Storms and Blue Skies / A Dirty Little Secret…

This post is about part of the creative process that I seldom, if ever, see discussed.  Probably because it’s unpleasant.  Probably because it doesn’t make for good copy.  Probably, because it is not shiny.

This post is about the dirty little secret that underpins all creative endeavour.

Would you like to know what it is?

Let me tell you a story…


Early last week, I was not a happy bunny…

I was grumpy.  Morose.  Frustrated.  Darkness had snuck into my life thru an open window and, with every passing day, sought to obscure my view of the sun a little more.  This feeling had built slowly, like the rising pressure in a diving bell, until it was almost a physical sensation.  A deep, heavy and iron-wrought constipation of the spirit.  World-sized, and growing worse by the hour…

Actually, wait a sec.  It started before that.  Let’s back up…

A little while before the blackness began to ensue I had started recording sessions for a new piece of music, centered around the cello.  The problem was, I hadn’t recorded cello before.  Ever.  And, try as I might, I couldn’t find the right way to coax the music I was making out of the air and onto the hard drive.  Something was constantly being lost in translation.  No matter how long, or how thoroughly I searched, I couldn’t find the bridge across the river.  Each day I would sketch out a new route, and each day I would again be turned away, thwarted and unproductive.  As the aborted attempts began to pile up, I started to feel more and more clogged…

It got to the point that the feeling was an almost physical pain.  Which sounds like a totally sappy thing to say, but it’s true nonetheless.  An infinite, stubborn and leering cramp of the soul.

But, (and here is the rub) it truthfully didn’t worry me.  At all.  In fact, on some level, I had even been expecting it.  Why?  Because this is not my first rodeo.

Over the many years I have been making art, I have noticed there is a repeating emotional pattern that runs in parallel to the process of creating and finishing stuff.  Before I: have a breakthru, finish making something cool, or level-up in some fashion, I get this certain feeling.  Like the pressure of a building storm.  Like nothing is working, everything is slowing down.  Like nothing is good.  This feeling is a creative constant.  And it occurs at some point in the process, every single time.

It’s not a good feeling.  In fact it’s downright unpleasant.  At the time, the most natural thing to do seems to be: to move away, to medicate, to escape or get angry.  To do anything to just make it stop.  Anything for surcease.

But the truth is: in art, as in life, not everything unpleasant is necessarily bad.  This is an absolutely crucial distinction.  Whether it be in reference to art, physical exercise, a relationship, or anything else, one of the most priceless jewels offered up by experience is the real, hard-won knowledge that, sometimes: unpleasant is necessary.

Sometimes, it’s just part of the process.  And No Big Deal.

And so I just kept doing the work.  Then, last Friday, I woke, sketched out a different path, and began my practice.

And found myself standing on the other side of the river. 😉

(If you follow me on twitter you probably saw me raving about it. If not, then here it is in all it’s twittery glory:)

The process of making art is no great thing of mystery.  Keep showing up.  Keep doing the work no matter how you feel.  Keep finishing things, and keep starting new things.  If you work hard and well you will get better.  This is what it means to be a working artist.  This is the job.

The music I am making now is very new.  And very different.  I am going to be talking about it in greater depth soon, when I know for sure what it is.  And, when it’s done, I promise you’ll get to hear it.

Until then: Thanks for reading this, I hope you get something from it, and I wish you well.

– J

My name is James Radcliffe and I am a 100% audience supported independent artist.  If you like what I do (and can afford it) then please consider buying some of my music.  Each purchase really makes a big difference to me and 10% of every sale goes to a charity which: houses, feeds, clothes, and educates orphaned children in Nepal.

Also, every month I send out a newsletter packed with Interesting and Exclusive Things.  If you sign up today you’ll also get 3 FREE tracks of my music as a welcome gift.

Get 3 Free Tracks Now.

And lastly, if you’d like to find out what I’m up to on a more day-to-day basis then here is my brain on Twitter:


  1. Very encouraging post. I loved it. Btw, thanks for visiting my blog. Looking forward to reading more of you. Have a great day!

  2. Excellent post. Imagine how few beautiful and inspiring works would arrive for us if the creator only worked on happy happy full of confidence days!

    I’m early into my novel, and just keep showing up despite the mood or misgivings. I think it is simply the way any creative piece worth making gets done.

    1. It totally is. Well done for keeping at it.
      If you need inspiration, Stephen King’s book ‘On Writing’ is a pretty awesome read. I have to admit that I’m not really a fan of his stories, but his advice on writing is golden.
      Have a good one.

      1. That is my experience with Stephen too. I have enjoyed his interviews, embraced his book on writing, find his bio so interesting, and respect his prolific output…but never could get involved in reading his actual stories with the exception of The Shining.

  3. Great post! I’m not at artist, but I can relate to having an off day, feeling down, wanting to give up on something, etc. As you said “Unpleasant is necessary”. It’s a part of life. Life lessons.
    I’ve scanned through some of your posts and everything I’ve read so far is very interesting. I look forward to reading more. Have a great day! 🙂

  4. I concur. I find the dark, maudlin and morose are the times I am most creative. Where would the brooding artists be without the grays, blacks, chromes with no color.
    Nice piece.

