15/40 The Lessons of 30 Days

30 Days June 2012 has just finished. For those not familiar with the project, 30 Days is an event held in a month with, surprise, 30 days in it. Participants commit to making a new piece of work every day.From the 30 Days website:

By establishing deadlines, even artificial ones, the act of creation is given a higher priority in the hierarchy of everyday activities. Re-prioritizing daily tasks is often difficult at first, but becomes easier over the Thirty Days. The aim is to get something made by the end of the day. It may not be your best work, but it will give you experience with re-organizing your life to make creating art a priority.

I have participated in the project 8 times, and each time I’m reminded of the old adage “learn to do by doing”. Like many people, I grew up with a misconception about creativity and its strongly associated and misunderstood word, “inspiration”. The idea I had was that the great artists were inspired first and simply excreted their work in near perfect form. Their frequent craziness (insanity) allowed them to “get out of the way” and their art took over, such that it seemed they almost unconsciously made their great work.

Over time, this idea lost its romanticism, but there was an aspect which I did not really let go of easily: that inspiration came before work. I spent a lot of time bemoaning the fact that I did not just walk down the street and find myself struck by lightning that impelled me to race home and spend 24 hours straight downloading the muse.

Then came the great lesson of 30 Days: that in fact this inspiration/work relationship is entirely backwards. At least for me, the work has to be started first, the inspiration comes after that. For me, the hardest part has always been just turning on the equipment. In further research into the lives of artists and great thinkers, this theme has been a recurring one without fail. Inspiration is a result of work, and we are able to approach inspiration when we give to the process. My personal revelation here was that inspiration is really always there, the mistake is to expect it to descend towards us when the opportunity is always there to pull ourselves up towards it.

It may not work for everyone, but it’s a personal mythology I’ve come to be comfortable with and value tremendously in my creative endeavours.

Are you interested in trying 30 Days? Stay tuned to the website, it’s free to sign up, there’s a strong comradery, and who knows, you may find yourself inspired.

One thought on “15/40 The Lessons of 30 Days

  1. Nicely put, Tim. One of the most persistently amazing things about these kinds of revelations is that they are accompanied by a sudden understanding of something that we have heard over and over in our lives, like realizing the deep truth behind a cliché. Think of all the sayings that fit this idea that the work comes before the inspiration: “if the mat is not straight, the master will not sit”, “work begun is half done”, “a thousand mile journey begins with one step”, etc. There is such a huge cognitive gap between learning a lesson by rote and understanding why it is a lesson in the first place.
    I’m really glad to read that Thirty Days Project is still as valuable for you as it is for us.

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