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Living Freedom by Claire Wolfe. Musings about personal freedom and finding it within ourselves.

Want to Comment on a blog post? Look for and click on the blue No Comments or # Comments at the end of each post.

Claire Wolfe

Creative tedium

Tuesday, October 8th, 2013

Among the 3,874 reasons I’m not rich and famous is this: I believed in talent and inspiration. Yeah, and I’d have to put that somewhere near the top of thousands of reasons.

That is, I thought that to be a really good artist or writer, all I had to do was a) be born with the ability and b) waft gracefully about (preferably wearing black) until Capital-I Inspiration struck. Then — voila! — without effort, the poem would write itself, the art would art itself, the Great American novel would spin itself out with no more than a little typing on my part. And glory and satisfaction would be mine.

Sure, I’d heard that line about genius being 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. But hey, that was for light-bulb inventors, not Artistes.

Which is why I am where I am today. My high school guidance counselor would have called it “failing to live up to my potential.”


I’m not complaining. Mostly. I’m pretty happy with life, or at least that part of it the NSA stays out of. And there’s something to be said for relative obscurity. But creativity still calls. And I’m still fundamentally a lazy ass. Most of my adult life I’ve struggled between a “call” to do creative work and an inability to … actually do it.

I had a big breakthrough back in 2006 thanks to one of the most powerful books I’ve ever read, Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. Really opened the doors of perception, that book did.

Since then I’ve returned to drawing and pastel painting, played at building kaleidoscopes, and have done a little jewelry making. This has been an on-and-off thing, though, and mostly off for the last couple of years as I put my creative energies into fixing up an old house.

Last week I decided to get out my boxes of beads and beading tools and play with them again. I have another lovely book called Beading for the Soul, whose elaborate, unusual designs have themes of spirituality, remembrance, and things of the heart. This one by an artist named Chelle Mayer had been on my mind for years:


The book calls it a totem necklace. I call it a memory necklace, since (along with thousands of just-plain beads) it contains personal treasures, symbols of her heritage, and other meaningful things. I liked that it’s symbolic and not just something to wear. I loved the wild abandon of the design. I could also see that it would be a whale of a lot of work, weaving all those tiny seed beads.

I decided to make my own version of it, using the provided instructions but of course my own special stuff. Here’s what I’ve done so far:


And here’s a closeup of Chelle’s version, different but same idea:


The dangly-bangly parts are fun. They involve winging it — making constant, on-the-fly decisions about which bead to use next, how long to make each dangle, and so on. Hours of work. But not work at all. The 14″ woven band, OTOH, was hours of utter, mind-bending monotony. And see that little beaded “sock” around the shank of the old skeleton key? That’s done in something called tubular peyote stitch* and on my version that itty-bitty bit alone required about 2.5 hours, made me feel as if I had 12 fingers on each hand (all working independently of each other), and had me wondering why the heck I was putting so much effort into … well, a teeny, tiny beaded sock that fits over a key. Which is only a teeny, tiny part of a necklace. Which most likely nobody will ever wear.

I’m going to finish this thing. I’m done with the worst of the tedium now. But as I weaved those gazillions of little beads, I found myself going back to that old belief that creativity ought to be — if not entirely effortless — at least not boring. Clearly, though, all manner of creative acts (both great and godawful) require a seemingly incompatible blend of great inspiration and the kind of precision or attention to detail that comes only after looooooong, boring, almost assembly-line like work. Pilobolus and the performers of the Cirque du Soliel don’t acquire such weird precision through “inspiration” alone. Michelangelo must have cussed his way through all the dreary years of ceiling-painting tedium in the Sistine Chapel (only to end the dull, dangerous project with a signed protest: “Michelangelo, sculptor”).

I admit that although I look back at my young self and laugh at the notion that creativity is just a kind of a breeze that carries the artist along, I still don’t grok how creativity and so much toleration for mind-numbing boredom can possibly inhabit the same soul. It’s a mystery. Truly.


