Jessica Abel is the author of La Perdida, and the Chair of the illustration program at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. Both within and outside the academy, she helps creative people with big ideas get past procrastination and anxiety, and get on to do their best work. In today’s episode, Jessica and Charlie talk about what happens when creativity and productivity teachers get stuck, and how they go about getting unstuck.
[2:47] - This is Jessica’s second year as a full time professor and department head. She is currently juggling curriculum projects, teaching courses, and working on her comic book. And when those are finished, there is still more on the horizon.
[5:40] - For Jessica, most of the struggle comes from project creep, but also underestimating the amount of time and concentration it is going to take to do the course along with everything else she’s involved in.
[6:50] - She is able to teach this because she can relate, and she sees how well her students are able to put it into practice. One of the biggest parts of what she teaches is the self-forgiveness piece. Don’t be easy on yourself, but you have to forgive yourself and start over every day.
[7:50] - When you have a multi-domain life, and it can be hard to achieve the ideal of one big goal. Each domain of life has different ways in which it intersects with the others, and while you may have one big goal in one domain, there are so many domains. Sometimes, deciding on one goal in a certain area of your life can help you find some peace.
[10:37] - Thinking about getting into the mindset to work can provide a distraction from the actual doing of the work. Setting deadlines for yourself can be helpful to some degree, but it is good to be able to do this without stress and anxiety.
[15:37] - For Jessica, she doesn’t think anxiety and pressure have to be a part of the process. Most things take you two to three times the amount of time you think they’re going to take you. If you set a deadline for yourself for say one week, decide it’s okay if it takes you three weeks, then you can still work without that pressure because you’ve allowed yourself the time for it to take a little longer.
[19:25] - With multiple projects on her plate, how does Jessica work through knowing where she is right now? Sometimes, this involves taking a project off her list and putting it off for another time. This is Charlie’s familiar concept of the project cage match. Jessica talks about idea debt, where the energy of holding all those things in your head at once is a lot, and sometimes, it is better to relinquish a project up front before you spend emotional energy on it. It’s important to follow up on projects you’ve planned for, and decide if they are still relevant when they come back up.
[27:05] - As creative individuals, we want our creative projects to spur new creative thoughts and ideas. Over time, your joy of doing something may not be sufficient to prioritize doing it. Jessica tries to chase complexity and intellectual engagement in her creative projects. The core motivation shifts over time as you become a more mature creative person, to appreciate the interplay of the elements you’re trying to master.
[33:50] - You can’t let trying to go deeper into your creative work enable you to procrastinate and not actually do the work. There is going to be creative discomfort somewhere, and when we get stuck we may have to displace the discomfort to keep moving forward.
[38:50] - Many artists and creative people have groups where they talk to each other about their work and about getting stuck and how they move through that. You don’t have to figure it out alone! You can also challenge yourself by giving yourself constraints to help support your creativity.
[43:30] - This concept goes back to the idea of deadlines, and how they can help us get our work done. Having a healthy deadline or constraint can catalyze the creative process, the same way having an unhealthy deadline can undermine the creative process.
[45:50] - Creative constraints can push you to places you’ve never gone before. Whenever you get stuck, you can change your context, where you do your work, or you can switch constraints and see if that helps get the process going. Referencing your own previous work with a different set of rules can also be very beneficial.
[50:00] - We tend to abandon things too quickly. Once we finish something, we generally move right on to the next thing without allowing the first thing to settle. There’s a balance between revisiting your old hits and presenting new material.
[55:55] - Jessica’s challenge is to take something that is really important to you, an idea or work, and transform it into another form. Don’t just rewrite it, but take it and make something else out of it. See if that doesn’t start to bring out something really brand new in it for you.
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