Don’t Ever Give Up

It takes grit to pursue creativity. Being creative means fighting against all odds—most of all ourselves. However, the creative fight is less a battle for glory than a pursuit of personal spirit and finding a way to express it without fear. It’s not a gladiator’s brawl, but rather a solitary struggle with ourselves.

In previous post over the years I have used our playful relationship with water (at least before we grow too old) as a metaphor for creativity. Extending this metaphor, the creative fight is not Michael Phelps competing for Olympic gold but more like swimming to an inviting island off the coast somewhere. The Olympic Games are hyped up, and they are loud. When we swim to go somewhere, it’s discreet. We use ingenuity, agility and guts to accomplish our goal. Phelps swim against others, but swimming to reach that island is a fight within.

I think that we create with such a drive in mind. At least for me, I create for the sheer joy of making something for myself. Yes, I would like to get recognition, but that is not what is driving me. As when I have swum out to that island, there is great gratification to be had when I can enjoy the view from the island that I have earned.

The creative fight doesn’t gloat and it doesn’t crush. Yet the creative person isn’t some pushover that’s afraid of a difficult task.

One characteristic that makes someone a good swimmer is grit. Grit can be defined different ways. It can be thought of as tiny particles of crushed rock. Taking this perspective a bit further, the oyster reminds us that without grit, there is no pearl. Grit is a character that is a mixture of courage, resolve and strength. Like small granite rocks, grit is strength that won’t give up. Those who are gritty have a passion to pursue a goal over an extended amount of time. No one is born with grit. It’s grown into us through difficulties of life.

Earlier this year, I ran my head into a wall. Not literally, but in pursuit of a creative job. I was shooting an assignment for a magazine here in Norway. It was about a couple who had moved to an island to live off the grid, to support themselves as sheep farmers and of fisheries. They had been looking for a harmony missing in contemporary life—and had found their private Eden on the island. It was a fun assignment, offering plenty of creative possibilities. I didn’t have to swim to their island, but it still took some organizing to get there since there was only one regular boat transport a week. The shooting was really fun and I felt it went very well. However, when I got back and prepared to upload the photos, I discovered that the memory card was corrupted. It was a first for me, but nevertheless devastating.

I could have given up. Called the magazine and explained that I wasn’t able to deliver on time, knowing I would have to wait a week for the next regular boat to take me back to the island. Instead, I refused to give up. That evening I called all friends I knew had boats nearby the island and asked if anyone would be willing to take me back. One of the last on my list, agreed to do it. Early next morning I was back with the couple.

I don’t know if you have had to do a reshoot of something you thought went pretty good the first time. Mentally, it feels like having to clean up your own mess. Not fun and definitely not the best starting point for a creative quest. I pushed my worries and frustrations away, forcing myself to be present in the moment and not thinking at all about what I did the first time I visited the couple. It worked. In the end I think I returned with even better photos than the first time. The editor surely was pleased.

Grit isn’t easy to learn—there aren’t any classes offered in schools. Long time ago I asked a friend of mine who is a triathlon athlete if grit can be taught. He said: “The only way to learn grit is to get out there and get your ass kicked. You have to suffer and you have to fail.” My friend does Ironman triathlons. That is biking 181 km, running a full marathon of 42.2 km on top on swimming 3.9 km. He knows what he is talking about.

Grit isn’t something that you will find on an online course. It’s gained while in pursuit of something big. Grit requires belief that it can be done. It means don’t give up when the going gets tough.

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The Curse of Good

Technology has helped us improve our creative output dramatically. It’s probably more obvious in photography than in any other creative endeavour. As a result, there are a lot more good photographers in the world. Good isn’t the big deal. Simply point and click. Yet, a few of the good photographers become truly great. Why is that?

Good is easy, but greatness is always hard. When I started out as a photographer, I wasn’t even good. Of course, that’s always how it is in the beginning. Back then, with manual and analogue film cameras, it was even harder to get started than today. Nevertheless, it didn’t take very long to become a pretty decent photographer, at least technically speaking. Getting beyond that level, though, is a much tougher travel—and still is today. Even these days with cameras that do all the thinking.

We all know it. It’s not the camera and it’s not their built-in ability to handle all the technical challenges that makes great photography. It’s still the photographer and his or her willingness to go beyond the obvious. The pursuit for great photography is a quest for hidden things. That’s why the best photographers are such a quirky bunch—like oddly equipped treasure hunters who get out into the world look for the magnificent. Leaving no rock unturned, they search high and low for the perfect shot. The result may still look like an easy accomplishment, but the truth is that effortless and deep photographs take decades of commitment to the craft.

