Lately I have been feeling stuck. I’m unfocussed, muddy-minded and have a vague sense that I’m not quite where I’d like to be creatively. January is, of course, the season for reflection and for making resolutions as a way forward, but I’ve been hesitant to make resolutions for fear I will lapse and fail and end up worse for wear.
But I want to grow. I want to grow my art and my self this year.
The best way I know to grow well is with the support and accountability of community.
I’m giving myself a challenge, and I encourage you to join me.
In the most simple terms, we will each move towards some definite, individual creative goal and we will connect here on the Bleeding Heart Art Space blog to report progress, failings and offer support so that we can all finish 2014 having accomplished our goals. In the end, we will have grown as artists, as individuals and as community.
Here is how the challenge works.
1. Define a Measurable Artistic Goal for 2014
I could say my 2014 goal is to ‘be a better songwriter’. That goal would likely fail, because I have no way to measure success. Or I could ‘succeed’, without any way to quantify that success. It would probably all depend on how optimistic I felt and how much grace I offered myself at the end of this year. A vague goal like that will not do. We need a goal that can be measured, and held to account.
A better goal for me could be “I will write 10 new songs this year”. That is a goal that either will, or will not, happen. And once I put it out there, I’m accountable. You can hold me to it.
As I think about what my goal ought to be, I can reflect on questions like, ‘how do I want to grow as an artist’, ‘what skills would I like to improve’, ‘what creative endeavour would be life-giving for me’ or ‘how could I serve others well with my art this year?’ Another question may be ‘what have I wanted to create for some time, but have not been able to make it happen?’
When I think of these questions, a clear answer comes to mind. I would like to record and release a collection of songs. A full album of my own.
What will be your artistic goal for 2014?
2. Evaluate Whether Your Goal is Realistic
One of the worst things about setting goals is the sense of frustration and failure when we do not reach them. The challenge we always face is setting the bar high enough to stretch us, while not so high we cannot possibly reach it.
We all have only so much time in the day, and most of us are not making art full time. For many of us, art is mostly or solely a labour of love, wedged between other roles and responsibilities. It will serve us well to acknowledge our reality in setting goals.
Is my goal of recording and releasing an album realistic? To be honest, likely not. The project will require a lot of work - writing many new songs, recording, mixing and mastering those songs and figuring out the whole world of how to release the thing. Even if I could write and record one song a month, which is about all I can manage realistically in the midst of normal life, that leaves no time for mastering, distribution and the like.
I am going to take my original goal and sand it down a bit. I am going to commit to recording an EP of 6 songs. I am going to have that EP finished at the end of this year. I will leave the release of that EP to early 2015. This I can manage, but it is still more than I would be doing this year without this challenge. It is still a stretch I will be proud of.
Do you need to refine your goal to make it realistic?
3. Share Your Goal Publicly
This challenge includes community. I encourage you to find friends or family who you can share your goal and your progress with over the coming year. Having real, face to face conversations about your goal will be and important part of accountability. If you like, I’d love to have coffee and chat about your goal, too.
We will also share our goals here, in the comments of this post and future posts related to the Grow Your Art Challenge. Typing your goal into the comment form below is a small, but definite step towards achieving it.
Are you ready to share your goal publicly in the comments below?
4. Plan to Reach Your Goal Through Small Steps
Your goal may be very simple (“complete that painting I started”) or very complex (“stage a play at the Fringe Festival”). The more complex the goal, the more important it is to break it down into small, measurable steps that you can complete one by one.
I get overwhelmed very easily by complex tasks. Without a razor-sharp focus on the next ‘to-do’, I can almost literally feel my brain-gears grinding at the thought of the whole project.
In planning out any project, I find it helpful to work backwards from the deadline, then define key parts that need to be completed, and assign deadlines to each smaller part as necessary. Essentially, you come up with a plan that is realistic, knowing that if you can manage to get this part done by this date, and that part done by that date, you will, in the end, have completed the whole thing.
Let’s take my 6 song EP. Through simple math, I can divide the 12 months of this year by 6 songs and know that I need to complete one song (write it if need be, record it, mix and master it) every 2 months. If I can do that all year, I’ll have finished 6 songs.
Is this a manageable timeline for me? I think it is.
You should also consider how you will keep track of each step of your project. A simple notebook may work well for you, or a series of reminders in your preferred Calendar app. For larger projects I use a free online service called Trello (trello.com). It works on the paradigm of a bulletin board where you can stick and re-arrange cards, each holding some bit of information about your project. As the cards can be freely moved around the board as your thinking about the project changes, I find it especially useful for tactile, visual thinkers.
Don’t get distracted by choosing a system to manage your goal. Just keep it simple and go with a system that works for you. The important thing is to have a plan.
How will you track your progress?
5. Share Your Progress in Community
I will post my progress here each month this year, the first week of the month, keeping the challenge alive. I invite you to keep track of how you are doing and share your progress in the comments, regardless of how well you are faring.
You may find encouragement to keep going, or help in an area you are struggling with. You may find others willing to come alongside and hep you succeed when you feel stuck.
You should also plan to meet regularly with those friends you chose to share your goal with. You can define what those meetings look like, and what you mean by ‘regularly’, but being intentional and accountable is a key to success.
Community is vital for me because I am a horrible self-critic. My self-doubt can easily become suffocating. Left to my own devices, I will likely talk myself out of this project. I am counting on you to keep me at it.
How can this community help you reach your goal?
6. Celebrate Success in Community
At the end of this year, we will have a party. Not just a ‘chat in the comments party’. I mean a real-life party. With treats.
We will bring our completed projects to the party and show each other what we’ve done. It will be a listening party for my EP, and perhaps a viewing party for your series of photos or your short film or a a reading party for your new book of poems.
Even if, for some reason, I have only 4 songs done, I will play those for you. We will celebrate success together and offer ourselves grace where we’ve come up short.
I imagine, even if all of our goals have not been met, we will have grown and we will have succeeded in other ways we did not plan for.
Will I see you at the party?
The Challenge is Before You: Grow Your Art
So there is our challenge. I’m going to record a new EP. What are you going to create in 2014?