  5. The unpleasantness you describe is experienced by all “creative” at one time or another — usually at about the mid-point of any project, writing, making music, whatever — it’s as common as rain in the Spring. It’s also the reason many an aspiring “creative” fails.. When I was a chef (a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away), I told new cooks in my kitchen, “Expect to get cut.” It’s unpleasant, painful, often messy and extremely disruptive to the operation you’re engaged in at the time. But it’s also necessary. It tests your mettle, your desire to go on. If all it takes to make you stop doing something you love (or supposedly love) is for it to be a little unpleasant (or a lot unpleasant), maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place. Thanks for the post. It’s good to know I’m not the only one who experiences “unpleasantness” in the midst of creativity.

    1. This is a really great comment. I am really glad you liked the post.
      The analogy of getting cut is a superb one (and one that I have not heard before.)
      Since writing the post, so many artists have reached out and basically said: Me Too! Which is heartening. And which means that you, and I are, most definitely, Not Alone. 😉
      Thanks for writing this, have a great day,
      – J

  6. Thanks for checking out my Blog.
    Although I don’t write music, just words, the process is much the same. Looking at my Archives you’ll see big gaps between entries. Those are the holes in my donuts of writing. Those times when I didn’t show up to do the work. Or was in another world of creation. But before one can make Buffalo Wings, they need to be plucked one feather at a time. Only then can one savor success.

    1. “…before one can make Buffalo Wings, they need to be plucked one feather at a time.”
      Nice. 😉

      You’re welcome, and thanks in return for stopping by and taking the time to write this.
      Hope you have a great day,
      – J

  7. Well said. I get this same feelings before I get up every morning, before I spend time with God. Then it lifts. Sometimes its so deep and dark I don’t even want to get out of bed, nevertheless I keep on. I love your music I’m listening to it now.

    1. Thankyou so much for this. I really appreciate the depth of your honesty and your courage in sharing your experience.
      And thankyou for your kind words about the music – I am glad you like it. 😉
      Have a good night my friend,
      – J

  8. Thank you so much!. Sometimes I feel like I shouldn’t write something because it’s too sad, then in the end I find that it helped me to overcome. In addition, we have to write the “bad” as well as the good, if we want to be real and true; because no one or nothing is just good. I have found that I get dry spells and if I try to force it, it just doesn’t come out right. When I let ideas come to me is when it just flows out so naturally and I have created something that just feels right and complete.

    1. That is really cool. Being real is the thing. For sure. You must write whatever is right for you, no-one else can tell you.
      I also agree that just letting things come is the way, tho I also think that working hard to create the right conditions is key.
      Thanks for the insight into your process, I find it really fascinating,
      Have a good one,
      – J

  9. You’ve got it right James: “Keep showing up. Keep doing the work no matter how you feel. Keep finishing things, and keep starting new things.” I know sometimes, I’m just in no mood to write, and feel guilty about that. And as you say, I just keep on trying to show up.

    1. Yes. I completely agree. 😉
      I do think this is potentially the most important advice tho. I have been doing music and art professionally for a long time now, and have observed that, even when I’m feeling really bad, or like nothing I do is good, I still get good stuff if I work. I’m pretty sure it’s the same for everybody.
      Glad you liked it, thanks for taking the time to comment,
      Have a good one,
      – J

  10. I’ve experienced this many times with writing and I’ve learned that nothing is ever wasted. Something makes you squirm it seems to clunky, and then later on you go back to it and find there’s something, maybe just one word or phrase, that’s alive, and you go from there. I also find that solutions for abandoned works come out of nowhere months or even years later.

    1. I know exactly what you mean. 😉
      Thanks for this insight. It has been really amazing to talk to so many different artists, of so many different genres round the world and have the overwhelming response to the post be: ‘Me Too’. Makes me happy. And I think that it is really important to get the information out there to younger artists who are potentially getting mixed signals about the Work of art.
      Thanks for taking the time to write this, I really appreciate it,
      Have a great day,
      – J

  11. I know exactly what you mean. The thing about art that keeps us coming back is the magic. Most days things are just a bit off, you can never seem to translate to the page, canvas, record, what is exactly in your heart…and it’s depressing. But then out of the blue (usually when you’re not even trying) something special happens and you witness a miracle. It’s one of the most joyful processes when something suddenly clicks. But like magic, it’s a mystery and you wouldn’t be able to replicate it again if you tried.

    1. I also know what you mean 😉
      Thanks for this, I’m really glad that you connected with the post. It has been really interesting to hear other artists talk about their process and experience.
      Not sure about you but I’m in love with the mystery.
      Have a good day,
      – J

  12. I’m coming to the same conclusion, in a way. To have things to say, stories to tell, and not at least try to tell them…well, keeping them in can make a person a bit loony, no? Better to let them out for your own health and the world to see.

