How to Choose Ideas

November 16, 2015

Hi! BLUEPRINT closed Saturday, and I'm jumping into new projects and feeling the pull of new ideas, and the push back of reality and time limits and budgets. The result: lots of decision making, which is necessary. And a little painful. I thought I'd share an old blog post I wrote a couple years ago for the McGinley Motion blog. And after posting this I'll work on taking my own advice. Wishing you a week of taking things bird by bird!


How to Choose the Ideas That Push You Forward

I’ve decided that the greatest challenge facing artists and creative entrepreneurs is having too many ideas. When I meet with clients about projects, or talk to artist buddies over a beer, their brains are spinning! In some ways this is a great thing. It’s because you have big ideas that you do what you do in the first place. It’s a gift to be an ideas person. Except for when they’re getting in your way...

All too often I hear ideas that are actually huge distractions from the business endeavor or progressing career of the artist. They end up diffusing the energy of the creative person into a million directions, until their most important endeavor is taking a back seat.

They are ideas like:

+ Going back to school
+ Signing onto a project that’s not in line with your goals (or giving you something you need)
+ Changing jobs
+ Changing the direction of your business (or adding new services or products)
+ Learning a new skill/art form that distracts from becoming an expert at your current one
+ Creating a new project just so that you’re eligible for a grant

For the right person at the right time with the right motivation, any of these ideas could be good ones. I’ve had most of these ideas myself at some point. Luckily, I also have a strong inner pragmatist and a couple of accountability buddies who tell me when to shut off the ideas and get down to work. The challenge is pinpointing what ideas will move you and your creative endeavor forward, and which ones are only getting in your way, and sucking up valuable time and energy.

Here's What I've Found Helpful:

+ Write It All Down: Sometimes it just feels good to put your ideas in a safe place and get everything out of your head. Find a notebook or computer file to put them in. Decide which ones to shelve, and which ones actually need to be dealt with now.

+ Make a Mission Statement: Use your personal strengths, past experiences, and training to come up with a paragraph or two about who you are, what you do, and what you\'re working towards. I call these your Suitcase Contents.

+ Craft a 5-year Plan: Create some long-term goals that are driven by your mission statement.

+ Do Not Change Course: Well, try to avoid huge changes, or scratching your plan without giving it a decent chance. Challenge yourself to make micro-adjustments (small changes) or to refine your plan and the steps towards your goals.

+ Get An Accountability Partner: This person should be familiar with your Mission Statement and your Mega Plan. Their job is to help you get as objective as possible, and help you ask The Big Questions.

+ Ask The Big Questions: Your Accountability Partner can help you get honest: Is this idea moving you down the path of your Mega Plan or distracting you? If it's not moving you forward, do you have enough energy to give to it AND your Mega Plan? Or, if not, is it going to eventually give you something that will help further you towards your goals? Does it make you insanely happy, give you a lot of money, or teach you a skill directly applicable to your plan? These things are worth considering.

+ Set An Indecision Limit: I have lost days to indecision. So have a lot of creative people I know. Give yourself a set amount of time to decide whether or not you\'re going to go through with something. Your Accountability Partner can help you with this. Now, go read Steven Pressfield's The War of Art. I'm pretty sure he'd claim that a great deal of our Idea Overload is actually resistance-- a way of self-sabotaging and preventing ourselves from Doing The Work. Our ideas can make things complicated; keep it simple. Keep moving!

I Like You | 2

November 12, 2015

I've read (and listened to) a lot of gritty, beautiful, inspiring, smart things lately

+ Let's make our work, even when it isn't convenient. Let's talk about it mid-process, even when the process gets messy- it's How the Sausage Gets Made.

+ Jess Lively interviews Elizabeth Gilbert, and Gilbert makes some interesting points about making money from our art & being tortured by our creative process. Thoughts?

+ This Terry Gross interview (as in Terry herself being interviewed!) made me feel lots of feels. It turns out that everyone and their mother wants to be interviewed by Terry. Me, too.

+ "I love the thing that I most wish had not happened....What punishments of God are not gifts?" Oh Stephen Colbert, you are an awesome human.

+ It's gritty and inspiring in a different way: Food 52's Smokey & Spicy Paloma, my first cocktail creation in over a year!  

And a couple of personal plugs:
+ BLUEPRINT, the show I've been collaborating with the talented Candy Simmons on for the past 3 years, has 3 more performances. Tonight tickets are name-your-price! 

+ Ben and I chat with Levi Weinhagen for his podcast Pratfalls of Parenting.

