I achieved a satisfying feeling this week when I wrapped-up and delivered three different pieces of writing. One has been evolving and going back and forth to an editor for over a year – it’s about 8,000 words. Another started life as a lecture, then got edited down to a 4,000 word article. The third was a kind of ‘Review’ (I always say I don’t write ‘Reviews’) of about 2,000 words.
When I was young and either unemployed, a student or a labourer, I used to get exhausted by the work I had done, but now, I find, as I get older, I am also, and equally tired by the work I have not yet done. Anything outstanding on my ‘To Do’ list is, I now know, worming away at my energy, taxing my resources, smouldering away my precious energies. That is why, when a job is finally DONE, I get a tremendous upsurge in energy and a strange, disorienting feeling that I may not know what to do next.
I try not to worry about this creative void however, but just enjoy the fact that there is a rare, temporary space in which some new seed can germinate, or where I can remember an idea for a project that I have had to set-aside or forget about until a moment like this one arrives.
Knowing what to do ‘next’ is a theme that has fascinated me for along time. I wrote a short story titled ‘A Perfect Picture Of What To Do Next‘ back in the 1990s and included it in my little book ‘Where Is That Light Now?’ which partly documents those times. It may seem so obvious that knowing what to do next and doing what to do next guide our lives, but that is precisely why it seemed, and seems worth addressing as a philosophical issue. i.e. what happens when you arrest this impetus and question this assumption that you know what to do next.
What you do next might be banal and trivial and yet, in the big (philosophical) scheme of things our lives are determined by each action, each choice, each act and each moment, and so, thinking more about what to do next, in a way, can change EVERYTHING.
Thinking about this theme came out of what I now call ‘studio art’, i.e. long periods of contemplation, and occasional gentle, tiny actions and decisions, taking place in a specially dedicated space (a whited-out and private studio). A post- or non-studio artist can apply a special kind of consideration to each and every act they make while in and around and out and about life and the world, but it may be true that this particular kind of consideration evolved within, or was learned in the studio, or a ‘studio’ of some kind (even if that is the place in a house, or in the world, where a teenager, or a busy mum, finds some private space in which to start developing a subjective dialogue with experience).
Having finished and delivered three ‘outstanding’ (i.e. pending completion) articles this week, I can feel, today, a wonderful sense of emptiness and possibility, and a new idea is starting to form that I already suspect is the next piece I should write. There are other creative projects ongoing of course (I’m working on a new book with my ‘eeodo’ publishing partner, Bada Song, as well as slowly making a new album of songs). Also, the immensely busy teaching term starts tomorrow, and that’s partly why it was important to get those pieces finished now.
But having done so, I’m looking forwards, with the usual mix of trepidation and excitement that infuses an artist’s life and career, slightly daunted by the tasks and demands that lie ahead, but also energised by the works I have done, rather than exhausted by those I have not.
Images of ‘blank pages’ and ’empty studios’ etc. are all a bit corny, so I think I’ll just illustrate this post with an image of ‘Where Is That Light Now?‘ which contains the little story mentioned above.
Photo courtesy of Barnaby Lambert
One thought on “What To Do Next”
As artists I think we never get used to that wave of creativity falling back and that sense of anticipation at starting a new series of work, it always seems new and exciting.
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