When I teach photography, I am often asked for tricks that can make a student’s photographs better. The truth is, there aren’t any easy tricks that will quickly result in great photography. The curse of today’s technology is that it is fairly quickly to get good at it. That is literally the problem. It’s like inheriting money before you have learned the value of hard work.

Too much good too fast can distract us from a higher goal. When life is good, we stop trying so hard. That’s why so many of the great artists often started out starving. They weren’t only hungry for survival, their hunger infected their art. And, yes, I know it’s a cliché, but not completely. The American author Jim Collins distilled the curse of good in this way: “Good is the enemy of great”. He explained; “Few people attain great lives, in large part because it is just so easy to settle for a good life”.

When we become good, we might not see it this way. We think to ourselves, how can this be a curse? Good feels nice. But good is not a stable spot. We might soon becoming dissatisfactory with the result, particularly when we see others climbing higher than us and thus demoting us. When good is good enough, it stops the creative flow. Not good enough is what drives growth. It’s when we feel that we can still become better that we pursue that next level. And then do it again. And again.

Creative Magic

You may have noticed that this blog of mine has been titled Creativity Is within Us All. It’s not only something I have put there (look to the right), I truly have faith in it. I do believe we are all creative beings—as long as we are willing to uncover our creative abilities, which lies within us. It takes courage. It takes faith. But it’s there. This is how I see it metaphorically: the universe hides gems deep within us, and then stands back to see if we can find them.

Sometimes these gems reveal themselves without any effort from us. Sometimes it takes a lot of work to uncover one. When it happens, however it does, when a sudden idea out of the air appears for our inner eyes, it feels like magic.

Elizabeth Gilbert—the bestselling author of Eat Pray Live—does think it’s magic. Literally. In her book Big Magic about creative living, she writes: “I believe the creative process is both magical and magic.” She believes our planet is inhabited with ideas, as disembodied, energetic life form. These are ideas can only be made manifest through collaboration with a human partner.

“When an idea thinks it has found somebody—say, you—who might be able to bring it into the world, the idea will pay you a visit. It will try to get your attention. Mostly, you will not notice. This is likely because you’re are consumed by your own drama, anxieties, distractions, insecurities, and duties that you aren’t receptive to inspiration. […] But sometimes—rarely, but magnificently—there comes a day when you’re open and relaxed enough to actually receive something.”

Personally, I don’t quite believe as literally in ideas as real life forms, but I think, as a metaphor, Gilbert’s description gives a way of understanding how creativity works. It’s the way it feels when we are struck by ideas. As something, that just comes out of nowhere to be grabbed.

It’s up to us what we want to do with ideas that come our way. We can ignore them, we can think it’s too hard to follow through or we can say yes to the idea and make something out of is, however hard it’s going to be. For Gilbert the point is really how you embrace the ideas. She suggests to cooperate fully, humbly, and joyfully with the inspiration. You may not achieve success or make a living in your creative pursuit, but if you welcome creativity into life as such, enjoying being creative for itself, you will thank creativity for having blessed you with a charmed, interesting , passionate existence.

Another quote from Big Magic: “I believe that inspiration will always try its best to work with you—but if you are not ready or available, it may indeed choose to leave you and search for a different human collaborator. This happens to a lot of people actually. This is how it comes to pass that one morning you open the newspaper and discover somebody else has written your book, or directed your play, or released your record, or […]”

Whether or not you believe in ideas literally as life form is not important. What is important is to act on inspiration when it arrives. Not wait until better times. Not postpone until the idea is fully developed. Not put off until a better idea comes around. Not delay because you don’t feel ready.

Are you ready to act on inspiration when it strikes?

Set Sail


The wind is catching up. After days of no wind at all, suddenly a strong breeze is coming in from behind. It’s time to go. Time to set the mainsail, the jib and the spinnaker. Set all sails you may have onboard, because it’s time to fly. But only those who are ready will get going, and only those who set sail will catch the wind.

Creativity is like sailing the winds. There will almost always be winds – metaphorically speaking a well of creative possibilities. But we must set sail to catch them. Sometimes creativity hits us like a storm and we don’t need to do much to get going. At other times it’s only a small breeze and we need to set all sails to catch whatever wind there is. When we feel creativity has left us, it’s really time to work the sails and catch any small amount of wind that comes in our direction. If on the other hand we sit down and give up, we might be in for a long wait. Nothing happens if we don’t set sail. Or even worse if your boat is not even on the waters.

