Paul Jarvis

You can’t eat excuses

Excuses are for the weak. Before you assume this is harsh judgement, consider the following:

A friend of mine writes and draws every day. He’s published several illustrated books, none of which have become international bestsellers, and English isn’t even his first language (though his books are published in English). He never went to art school or got an MFA in creative writing. Still, he writes and draws every day and makes a decent living doing it. I assume that if his computer stopped working, he’d revert to writing and drawing on paper. If he broke his left hand, he’d go slower, but write and draw with his right hand instead. Excuses that would stop some of us become mountains for him, and he’s skilled at mental climbing.

Another friend is also super talented. He’s published a few articles and illustrations online, and they’re great and even achieved a bit of notoriety. The thing is, he hasn’t published many of them. For him, everything has to be perfect to proceed. His oolong tea has to be brewed perfectly and sitting just so on his desk. All his chores have to be done. His kids have to be sleeping or at least not playing loudly in the next room. He can’t feel tired or stressed or even be hungry in order to create. If he starts to think about whether his work will be well received, a best seller, or criticized, etc, he’ll talk himself out of work for the day. Circumstances need to be just right for him, which means that most days he doesn’t draw or write. Excuses defeat him, and defeat him often. Unless the mountains turn flat and easy stroll, he just mentally stays home.

Both friends have very similar talents and skills. Very similar life circumstances too. Yet, the first sees problems as challenges to solve. The second sees problems as reasons to stop, or to never even start.

More and more, I’ve noticed that our reality is almost entirely based on our perception of it. So, if we think something is true, we’re mostly right. Once we begin to assume circumstances need to be perfect to proceed, that becomes the case. Excuses are a story we tell ourselves to not move forward. To not create. To not hit publish. To wait until things are perfect to start. Excuses are for the weak.

Can’t start freelancing unless you’re able to quit your full-time job?
Can’t write a book because your computer is too slow?
Can’t be creative unless you’re inspired?

People often ask me what inspires and motivates me to be creative. My answer is always the same: I’m not inspired or motivated every hour of every day – I just do the work I need to do for my job. Well, maybe I’m inspired to eat an entire bag of (family-sized) chips if I’ve got a craving. When I’m not inspired? I work any way. I don’t treat creativity like it’s precious. Which may sound like I’m not doing it justice, but I think the opposite is true. If I’m creative for a living, then creativity is my job.

A doctor doesn’t wait until she’s inspired to do surgery to save a patient’s life. A lawyer doesn’t wait for circumstances to be absolutely perfect before she tries a case for her client. They have work to do, so they do it. There’s no mental hacks or habits or tricks required.

Why is creative work any different? It shouldn’t be, especially when it’s your livelihood. If I’m a designer, then I spend my days designing. If I’m a writer, I sit down and write. Yes, sometimes the work will be shitty or not up to par, but it doesn’t matter. Yes, sometimes I’ll stare at a screen for longer than anyone should. But sometimes my work and flow for creating it is awesome. Indeed, the chances of awesome work and flow only increase if you work at it. If you wait until the house is quiet and your mood is just right and maybe a bolt of inspiration has struck, then you aren’t going to be creative very often. And if you’re creative for a living, that’s a big problem.

We all assume that motivation is required for creative work—but I think it’s the opposite: creative work is required for motivation.

And also, you can’t eat excuses.

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