There’s probably a freedomista message in here somewhere, too. If I figure out what it might be, I’ll write about it another day. Right now … I’m beat from beading.


* I don’t think anybody knows why the stitch is called “peyote.” Maybe because it’s so boring to do that you need drugs to help you get through it.

15 Responses to “Creative tedium”

  1. water lily Says:

    I know exactly what you mean. I’m a dreamer, not a “doer” when it comes to creativity.

    I’m one of those folks who loves the arts, loves to dream up ideas for novels, but hates to sit down and write them. Reminds me of that quote (forgot the author) “I love to write, I just hate the paperwork.” That’s why you will find many idea folders on my laptop, but only a couple of finished manuscripts. I’m hoping my new agent will help me slog through the boring parts of being a writer.

    I love the necklace you are creating. I sometimes which I could design jewelry, as I have some pieces I’ve bought here and there, not valuable stuff, just pretty silver and turquoise and other stones that I’d like to re-design. There’s a great little store in Moscow, Idaho called Gem State Crystals that replaced a stone in my Navajo bracelet. They did great work, and I wished I could have stayed there for a couple of months and apprenticed with them.

    Enjoy the process! :-)

  2. Pat Says:

    Claire, I really like your necklace, and think the green leaf in the center sets the whole tone for brightness and spirituality. It speaks of more than mere “beading”.

    “I still don’t grok how creativity and so much toleration for mind-numbing boredom can possibly inhabit the same soul. It’s a mystery. Truly.”

    There’s an old saying that it’s not work if you love it. Creativity is about doing, also keeping your mind on what you hope to achieve. I have trouble, too, with the boredom and repetition of some crafts, but the end product is worth it – all the more because it’s the details that make the whole project look so finished, and I know what (im)patient effort it took to make it. It’s a victory of sorts to prove I can rise above the boredom.

  3. Jennifer Says:

    Lovely work. I do peyote stitch as well. It is tedious. I want so badly to be able to just think these things into existence, but I know better and I try to teach my son better.

  4. Matt, another Says:

    Failure to live up to your potential? Did they ever say what exactly the potential was that you were supposed to live up to?

    Wage Slave? Working Drone? Low Information Voter?

    Seems to me you are mighty succesful. Published Author that still writes, bonafide artist (doesn’t matter if you sell art), dog lover, story teller and personally independent.

  5. lelnet Says:

    Creative geniuses generally don’t have to do slog work to express themselves. Not because the expression comes out by magic, but because when sufficiently inspired, the same tasks that for anyone else would be “slog work”…aren’t.

    The work is in the world, and if you want to get to the end you have to do it, whether you’re an inspired genius or not. But the slog is in the mind.

  6. naturegirl Says:

    I spent way to many years listening to people tell me that I needed a real job, that the creative stuff will never support me. Which resulted in a lot of sad years of not exercising that creative muscle (mostly because of lack of time). And what’s ironic is all the “normal jobs” I thought I should be doing never made me rich either. So yeah, just do what you love and it’s not “work” and at least you eliminate that empty feeling of not creating what you’d like to be creating.

    You notice that the tedious stuff doesn’t apply to all that you can do, only those beady type things that are a million pieces. It looks beautiful, really, so it’s worth all that. If something has your captivation the time sorta melts away, anyway.

    I don’t know about you, but when the rest of the world gets uglier and uglier I get more inspired to make pretty things just to escape all that.

  7. MamaLiberty Says:

    I have no artictic talent, but I do appreciate much of what others produce. And beauty is definitely in the eye of the beholder. Some see Mt. Rushmore as “art.” and I see it as horrible graffiti.

    I learned about the art of living, the necessity of enduring tedious work and the rewards of it from my mother… who taught me (among many things) how to weed a garden. Learned wich plants are the weeds, and which are the food, and came to understand that the choice was important if you wanted to eat. Mother was of the “tough love” pursuasion, so I had incentive not to “forget” or get careless.

