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Be Mused by Susan M. Brackney
Be Mused : Self-Discipline: a Science and an Art

Be Mused

Self-Discipline: a Science and an Art

Science and ArtDear Muse,

I have a job in the field of developmental biology and have long been passionate about the union between art and science. My initial goal in these pursuits was to leave "work" at work, allowing for "free" time to create art!!! The problem/obstacle I've stumbled upon is that after my "work day" I feel drained and unable to apply myself towards creativity. This may stem from "taking the job home" with me; this is partly necessary to approach the art/science union goal yet I've allowed it to distract. OK. If I have a question I guess it would be how to energetically separate my work from my art yet allow for the synergy of art with science? — Big Picture David

Images of beakers and test tubes, bubbly chemicals, and plastic tubing temporarily clouded my vision, but I have distilled your situation down to the essential difficulty: discipline. You may lack it. Now, one would think that since you are in the sciences, you already have plenty of self-discipline. After all, a good scientist must be diligent, exacting, and detail-oriented, among many other things.

Science-related or not, it doesn't matter what goal you're working toward if you aren't in the mood or lack the energy to forge ahead. Provided your objectives are realistic — and ruling out disease, malnutrition, and lack of exercise — you may find that your energy level is low because you just don't want to do the extra work required to meet your goals. It sounds like you feel that you're using up most of your energy at work. If you're anything like I am, you do your best work in the morning. Have you considered setting your alarm two to three hours earlier than normal in order to devote that time to your creative projects while you are at your mental peak? Be tired at the end of your regular work day instead of at the beginning of your creative work day! (Your boss won't like this, but he doesn't need to know…)

What if, despite your day job, you're already giving 110 percent to your creative project? Great! But what if 130 percent is what's required?

You've probably heard this quote from Thomas Edison many times before, but it bears repeating: "Genius is one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration." He should know. In addition to testing numerous metals, Edison and his staff tested over 6,000 different organic materials for the electric light bulb filament before they hit upon just the right one. It was nothing for Edison to work more than 100 hours a week at his Menlo Park lab. He didn't sleep much, and he was able to motivate those around him to exhibit similar devotion.

Keep Edison's work ethic in mind and you may be less likely to nap or switch on the TV. You can post subtle and not-so-subtle reminders throughout your house, workshop, or studio to this end as well. A stiff cup of coffee coupled with stern notes, inspirational messages, and photos of others you most admire might help motivate you. Dry erase boards and markers are also very helpful tools for monitoring your progress and keeping track of smaller, upcoming tasks — all which contribute to your larger creative goal.

Here's the big picture, David. There is just no substitute for willing yourself to work — despite your desire or energy level. Samuel Johnson wrote this about fellow writers: "A man may write at any time, if he will set himself doggedly to it." I believe Johnson's words apply to each of us and our creative goals, no matter what they may be. With a lot of hard work and discipline, we can all surprise ourselves with our accomplishments. •

© 2001 Susan M. Brackney. All rights reserved.

Susan M. Brackney Need a little help finding your way on the road less traveled? Susan M. Brackney, author of The Lost Soul Companion will try to solve your creative quandaries. More »