Setting sail to catch the creative winds means different for different people. For some all it takes is to sit down and start doodling. For others it takes a lot more work. They might have to push though walls of inhibition and creative stillness before being able to catch some wind at all. As I have stated many times before it comes down to doing the work. Keep being creative even when we feel none is coming our way. Or as I wrote last month, doing something different may break the creative block and make you catch the wind again (Break the Block). So set sail and wait for some wind to catch them, because the wind will always come.

Have you set your sails?

Break the Block

We all experience it; the drought, not having ideas, the feeling of being detached from our creative source, the lack of inspiration. Those down times are part of being creative. You just can’t keep flying high and be in constant flow. Sometimes you will have to land and just accept that you need some time to ground yourself again.

Yes, it is frustrating when you hit a creative block. Particularly if it lasts a long time. However, the more you experience it—and the more you create the more you will experience it—the more likely you will know that it’s a temporary state of mind. It seems like the muses have left you, but they will be back again. Maybe not today or maybe not even in a couple of months, but they will. So don’t lose faith. Don’t give up when it happens.

What you definitely should not do, is stop doing something. Just because whatever you do isn’t worth the energy you put into it—in your eyes, at least—it still important to trick the muses to show up again, and you do that with keep working, even if the result is pure rubbish. That’s how you get them back again. I promise.

If you can’t find anything you want to do in your usual endeavour, do something different. Just find something to do—anything, even a different sort of creative work—just to take your mind off your anxiety and pressure. I write a lot; articles, chronicles, blog posts as you see here and even novels, and every so often I do get stopped by a writer’s block. Then I leave my computer, and start doing something else. I might draw something, even if I am not good at it, I might start to construct a new part of a deck or repair something on the house—I will do something, whatever it is. For me, I find practical work to be a good block breaker. Eventually with enough energy put into this other whatever it is the writing starts to flow again.

Albert Einstein called this tactic “combinatory play”—the act of opening up one mental channel by dabbling in another. This is why he would often play the violin when he was having difficulty solving a mathematical puzzle; after a few hours of sonatas, he could usually find the answer he needed.

Part of the trick of combinatory play, I think, is that it quiets your ego and your fears by lowering the stakes. The Australian writer, poet and critic Clive James lost his flow and stopped writing. But after a long spell of this funk he managed to trick himself back to work—or more correctly, his daughter did. He lost it all after a play he wrote became an enormous failure. After that he thought he would never be able to write again. He almost ruined his family financially, lost friends and fell into a deep depression. It was only when his daughter much later more or less pushed him into painting her bicycle that things started to change. Not immediately—in the beginning he was rather reluctant even to start the painting—but after some time he found pleasure in colouring the daughter’s bicycle in new and imaginative ways. Finally he began to add hundreds of silver and gold stars all over the bicycle. Although his daughter first was a little embarrassed by the artwork, it didn’t take long before a friend of her asked Clive James to do her bicycle as well. Soon he had painted the whole neighbourhood’s bikes. Painting thousands and thousands of stars was a healing process for him. Finally he realized that one day he would write about this. He had found a way back to writing.

In other words: If you can’t do what you long to do, go do something else. Or, to phrase the famous Stephen Stills song: “If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with”.

Go walk the dog, go pick every bit of trash on the street outside your home, go walk the dog again, buy a colouring book and colour, go bake a peach cobbler, go paint some pebbles with bright colours and put them in a pile. You may think it’s procrastination, but—with the right intention—it isn’t, it’s motion. And any motion whatsoever beats inertia, because inspiration will always be drawn to motion.

So wave you arms. Make something. Do something. Do anything.

Shooting Sideways

Those of you who follow me on a regular basis, know that I have my little backyard photo project. It’s an unpretentious project in which I seek to expand my vision and photograph in ways I usually won’t do.

The fact that it’s unassuming is very important. It gives me liberty and unrestrained freedom not having to create anything noteworthy. It’s a playground for me, a place to experiment and photograph sideways as the Canadian photographer Freeman Paterson calls it. What he means by that is shooting contrary to your usual routines. If you always compose meticulous then try to photograph without looking through the viewfinder. If you always photograph with wide-angle lenses, then put on your longest lens and give it a shot. If you always make sure that you have a fast enough shutter speed to prevent blurred images, then go for a really long shutter speed and see what the result will be.

