I love to write. I’ve wanted nothing else but to be a writer since I was eight years old. I was probably the only kid in my class who knew from early on what I wanted to be when I grew up. I always imagined that when I got older writing would be a breeze. That sitting down to put words down would be this magical, glittering experience where I’d grin from ear to ear as my fingers pounded away at the keyboard. That I’d be collecting inspiration in barrels. That, in the end, I’d get up off my chair feeling accomplished and proud of myself for doing what I love and doing it well.
Surprise, surprise, it’s nothing like that. Today people would probably assume I hate writing. And I come very close. I delete and rewrite. I make first drafts and second drafts and twentieth drafts. I procrastinate to the point of almost asking my neighbors to clean their house just to get away from having to write. And on the few occasions when I try to really focus, getting the words right is almost like trying to squeeze water from a rock. Eventually, I start to hate my writing and, by extension, myself.
It happens. We burn out from the struggle to get it right. To do it perfectly. And in all the exasperation of wanting to have the piece finished we miss the essence of why we chose this type of work in the first place. We begin to procrastinate more. We begin to hate showing up to our work area. Our brains become muddled with frustration and the work becomes twice as hard because we have to make ourselves do it. But it shouldn’t be that way. And it doesn’t have to be.
“The only time I feel alive is when I’m painting.” – Vincent van Gogh
About a couple of years ago, I became obsessed (read: found a new form of procrastination) with the legendary painter Vincent van Gogh. To this day, I’m still fascinated by his life story, his dedication to his work, and how much hope and love for his craft he managed to retain in spite of his struggles.
During my many hours gobbling up information about him, I came across a piece that has stuck with me ever since. This particular piece talked about someone asking Van Gogh what his favorite painting he’d ever done was. To which he replied “This one right here” referring to the piece he was working on at the moment.
It made sense. Van Gogh didn’t care so much about the finished product as he did about the act of painting. He painted because it was a calling. Because he needed to paint. Because in some way it soothed him. The end result was just a fringe benefit.
In his lifetime, Van Gogh produced more than 900 paintings but managed to sell only one. Still, he loved it more than anything. His passion for his craft was unfaltering because it was a craft that spoke to his soul, not to his pockets.
We often get carried away by visions of a life in which we can win our daily bread by doing what we love. After all, it’s the ultimate dream. It’s equally as easy to get frustrated when we have a bad day and the writing (painting, songwriting, etc.–insert passion of your choice) isn’t going well. When our goals seem too far away to ever reach. It’s just as easy to want to give up, to want to find an easier and quicker method of reaching our ultimate goal.
“What is done in love is done well.” – Vincent van Gogh
Deep down, underneath all my frustration, I still love to write. I love writing more than I love doing anything else. When it comes down to it, I’d rather spend the rest of my life fighting with words, their meaning and their syntax, than calculating figures and numbers (my actual day job) or doing any other job that might come my way. There’s no greater sense of accomplishment for me than when I get a sentence just right. Or finishing a piece that conveys exactly the meaning that first bubbled up as a feeling inside me.
So whenever I find myself wanting to throw in the towel, wanting to give up on a novel that feels as though it will never find itself sitting on the shelves of a bookstore, I take a step back and ask myself, “But do I still love doing this? Do I still love the frantic search for perfect words to bring the image in my mind to life?” And as long as the answer is still “yes” I power on.
As Simon Sinek once said, “Working hard for something we don’t care about is stress. Working hard for something we love is called passion.”
We should always put our love for our passions first. We should always look at our current work in progress and, like Van Gogh, think “This is my favorite. This one right here.” Strip away everything and simply get caught up in the moment of doing what we love. Because if we’re not doing it for the love of it, what’s the point? We can do any old job for money with twice the amount of frustration and none of the satisfaction.
So when you’re working on your own particular brand of art, remember to stop and take a moment to really appreciate how it makes you feel. Whether it be the stroke of a brush, catching the perfect light on that photograph or finally plucking that word that’s been sitting on the tip of your tongue all week, always let whatever you’re working on at that moment be your favorite one. After all, that’s the only way to know you’re doing it right.