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…

Storms

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:

242 Replies to “Storms and Blue Skies / A Dirty Little Secret…”

  1. Wonderful post. I’m well familiar and fascinated by the creative process. As a writer, I spend endless time, rewriting, discarding, approaching the work from different angles, different voices, and it can become a cluttered mess. What’s the right path, where do I go from here, what am I doing? And then something happens. A stray thought, a “gotcha” moment where it all coalesces. Sometimes — hell, most times — it’s a complete surprise, a pure revelation. For me, that’s pure joy. And the more you work at it, the more painstaking a process it becomes… you’re not looking for good enough, you’re looking for that brilliant flash of light. And eventually you understand that it’s no accident.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well said, and fully true.
      Thanks so much for taking the time to write this. I really appreciate the insight.
      It is true, as you say, that the creative process is ever thus. I think that this is probably true across all disciplines, it certainly is with writing and music.
      Have a good one, thanks again,
      – J

      Like

    1. This is very Inspirational in a way.
      As a person who has been diagnosed for 8 years “Manic Depressive” I do understand some of these feelings.
      It was nice to hear someone willing to write their true feelings.
      I love it.
      Dori <3

      Like

  2. Excellent post. I know that feeling, and it IS an important part of the creative process every single time. It makes the breakthroughs that much more exhilarating. It’s so nice to stand on the other side of the river!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It is indeed. ;-)
      I think, by far the best thing about writing this post has been the huge amount of folk who have got in touch with me to say: ‘Me Too.’ ;-)
      Really glad you took the time to read, and to comment – thanks a lot!
      Hope you have a great day,
      – J

      Like

  3. Love that you shared your process. I have been experiencing this same storm and felt today was the day that I was finally emerging on the other side. Consequently, the first thing I saw was your post. I just love how the universe works.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. At the risk of sounding my age and then some, unpleasant is character building. It separates those who are open to its lessons from those who are just playing at art. And that’s what separates artists from people who putter . . .

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I found this piece really inspirational! As a recovering perfectionist, I have to drag myself out of misery, self-reproach or self-pity when my drawings and paintings are not perfect or don’t turn out the way I imagined them in my head. Sometimes I go back and try to make them more ‘perfect’ after some period of time and sometimes I leave them to be imperfect and learn to love them the way they are. Some things are similar and some things are different for every person, but I love the concept of not making a big deal out of ‘failure’ or ‘the way that doesn’t work’. What we learn in the process and the strength of our character that was carved in the process is far more important. Thank you – I loved reading this post and the comments too – it’s great to see so many other artists sharing your thoughts / feelings – and you’re right, being able to say ‘me too’ is so liberating and connecting!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hey there,
      First off, thanks so much for taking the time to write this comment, I really loved reading it – made me smile. ;-)
      I know what you mean; I think a lot of folk are cursed with an untenable perfectionism. It is so important for us to learn to love things as they are – especially the stuff we do / create.
      I’m really glad you reached out to connect.
      Hope the day is being kind to you.
      – J
      P.S. I am a big fan of the lighthouse photo in your blog’s header. Totally, Beautiful. ;-)

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Oh, thank you! I’m glad you like it :) I thought it goes well with the theme of the blog – being the light and sharing the light & happiness thru dark & stormy days :) hope your day is amazing as well!

        Like

    1. Hey there Sally,
      Thanks so much for your kind words. Thay made me smile. ;-)
      The consistent feedback I have gotten from this post, is from fellow-artists saying: ‘ME TOO’. It is very gratifying, but also (I think) speaks to the fact that the artistic process is misperceived by many. It’s cool that my experience tracks with yours.
      I hope you are well and having a great weekend, thanks for taking the time to write to me, it is most appreciated,
      – J

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Bravo…you wrote about this so beautifully. The creative process parallels natural childbirth in so many many ways…a new life is born through a not-insignificant phase of crisis-level doubt, effort, struggle and pain. A butterfly’s wings would never be strong enough if it didn’t have to work so furiously to burst from the chrysalis.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. This resonates so deeply with me and I could not agree more! Sitting with the discomfort is not very easy for me to do but, like you, I am learning how to do it more often so thank you for sharing your experience. In general, I really appreciate your message and what you are sharing with the world. This is just to let you know that I nominated you for the One Lovely Blog Award. :)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey there,
      Thanks so much for this. It means a lot to me to know that the stuff I make is connecting with people. Really makes me happy.
      I totally agree with you that learning to sit with discomfort is not an easy journey, but it is vital one. You are more than welcome for my sharing, and thankyou very much for the nomination.
      I hope you are having a great day, thanks for connecting, and I wish you well,
      – J

      Like

  8. I’m glad you bring that up, because, as you say, it’s not “shiny” to talk about the dark side of creativity. Yes, it’s a realistic part of the process. I happen to believe it’s not a necessary part of the process – getting low-down drunk like some of the greatest writers have done isn’t necessarily going to create great works. Instead, if it’s part of the creative process, then welcome it.
    Enjoy the ride, as wild as it may be!
    Vincent

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I could not agree with you more.
      I really do think that the misunderstanding, and misperception of the process of creativity is responsible for a lot of the losses that the artistic community has suffered. I also think that this is one of the things which has given birth to the image of the ‘tortured artist’.
      ‘If it’s part of the creative process, then welcome it.’ Truer words are seldom spoken.
      Bravo Sir, Bravo. ;-)
      – J

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thankyou very much. I am really glad that you connected with it. It means a lot to me to know that the stuff I make is going across, thanks for taking the time to write and let me know.
      Hope you are well, have a great weekend,
      – J

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Amen. I too, am plagued by creative blocks and know that the only way around it is through. Just keep showing up. I often tell myself, What is the alternative? Giving up is not an option for me. I’ve never heard it spoken as pain- but I get that, too. It’s like an itch that just won’t go away until you find a way to scratch it.