Shooting sideways is a way to ensure that I, as a photographer, do not get stuck in my photographic vision, but rather seek new ways to express myself. The more experienced we become in our art, the more we run a risk of sinking into some standard routines. We know what works, and we apply this knowledge in our creative endeavour. And in so doing we actually stop being creative and our art becomes rather boring.

Thus my unpretentious backyard project. Using the backyard makes it easy to shoot whenever I have some spare time. Since it’s my backyard I can access it easily and at any time I feel like. There are no restrictions except what lies within the boundaries of the backyard. Most importantly is the lack of restrictions when it comes to how and what I choose to shoot. It may sound contrary then, that I often make a set of limitations for each time I go out to photograph. I do so because I want to stimulate my creativity—and nothing stimulate it as much as limiting it—and I want to make sure I don’t fall back on old routines and shoot as I normally would do.

The photos in this post was shot not long ago, and this time around I decided to photograph with a 400 mm at maximum aperture. It’s a lens (actually a 100-400 mm but in this case set at 400) I usually never use for anything except when I cover some news event.

If you don’t know my backyard project, here are previous posts with photos captured over time: Backyard Bliss, Experimental Backyard, My Photographic Retreat, My Backyard Project, My Personal Challenge, The World from the Backyard, Instagram my Backyard, Out of Comfort Zone and Challenge and Expand.

Embrace Your Oddities

One of the things we need to learn and embrace as creative human beings, is not being afraid to stand out from the crowd. It’s a very human reaction, isn’t it, to not wanting to be the one who protrude, risking getting everybody’s attention. What I am talking is not about being overly assertive or blatantly pointing the finger at ourselves, emphasizing how fantastic we are. No, I talk about not being afraid of who you really are and not hide that self behind the rest.

The thing is, we try so damn hard to blend in with the rest, being afraid of sticking out. Rather, embrace what is odd about yourself; be confident with your own skin. We simply need to find more self-confidence and embrace all those quirks and oddities that make each of us special. Because that’s where you will find your real artistic expression. You art will grow deeper and become more authentic if you draw the artistic expression from your real self, the one that you sometimes, or most of the time, try to hide.

Mind you, it’s not about trying to become different, but accepting what is already different. It’s certainly not about forcing some originality into your art. The desire to be original is actually counterproductive. When we hold on to such an idea as being “original”, we inhibit the creative process. In doing so, we are not creating anything original, but just trying to be different. By forcing ourselves to be original, we close ourselves down to what is, we see nothing with open eyes any longer, but apply a contrived and limiting approach to seeing.

Instead of thinking in words like different or original, I believe what is important is authentic. By embracing what is already different about you—and not trying to squeeze some originality out of yourself—and apply that authentic you into your art, will make your art authentic, too. Your distinctive, artistic voice springs out of what makes you as a person unique. Thus trying to blend in, will only silence or even choke your artistic expression.

So don’t be afraid of what make people smile of you or think you are odd. Those are your gifts, as strange as it may seem. Of course, I know it’s easier said than done. I for one have to fight this desire to blend in, not to be visible in the crowd. For instance, I know I am a pretty good skier, but I still don’t like to ski under or close by the ski lifts because there everybody else can get a good look at me. What if I did something really stupid and laughable?

It’s one of the many fears that so inhibits our art. Fear of success. Fear of not succeeding. Fear of lacking creativity. And fear of sticking out. We want to create original art, but don’t dare to stand out. We got to fight that fear. Rather than trying to create original art, we need to stand up for what we are and embrace our oddities.

Creating more Creativity


Trying to be creative is sometimes very frustrating. Sometimes it is as if the muses have died out completely, while we sit there waiting for some inspiration. In articular, it can be hard to get in touch with our creative self if we have been neglecting it for some time. It goes into hiding if you don’t massage it on a regular basis and keep it awake. If we leave the creative self hanging out to dry for even shorter periods—even if we have years of experience in the creative field behind us—it gets back on us but short circuiting the creative connection. The muses die out on us.

