My phone rang at 5:30 in the morning.
It was my alarm.
I walked across the room, shut off the alarm, and turned on the light. I pulled out my laptop, opened up the short film draft I was working on, and blinked at the screen.
I sat there for thirty minutes without writing a word. I was completely at a loss as to where this story was going. I had been working on it for weeks and nothing was happening. I didn’t know what my characters wanted, the plot was flat, the structure nonexistent.
I stood up and stretched. I ate pineapple in the kitchen. I checked Instagram. I looked at the clock: twenty minutes until I had to start dressing for work.
I had been waking up early the last several weeks to write, and here I was, stuck and distracted, wondering if I was making a big life mistake.
Desperate, I turned to my book shelves. I flipped through Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art and Robert Greene’s Mastery. I pulled out half a dozen other titles, flipped through their pages, and remembered that I wasn’t alone in this struggle. Every artist has experienced the distraction, the dryness, the frustration. I read their words of encouragement, took a deep breath, and went back to the draft.
For the next fifteen minutes I was flying. I still didn’t know where the plot was going or why my mind was hoarding a particular image, but I wrote something rather than nothing. It didn’t even matter whether it was good or not. What mattered was that I hadn’t given up. The story moved forward.
Look: the struggle is real. Summer might be the most distracting season of all time. But if you’re feeling creatively stuck, just turn to the liner notes, sketches, and journals of your favorite artists, and you’ll find the same struggles, self-doubt, and frustration. Knowing that even the greatest went through this kind of artist’s hell will give you the strength to persevere.
Here are some of the quotes that pulled me through those dark morning hours:
“Every story, every incident, every bit of conversation is raw material for me.” —Sylvia Plath
“You should wonder at the things nobody else is wondering about. If everybody’s wondering about apples, go wonder about oranges.” —Austin Kleon
“Among his various possible beings each man always finds one which is his genuine and authentic being. The voice which calls him to that authentic being is what we call ‘vocation.’” —Jose Ortega y Gasset
“Self-doubt can be an ally. This is because it serves as an indicator of inspiration. The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death.” —Steven Pressfield
“Believe you already are what you want to be. And then start acting like it.” —Jeff Goins
“Everyone holds his fortune in his own hands, like a sculptor the raw material he will fashion into a figure. But it’s the same with that type of artistic activity as with all others: We are merely born with the capability to do it. The skill to mold the material into what we want must be learned and attentively cultivated.” —Goethe
“Rather than agonizing over the odds, put your energies into achieving excellence.” —Robert McKee
“What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time. A schedule is a mock-up of reason and order—willed, faked, and so brought into being; it is a peace and a haven set into the wreck of time; it is a lifeboat on which you find yourself, decades later, still living.” —Annie Dillard
“The purpose of technique is to free the unconscious. If you follow the rules ploddingly, they will allow your unconscious to be free. That’s true creativity.” —David Mamet
“The journey has its own wisdom, the story knows the way. Trust the journey. Trust the story.” —Christopher Vogler
Any other great quotes we should know about? Share your favorite quotes on creativity in the comments!
Joseph is a featured Humane Pursuits columnist. He works as a marketer in West Chester, PA, and writes music, articles, and the occasional short story.