    You produce value with each word you write, or experience you relate, Claire. Never doubt that. :)

  8. Shel Says:

    Claire, I think you write remarkably well (I do follow this blog, you know). Oftentimes I’m startled by how things are so well put.

    As I understand it, you chose not to get mired in formal “higher” education. You also haven’t made money a priority. That means you likely won’t make nearly as much as someone who has made the opposite choices. Both were probably correct for you, although I wish your writings somehow could be more widely disseminated. Regarding formal education, I took the opposite tact – perhaps to my detriment – and have done enough to make any sensible person ill at the thought. It would have been largely a waste of your time to continue in school unless you had found someone with the ability to nurture you talents, like Robert Pirsig, for example. Those people are extremely rare.

    You have to be extremely competent to have publishers continue to engage you to write for them. People with a “steady” job aren’t required to do this and most certainly couldn’t. So in ALL aspects except big time money, you’ve made it in spades. I don’t hardly know nothin’ ’bout no beads, but they look good to me, too.

  9. Kent McManigal Says:

    You’re famous enough that I meet people who know who you are and mention your name in the course of conversation. Even my next-door neighbor’s sometimes boyfriend told me he’s a big fan of your without my ever mentioning you in any way (and without me quoting your most famous quotation, either). I wish your monetary reward reflected even that amount of fame.

    I love the necklace. I have one (not fancy- just a simple buckskin cord) with beads and other objects people important to me have given me. And I have my “medicine pouch” which contains even more special memories of really special people (many of whom are now gone from my life), places, and events inside the buckskin bag.

    Occasionally I get into a state of “flow” where the creations really do almost appear from nowhere. But it’s rare. I am much better at coming up with ideas than I am at bringing them to life. Part of that is lack of money; part is just the way I am. Even when I do manage to bring a big project to completion, and I’m satisfied with the result, I tend to think “That was great! I’m NEVER doing that again! On to something else!

  10. Claire Says:

    (At risk of sounding awfully mushy …) Thank you, kindred spirits.

    I don’t know what else to say.

  11. Ellendra Says:

    Everyone’s offering encouragement. I’m not so good at that, so I’m sticking to advice.

    One easily-bored crafter to another: put some sound on! Music, audio books, a movie, some long lecture you’ve been meaning to listen to but never had the time, whatever. Just get some kind of sound going while you work. If you keep the different portions of your brain occupied, you’re less likely to notice how tedious something is.

  12. A.G. Says:

    Dig the leaf.

    Ditto to Matt and Shel.

    The Roman Goddess opts to wear your jewelry about 80% of the time, maybe more.

    Most of my friends knew who you were before I met them.

  13. lelnet Says:

    “Most of my friends knew who you were before I met them”

    I’d say the same thing. Except, instead of “most”, it’d be “all”. (In the sense of “you don’t have to own at least one copy of every book she’s ever published, like I do, but if you don’t at least know who Claire Wolfe _is_, you are not the sort of person I could consider a friend”.)

    Some of us are lucky enough to be able to say “this is what I get paid for, but if I couldn’t find a paying market for it, I’d do it for free, out of the love of it”. (And most of those of us who’d be inclined to say such a thing have, in fact, actually been there at some point.) Neither love nor talent modify the actual work at all…they just modify how we think and feel about it while we’re doing it.

  14. Peggy Says:

    I highly recommend Steven Pressfield’s book The War of Art to you. He says in it that artists have to enjoy being miserable in the same way that Marines do, and he is certainly familiar with both the inspiration and perspiration sides of creative work.

  15. Claire Says:

    Peggy — The War of Art? OMG. I’ll look for it ASAP.

    Empirical evidence certainly makes it seem that artists and writers “enjoy” being miserable. (In fact, I’ve seen lots of speculation that, if science ever cures depression and manic depression, there go all the composers, playwrights, poets, painters, etc.). But I never knew anybody ever … er, recommended misery for us. Off to the library. Or Amazon.

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