The reality is that nothing encourages and develops creativity more than creating—being creative. It doesn’t matter what field you are exploring creatively, be it photography, writing, painting, design, performances, music or any other creative activity. Whatever we do, we need to keep doing it on a regular basis. If we want to develop our creative skills, become better and more profound in what we do, we need to keep creating—all the time. And we need to work creatively even when the result is mediocre and not what we want it to be. If we stop and just wait for inspiration to come, we only stagnate even more. Even more so, when we feel we have lost the inspiration—that’s when you have to push yourself through the wall of self-doubt and discouragement. Make mediocre art if that’s what comes out of your creative self. And don’t worry about it—and certainly don’t whip yourself for it. It’s only a temporary state, anyway. At some point the muses kick in again, and you become inspired and your creative skills start developing again. It’s like playing on the beach. As soon as you start, it’s hard to stop.

Being creative encourages creativity. That’s why I have made it a rule for myself to do at least one personal photo shoot or project each week (I am a photographer after all!). I usually shoot much more, being assigned to do so. And that’s adding to the creative equation, too. But I want to make sure I develop my personal photography as well, and once a week is what I can spare of my time during busy weeks, and when it’s less busy, it still forces me to go out and be creative. It’s been a good way to keep my creative spirit going—and developing.

How do you keep developing your creative skills and staying inspired?

Every Child is an Artist


Creativity requires that we open up to our child inside of us again. As we grow out of childhood, we lose our ability to boil over with that spontaneous, childish creativity. As grownups we need to behave and we need to conform to the norms of the society. And in doing so, we lose this wonderful creativity that every one of us has experience and held in our souls as children.

«Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up». Those are the words of none other than Pablo Picasso; one who indeed was able to keep the child within him alive.

How do the rest of us keep that child in us alive? There is no easy answer to the question. But for a starter; let go of all those inhibitions adulthood has imposed upon us. Don’t be afraid to make a fool out of yourself. Take joy in all those small moments life presents to us around every corner. Be curios. Be blissful. And express all your inherent creativity as often as you can, not thinking about what others will think about it and not thinking about whether you know how to do it or not. Create with joy and excitement!

«What most people need more than anything is to unlearn what they’ve learned, to be less serious about everything and anything that otherwise contributes to their stress, because they futilely attempt to achieve some ridiculously lofty standard.» This is Lorenzo Dominques and the quote is taken from his highly successful book 25 Lessons I’ve Learned about Photography…Life.

He continues: «When you can integrate play into your work somehow, when you can laugh at all your mistakes, when you find yourself smiling for most of the day, then you’ll find that you’re achieving something worthwhile. If you can’t whistle while you work, if you’re consistently miserable while you toil, than maybe it is time that you either change careers or change your attitude (at least, until you find a new job).»

Maybe you don’t need to change career. But if you want to get back to that blissful creative feeling you had in you all the time as a kid, it’s really time to bring that child out again, be less serious about yourself, and simply have more fun. Don’t you think?

Don’t Give a Damn!

A week ago, I photographed and did an interesting and inspiring interview with an artist, actor and acrobat. She said something that made me think. In many ways, simple and yet so relevant for anyone engaged in creative work.

Some years ago while she was rehearsing for a movie shooting, the director of the movie told her: “You are too much of a good girl, doing what you are told. Loosen up and don’t give a damn!” She followed his advice and suddenly her creative career took a giant boost.

I think in my younger days I was too much of a good boy, too. I did what I was told. Creatively I certainly didn’t draw outside the lines. I follow the “rules” and did what I was supposed to do. Although nobody gave me the same advice as this artist I interviewed got, slowly by slowly as my creative self matured, I started to care less and less about doing the “right” thing. Instead, I have become more like a rooky, creatively speaking (not necessarily in my interaction with other people).

I think we all need to be less nice or good and rather let loose and don’t think so much about what is the right thing to do. When we start to don’t give a damn, we enter into a different mindset, our creative thinking changes, we see differently and begin to discover new ways of expressing ourselves. Our creative voice will take a boost when we loosen up, if nothing else, because we start to create and do things differently from everybody else. Giving ourselves permission to don’t give a damn will be the first step towards a distinctive way of seeing and expressing ourselves.

Thus being bad isn’t always bad. On the contrary, we need to be a little more bad—and please understand me right when I say so. There is a Swedish saying that goes like this: “Nice girls come to heaven, bad girls can come as far as they like”. Unnecessary to say, it goes for both girls and boys.

On a different note, some of you may have noticed I have been absent from the blog sphere the last week or so. It’s just been extremely busy times and I haven’t had a chance to engage in social medias. However, I hope to be back now that summer on this part of the hemisphere is approaching and life may start to become a little less busy.