On being stuck and the ONE excuse …

Do you ever get stuck when you are working and cannot find a way out? It’s like staring at a white piece of paper, knowing you have to write something, but all of a sudden, you can’t even remember how to write, or have no idea what to write. You are trying to make some work or finish a piece … you meticulously planned what that piece was going to look like, only to change your mind mid-way because it just isn’t right. You think you don’t have all the information to continue what you thought was the piece you wanted to create. And now you are stuck. And frustrated. And wracking your brain for a way out.

If that’s you … you are not alone. It happens to everybody. To me, to you, to the best artists in the world. To writers. To creators of all kinds. What you do in this situation it’s what makes a difference.

So let me ask you a question: what is holding you back? Today, we are talking about you making your art. What is the ONE EXCUSE that is holding you back. The one thing between you and that next step? This is something that keeps happening and keeps you from completing work. You don’t know it’s there … but you are stuck.

So how do you break away from this cycle? There is a way which may not be easy, it may not be simple. But learning to deal with it in all its uncomfortableness (is that a word?) will help you move forward.

You don’t need all the answers to get unstuck. You just need that first step. So here it is. Are you ready?

Take Imperfect Action

Approach your work as if you know what you are doing so you do not feel like you have to start from scratch. Make a decision. That first decision will lead to the next, and the next one and the next after that. It doesn’t need to be perfect, you just need to get started. And no, you do not need all the answers. Not knowing every step you are going to take will give you freedom to create as you go.

Let me give you an example: when I am stuck, and it happens often – when other things are cluttering my mind, when I am staring at a piece and I have an idea of what I want it to look like but I am not exactly sure how to get from A to Z or how to move forward, I close my eyes, take a deep breath and take that next imperfect action. If you follow me on social, you’ve seen my latest pieces: a new way of working for me. By creating fabric collages, I create a canvas to add layers to in all different ways: by painting, collaging, adding papers, images, etc. But, that’s a different and sometimes complex and difficult way to work. I don’t have all the answers when I start; I don’t have the roadmap perfected. I don’t even have a roadmap . But I have an idea. And more often than not, that piece morphs mid-way. So yes, I get stuck. A lot!

The way for me to get unstuck is to take that IMPERFECT ACTION. How do I do that? By doing something. It doesn’t really matter what. It may be collaging papers, or adding an image or a layer of paint. In my own mind, that small act of taking that step gets me unstuck. Will it work? Will it be what I wanted? In the end, once again, it doesn’t really matter that much. That one unplanned, imperfect step did what it was supposed to do: get me unstuck and get me going.

If you’ve taken a workshop with me, you may have heard me say that I don’t consider my work to be too precious: I cut fabric and sew it my way – to some, I waste fabric; I print lots of images – to some, I waste ink; I collage papers – to some, I take risks. This way of creating works for me. If I don’t print the image, I don’t know what it will look like on the substrate I want it on. If I don’t cut the fabric the way I want, I don’t know if the piece will work the way I want so I fussy cut, and cut holes in the fabric. If it doesn’t work out, or I don’t like it … there’s usually a way to salvage it. And, in the extreme case when I create a dog and it’s not salvageable (and it also happens a lot) in the words of a wise teacher: it’s destined for the fire pit. Confession time: I have quite a few pieces destined for the fire pit, and I am OK with that. I need to move on and accept I created an ugly piece. Once it’s out of my way, it’s not cluttering my mind anymore.

I know what you are thinking: “well, that was a waste of XX number of hours that I spent on this only to mess it up”, or “all that time spent on this piece and I dislike it intensely” or “grrrrr, all that time for what? Nothing!!!! that’s what!”. Well … that’s where you are wrong. Every step you took in creating that piece you dislike taught you something. Every seam you sewed, every seam you ripped, taught you something. Take it from me: you cannot grow without making mistakes (although I don’t like to call them that, as every “mistake” is a possibility), and lots of them.

If you are thinking you are the only one that makes ugly stuff or makes not-so-great stuff, think again. And consider this: There is no B-roll in social media. You only see what we – as the person who posts – want you to see. What it was once called “A-roll”. The B-roll is the supplemental or alternative footage (in a movie). In my world, the B-roll are the ugly pieces, the stuff that went wrong, or that I don’t like, the ones I consider my pieces-gone-wrong. I don’t post them, but they are still there, and those pieces have helped me in some way become the artist I am today.

So, next time you are stuck, or think you don’t know where to go from where you are, take a deep breath, and TAKE IMPERFECT ACTION. You’ll thank me later.

Stay safe, and keep creating,

Ana

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8 Comments

  1. thank you Ana , this makes a lot of sense. I remember another artist telling us that because he makes his living through his art, he can’t afford to be stuck or have no ideas, he just picks up a bunch of fabrics and starts cutting and sewing and a few minutes later he has a plan. He is so right , like you say it doesn’t matter whether it is going to work or not , just do something, take that first step. Very encouraging words. I tend to think that the only person who doesn’t have it together is me and it is good to find out that I am not alone.

    1. Thanks Marilyn for your thoughts. I am glad they help. It’s useful sometimes to remember that we are not alone in any of this: neither the creating nor the getting stuck. It happens to all of us at one point or another. Just take a deep breath and keep going. By the way, I loved the piece you created in the workshop. I hope you enjoy it! Take good care and stay safe. Until next time we meet over Zoom.

  2. Thanks Ana for this thoughtful blog. It is so helpful to understand that all creating can have roadblocks. Just accepting even that one thought will perhaps help us to conquer our doubts in such a way we can move forward.

    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts Margaret. And you are right. A slight adjustment to our mindset and we’ll be good to go until the next time, when we’ll adjust again.
      Have a great week.

  3. Thank you Ana. I made an ugly purse yesterday. But your post makes that okay and I can start anew today and it’s okay.

    1. haha That made me smile. I make uglies more often than I’d like but … today is another day as you say, and … maybe someone will like your ugly purse. We tend to be our worse critics …
      Have a wonderful week.

  4. Fantastic post thank you. So true.
    And I too need to employ this method more, just making a move, any move will help with my creativity. Cheers-

    1. Thanks for your note. I am so glad you enjoyed the post. And yes, we should all do more of that. Same goes for me.
      Wishing you a great week. Stay safe

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