  13. unpleasant is necessary, indeed…maybe because to appreciate the pleasant things, we must first witness what is unpleasant..i feel you..
    there is this artsy side in me, but life demands a little more than the doodles and the artsy thing i do..
    but i still sketch or the like, sort of catharsis.. ❤ your post!keep the music flowing!

  14. I’ve always called it The Ugly Stage – in art, in theater, in raising a baby… It’s gonna hit no matter what I do, but I’m always better on the other side if I don’t give up. = )

  15. Hi James, I recognise the ‘unpleasant’ that crops up somewhere in the journey, for me often at the halfway or two thirds mark, (whether that is art, relationships, life…) Thanks for giving it such fully fleshed out words. Amanda

    1. Hey there Amanda,
      You are most, most welcome. 😉
      It seems that this is the case with almost every artist across all mediums. I have gotten an awful lot of feedback from this post which bears this out. Personally, I think that the fact that there seems to be a certain unity of experience that transcends discipline, is pretty cool. 😉
      Thanks a lot for stopping by and sharing your thoughts, hope you are well,
      – J

  16. Excellent piece on what is needed!!!!
    That is most definite, ‘unpleasant IS necessary’ at many times. You hit this on the nail head and it is most unfortunate that MANY others out there, of all ages, do not understand that one little pearl you noted.
    Good one James.

  17. Truth. Anything worth doing is going to cause some pain somewhere along the way, particularly any act of creation. There’s a reason it’s often compared to the labor of childbirth. 😉

    1. That is a cool job. There is a beautiful quality to a finished piece, isn’t there?
      I like all stages of the process myself, it’s the reason I do this,
      Have a great weekend, and thanks for stopping by,
      – J

  18. Hi James,
    I saw you came by and decided to return the visit. Glad I did. I LOVE it. Style and content. It listens like a prequel to anything good I accomplish. When we show grace under pressure beautiful things happen, don’t they. Silvy

    1. Hey there,
      Thanks a lot! This is a really lovely comment to get. 😉 And thankyou kindly for the nomination. *bows respectfully*.
      Do not fear, there will be Many future posts. I am glad you enjoyed this one.
      – J
      P.S. Your comment really made me happy. Don’t know why. It just did.

  19. Yes … ” The other side of the river” seems to feel about right.
    I appreciate that you describe the “work” part of art. Yes, art is hard work. It’s when the water is too deep and the artist needs a bit of help getting across that interests me most. Too many artists are left on their own to drown.

    1. First, thankyou for this. I really appreciate you taking the time to let me know how you felt about the piece.
      And I fully know what you mean.
      I think that there is a bit of a gap in our cultural understanding of art and what it means to be an artist.
      The prevalent misconception is that: art should be everflowing and peachykeen easy, or you are not doing it right.
      There is a disconnect between: making art, and hard work; which I don’t think serves anybody, especially young artists who come to think that their experience of the work is somehow ‘wrong’.
      But, we can change it.
      THAT is the Power of Numbers, and of the Internet.
      Artistic Brethren and Sistren of the world, UNITE! 😉
      – J
      P.S. I may have got a little carried away there… 😉

  20. Like you say James, ‘no matter how you feel’ is the key here. You could also perhaps apply this ethos to other non-creative areas in life too. Sometimes ‘unpleasant is not all bad and necessary’. Liked your post.

    1. Hey there,
      Thanks a lot, I’m glad you liked it.
      I agree, I think that this is pretty much the crux of this post. ‘No matter how you feel…’ is the way forward. 😉
      Have a good one.
      – J

  21. Wow, thank you for writing this. I’ve been trying to work on something for days now and, not progressing as I hoped I would, am currently at the stage of experiencing that sort of “cramp of the soul” you described. It seems nothing’s good right now, but your post reminded me I’ll never get to better if I give up now.

  22. “as in life, not everything unpleasant is necessarily bad.” This was so needed since two months. Reading your post makes me feel positive that after all, some good will surely come out of the mess I am in. Thanks! Glad I read it. 🙂

    1. Really glad I could help. 😉
      Sorry to hear that you’re in a mess. Hope everything is starting to move towards the good for you.
      And, if there’s anything I can do, then let me know,
      Be well,
      – J

      1. Hey James,

        It seems things are good at my end now.. at least, they are now definitely moving towards the good. And thank you so much for the offering, 🙂

  23. A great lesson. I needed this, as I’m just starting to get serious with my new dance choreography business. It’s really nice to have you express the emotional stuff that routinely gets faced. My top commitment now is consistency with going at it wit putting moves to music. I believe that once that pattern is secured, my life will be transformed. Lovely post.

    1. Consistency is really important. Maybe, one of the most important things.
      Good luck with the business, that sounds really cool. Well done for starting, which is often the hardest part.
      Keep at it, and let me know how it goes,
      See you,
      – J

  24. I’m glad I got to read this blog of yours. It made my morning smile. Being an artist is a passion. Keep writing. And if u have soundcloud.. I’d love to follow you.

  25. I feel that it was no coincidence that I found your post tonight. In a moment of self doubt and confusion in my life, your words have brought me comfort and inspired me to keep pushing through. Thank you for this.

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