shellee. I wish these letters could interest all my art friends. they are so practical and therefore inspiring. thank you again and again.
I’m with you Shellee on this. Well said
Since I retired some years ago, I’ve had mixed results on this issue. Robert’s checklist is somewhat familiar. My ‘Start’ is the radio, as he suggests. CBC Radio 2. Classical all morning with no commercials. I have my ‘Retreat’ well-organized and I’m practically an ‘urban hermit’. I do not engage in ‘Prayer’ – as a ‘lapsed Catholic’, I don’t believe in gods. I already have ‘Circles’ adorning my walls from a variety of sources, including a bicycle wheel without a tire and a clock without a minute-hand. If there’s a ‘Statement of Faith’, it might be the card from my chiropractor which says: Expect Miracles. This is pinned to my door, on the inside, so is only visible when I’m going outside, which I must do shortly. I’m in need of some materials from the nearby Art & Graphics shop. Browsing there always gives me a few ideas and helps to combat the persistent mantra that I can’t always ignore: Why put off untill today what you could have put off untill tomorrow?
The card from the chiropractor is the best nudge of all. It’s like finding the story to write — not hard when you start to see stories under every roof and bush. Expect miracles and you shunt into another zone, from the everyday to wonder and sharp awareness. Lists are fine if they work for you. But breathless anticipation, belief that something great can come from very little, is art’s catalyst.
Wow! Your father was such a wonderful painter. I love his subject matter and compositions, so diverse.
This spring I am finally feeling myself after 3 weeks recovering from the flu. Working on paintings as I normally do from early morning until late at night everyday, these three long weeks of laying around with barely enough energy to get out of bed makes for a lot of concern for how I am ever going to get back on track. I recently found a faded note dated over 25 years ago to myself that I kept in a journal. It was a list, to my then stressed-out type A artist personality. I was giving myself important permission to not feel guilty.
I was to have whole days of walking in the flower gardens I had created. I was to consciously take time to walk slower, eat slower, chew, chew, chew, tasting each bite, time to take care of my pets, grooming them, playing with them. Some days were to be spent cleaning, getting into corners, dusting the precious treasures I have inherited and collected over the years, appreciating each of them for their beauty, or letting them go. Whole days of spending quality time with friends, sharing a cup of tea. Although I have done all these things, time had put me back on that racehorse, but when I was forced to slow down I found that list. What synchronicity. I once again had permission from that younger self to still live all those moments of my life without guilt. Suddenly I see a painting nearby, it is asking me to give it 2 hours of my time. Just enough. Always enough. That is an affirmation that carries me beyond this world and into an eternity of plenty.
Join me in Colorado, and Italy this year. We have memories to create and paintings to paint! See the listings in the workshop section of this Robert Genn Twice Weekly newsletter
Sara and DAD somewhere up in the ethers of ART Space: Once again I stopped by to urge me forward….and you were there…..much as my Grandmother did when I was young…..your message today is….get going woman DO IT NOW… no more dragging your brushes out and there they lay. NO MORE JUST thinking……. GET UP, Take that Brush, DIP it in the paint AND DELIVER the best example of your skills ——–DO IT NOW!
My problem is not starting paintings but finishing them. I’ve always said the trick is knowing when to stop. That seems to be more troublesome lately.
I have just used “Melissa” as the wallpaper for my iPod lock screen. A beautiful reminder in a place where buttons can count for minutes lost or redeemed in my day.
When I remember God I am ready to play.
Thank you, Sara! Your Dad is appreciated by so many artists. Love all the letters and fellow artist responses.
Funny thing about lists…..I’ve noticed myself writing down my accomplishments at the end of the day instead of writing a list of what needs to be done. Might be worth a try for someone else.
I like Michael Jackson for my marching music!
I think this is the first time I have seen your father’s figure paintings they are as wonderful as his landscapes!!
Pingback: There is Always Now – Robert and Sara Genn | Whidbey Allied Artists
Re. procrastination, I have just received a gift of a large A3 bag to carry my painting gear in. It is white and has written on it in large. black, capital letters “SHUT UP AND PAINT”. Good advice, so I do!!
“….the creative mind is not always ordered – nor is it always desirable to be so. The creator needs merely to keep going….” YES! Thanks for that! Order is good, but too much order can be as bad as none at all, sapping the spontaneity out of everyday life and art itself. This coming from someone (myself) who struggles constantly to free himself from the shackles of too much order, always trying to put things in place before I get started, and then never getting started, or waiting for just the right moment and the right moment never asrives. This article is very helpful. Thank you. Peace and love to you always.
Excellent advice! I had to immediately draw the circle in two places to remind me that “you can start anywhere!”
I did know know your dad did portraits! These two are gorgeous! I love “In a Moscow Cafe.” In fact, I’d love to see it in person someday!
Peace, love & a reminder that “There’s always now,”
Sherrie Miranda’s historically based, coming of age, Adventure novel “Secrets & Lies in El Salvador” is about an American girl in war-torn El Salvador:
Her husband made a video for her novel. He wrote the song too:
Once again, this “writer” forgets to proofread. I meant “I did NOT know” he did portraits!
Hello there I am so glad I found your website, I really found you by accident, while I was researching on Yahoo for something else, Nonetheless I am here now and would just like to say thank you for a fantastic post and a all round exciting blog (I also love the theme/design), I don’t have time to browse it all at the moment but I have book-marked it and also added your RSS feeds, so when I have time I will be back to read much more, Please do keep up the great work.