+ Small Art is part of Minnesota's big day of charitable giving, raising funds for our new project You Give the Party, featuring an all-star group of collaborators. Even $5 or $10 go far, especially since our awesome fiscal sponsor, Springboard for the Arts, has offered to give us $10 for each of our first $25 donors. You can give here! (Also, a big shout out to three of my favorite arts organizations, Red Eye Theater, Open Eye Figure Theatre, and 9x22 Dance/Lab, who are oh-so-deserving of loads of support in whatever way you can give it.)

Life and Art: Bigger, Smaller, Funnier

October 13, 2015

(Image from Scott Patt's Bigger, Smaller, Funnier)
I love hearing about how artists choose projects for themselves and create parameters around those projects. Artist Scott Patt made a painting a day out of a desire to "sketch, ideate and work more consistently." The result is a huge and awesome body of work-- which you can affordably purchase!

Scott was recently interviewed by Lisa Congdon, and I was particularly taken by a couple things he said about how he chose this huge commitment of a project- a project that forced him to pay attention to "the everyday thoughts, ironies, emotions, and experiences that I often ignored because I was too busy." I love that this project forced Scott to become better acquainted with his everyday life, something that I think a lot about in my approach to making small art. A bit more from Scott on that:

"A little less than half way through the year on piece #144 I had a revelation. Because of the project’s appetite for content, I was forced to source the material closest to me; my own everyday experiences, stories and happenings. I mined years of life-changing personal adventures, photographs, collected ephemera and alliterations that have filled my head, shelves and storage containers for years. Without being conscious of it I had achieved one of the things I had set out to discover. Through the velocity and pressure of the project, my work was being directly informed in real-time by every day life. I was listening better and observing more. The little moments that make life great were the moments that were creating the art."

It's a reminder that I want the line between art-making and life to be a smudged one. It's a reminder that I want to choose projects that will feed me and push me. It's a reminder that our artistic practices (and approaches to life!) can and should evolve and help us to take new risks.

+ Elise Blaha Cripe's Make 29 project (more great parameters)
+ Miranda July and Harold Fletcher's Learning to Love You More project
+ On Decisions (thinking about how we choose projects in the first place)


September 21, 2015

what a difference 4 months makes.

I had a really good day yesterday!

The details aren't super important- or even that remarkable. I've had a string of challenging days coordinating parenthood and work (especially while Ben has been traveling for work), but yesterday a lot of things happened that felt like wins. 

This brings to mind 2 things:

#1- For the love of everything, celebrate your wins. Stop being humble about it, stop spending your energy anticipating that things are going to get worse again. CELEBRATE. Give yourself a high five and drink some wine. Do a happy dance. Tell someone about it that isn't Facebook. We actually could all use being surrounded by more people that are celebrating the good stuff. (Let's also have the common sense to know that this doesn't mean that their lives are peachy easy 100% of the time.)

#2- Change happens. Though at times it's really challenging to remember, it's literally impossible for change not to happen (sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse). If you're feeling stuck, hang tight. Also: it's not 100% on us to force a change to happen. Sometimes all we have to do is show up fully- that's our job. Sometimes the things around us change: babies get older and trade one crazy phase for another, opportunities open up, transitions get more comfortable, the universe throws us a bone. Life happens in cycles, and these are always fluctuating. We can have fresh starts and do-overs and make tweaks to the things that are driving us crazy. THANK GOODNESS. I've been realizing that it's not healthy to feel so responsible for making things work perfectly (says the person who obsessively googles advice for babies who won't nap). Let go. It will happen. There are more good days in store.

I Like You | 1

September 3, 2015

A few things I've read/listened to lately that I want to hang onto & think about & share:

+ There are just a few hours left in midwife/postpartum coach Rebecca Egbert's kickstarter for Little Mother's Helper, a deck of cards designed to help women through the postpartum months. It's really cool- exactly what I would have liked to have had available to me during this time.

+ Speaking of motherhood, I loved this article from Amanda Palmer about the mix of motherhood and art-making, and Austin Kleon's list of books on this topic

+ I have been listening to a lot of podcasts- handy when folding diapers and going on walks and when your brain is too overstimulated for television. Sometimes I like podcasts where I'm learning something, but mostly I'm into empathy and things that make me cry while cleaning. It's like free therapy!

+ Brené Brown has a new book, and it's about getting up after you fall. RESILIENCE, baby! It was my birthday gift to myself. So far, so awesome.

+ If you're a local and like supporting arty things, come to our Twin Cities Producers Circle season preview party on September 25! It's free! Wine and snacks! Art-like things made by myself and Candy Simmons and Julie Johnson. You can find out more on our Facebook page as the date approaches.

+ I really love this print, and think it belongs in my house. Support a local artist!

+ Maker/performer Emily Gastineau writes about Art in the Attention Economy for I've been thinking on many of these things for the piece I'm making for February. Emily is a super smart writer. 

+ People ask me all the time for tips on making your own website. I think these common website-making mistakes shared in this piece are really helpful.

Tell me about something hopeful and/or useful and/or inspiring you've found in the world! (I like emails, too: LMholway[at]gmail[dot]com.)


August 18, 2015

This week I got an email from a friend that started with something along the lines of "Congratulations! From what I see on social media, it appears that life with a kid is going swimmingly." It was a quick reminder to me that I want to tell an honest story when I put things out into the world- not something that is manicured and neat and happy, happy, happy. Because there are lots of different ways that I could craft the story of this time in my life. Yes, I have a kid that is making my heart burst, and there's a whole lot of intense love flying around my house right now. But equally true is the fact that I feel a bit insane from all of this change. And that's what, exactly, makes this time so tricky: all of these contradictory things living in the same room together. I feel the most vulnerable I've ever felt in my life- heart on sleeve, and that's exhausting actually. I feel the happiest and most ambitious I have in a very long time, but the highs are so high and the lows are so low. I also feel anxious and tired and my nervous system is absolutely fried. I have about 30 tasks and projects that are half-finished at any given time, and it seems like a cruel trick to be a person who thrives on getting things done but can't seem to finish any one thing. And now, at 12 weeks postpartum, I'm supposed to figure out how to fit work into the equation...I want to figure out how to fit work into the equation...and that seems particularly insane. 

So I was thinking about all of these things today, while I ate a second breakfast in my breastmilk-stained t-shirt and Fox finally napped (!!!!!). I started listening to this episode of Being Boss Podcast, which happened to be with maternal health expert Rebecca Egbert and had a good cry because it seemed like she was speaking right to me. The episode is a gold mine of smart information for women reconfiguring their lives and healing their bodies after having a baby, but the part that stuck with me the most were these words from Rebecca:

"Get out of your head and into your body, because our heads are exhausting."

Boy, are they. My lists are exhausting. Trying to figure things out is exhausting. Googling that strange thing that my baby just started doing is exhausting. Oh, and worrying... 

But bodies? I know something about those. Yeah, I have one, but I also study the body as a dance maker. It's pretty smart- way smarter than my mind. I haven't been fully in my body lately. But the body is really the key to making everything work. When I feel calm and nourished and embodied, my life makes so much more sense. But somehow taking care of my body always seems to come last.

I've written a lot about foundations. We all have two or three things that we need set in place in order for our lives to work. One thing I'm loving about this change in my life is that it absolutely requires that I make sure my foundation is in place- no excuses. I have a lot of shit I want to make happen and time is limited. I'm more efficient when I feel healthy. I'm more efficient when I feel happy. I can be a better parent when I don't feel certifiably insane. It feels counterintuitive to take care of myself before I take care of my to-do list, but I'm pretty sure that's all backwards. 

So that's the story right now: figuring out how to prioritize self-care and get rid of any guilt I have surrounding that, or any ideas I have in my head about what I should be able to accomplish at twelve weeks postpartum. Because I strongly believe that, regardless of how confusing and challenging something appears, we aren't ever stuck. Things are always changing- it's literally impossible for things to not change. It's good news!

An Experiment

August 5, 2015

"I think of artists like scientists. Just like scientists, we begin with a question, something we don’t know. We go into our studio and research that question. Like scientists, at the end of our research,
we share the results with the public and with our peers... Just as in science, a negative result is as
important as a positive result... Failure in science and art is a sign that the process is working."

I still identify as an artist, even though I sometimes go months without getting into a dance studio. Like I've written, these days I'm making small art. There is lots of talk and argument about the difference between being an artist and a hobbyist. I think Andrew Simonet sums it up quite nicely in the quote above: artists are researchers. Regardless of medium, artists research questions. 

I've been thinking about this a lot as I'm moving daily things around to make space for our new family member- and soon, work. Approaching all of this as an experiment lowers the stakes and makes it more fun. For instance, I'm still figuring out Fox's preferred schedule. He's a baby, so every day he's changing and what he needs shifts a little. Some nights we wonder: will he sleep longer if we put him to bed later? Will he sleep better swaddled or does he prefer to have his hands free? I wonder about myself: will I function better if I get some exercise in the morning or is it a better to get my most challenging work done first thing? Etc, etc, etc... 

Framing life as an experiment makes me feel less stuck if things aren't working out. I remember that I can always shift them- a little here, a little there. I remember that nothing is absolute and there's a certain freedom in that. I remember that I can take something that feels hard and make it work from me.

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