    Can’t wait to hear your new music, James. Keep going and thanks for your inspirational writing and your art.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am really glad you took something from the post.
      It is really cool when I write something that is true for me, and someone else says: ‘Me Too!’. ;-) Thankyou for being that person.
      Hope you have a great day,
      – J

      Like

  10. I go through the same thing when writing, James–bouts of gloominess and frustration, but eventually I noticed that when I got stuck in a creative doldrum and hated everything I did, the period that followed was extraordinary. I would be able to get ‘in the zone.’

    Sometimes I think we just try to hard. We get burned out and we don’t believe we’ll meet our own expectations. We may need rest, a change of scenery, or time for our ideas to gel.

    Now when I feel like an incompetent hack, I smile. It means the art is fermenting in my brain, and when the cork pops it will be party time!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Totally agree. I think that the somewhat pervasive myth that the creative life is all flowers and rainbows, and that it’s somehow different from other work psyches out a lot of people who are starting out and come up against resistance of some kind. It is really important that we are honest about the real work.
      Thanks so much for stopping by, and for the uber-stimulating comment. ;-)
      – J

      Like

  11. Well, well, you dirty bastard, now you’ve gone and talked about the beast . . . (she says with affection, promise)

    I’m just a creative neophyte, of course, but the more I allow myself to spread into the mystery and grit of artistic expression, the more I find myself almost drawn to the dragon, if that makes sense. If he’s sleeping I want to wake him up, find the soft spot and push into it, make the fire breath come. There is something about stirring things that stirs me.

    Well, it’s either that or artists are masochists. Probably another post altogether, maybe tho. But you do mention wanting to numb the pain of birthing art and I do find that where in my youth (???) I would turn to other reckless things to numb, now I am better at recognizing the pain and work to heal it through art rather than hide from it or destroy myself trying to kill it off.

    Therapeutic, no? Age maybe? Experience? All of those things and more I guess, but you’ve nailed it – it’s in the keeping going that we learn the rhythms, we heighten to the fleshy patterns, we move into the belly of the beast and steady breathe with him.

    I love the space you have created here, sir James. Thank you, angel, for you.

    You are truly a candle in the muck.  XO

    Like

    1. You are too kind. ;-) And you make me happy with it.
      I think it’s really important that working artists talk about their process in a real way. There is some kind of pervasive myth that the creative life is one shot thru with orgasmic inspiration, manic depression, pain and rainbows, whereas (for me at least) it is much more prosaic (and special). So, we have to shout about the way it is, and maybe redefine ‘creative work’, so that, if nothing else, young artists understand that, when they come up against some kind of resistance, that it’s No Big Deal. ;-)
      Ya feel me? ;-)
      I love your comments, love your tweets, and love that I know you.
      Keep on being your bad-ass self, dragon-slayer.
      – J x

      Like

  12. In my mind recording music is easy, then I begin & nothing is easy :)

    Saying that, half the battle is remembering everything I have forgotten since the last time I tried. I must fix my scheduling frequency before I can really get to grips with audio frequencies!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Aw, James, glad to hear you crossed the bridge eventually.
    Creative pursuits are indeed just rolling through all weather conditions. Sunny skies, stormy days, overcast, COLD BLIZZARDS, a refreshing drizzle. Each holds its place in the ever-turning cycle.

    Hope you’re doing good, river-man bridge-builder.
    x

    Liked by 1 person

    1. They do indeed Yeti girl, ;-)
      It’s nice to hear from you.
      I am doing very well, and everything is getting busier, and busier, and busier. It is all good work tho. I am now working from before dawn until after dusk.
      It is a little crazy, a little sweaty, but all good.
      Hope that you, in turn, are also doing well. World-builder.
      – J x

      Like

      1. Does this busy nature suit you? Or does a small part of you wish it would slow down just a little? WILL it slow down, or is this the speed of the current for the foreseeable future? So many questions.
        Ha, world-builder. I’m getting there :)
        x

        Like

        1. Totally suits I think…
          The key is, that I really love everything I have to do. So it’s like packing as much good stuff into each day before I fall over.
          Which is not bad at all. ;-)
          – J x
          P.S. New track now has piano on it. Who knew? ;-)

          Like

          1. Well, that’s just as well then ;)
            But I also think the key is: If you don’t have to say, “I have to do ____.”
            But rather, “I am doing,” and then all is merry.

            *gasps* PIANO?! Didn’t expect that one ;)
            -x

            Like

  14. P.S. – I jokingly tell people that if they insist on shortening my name, they must do it properly and use the true root of it: Christ. As most people balk at calling me Christ, I tell them then that Christian will be just fine. :-)

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Very inspirational… I think i’ll go do that that thing I’ve been tempted to give up on…

    This post really got me thinking about the way I feel my creative endeavours seem to be fuelled by the depressed state I find myself in, although not a positive state of being, but a repetitive and necessary process of producing something completely inspired and ideal. A sacrifice I guess I’m accepting of because I know through my darkness resides a precious light.

    Great piece!

    Love,hugs and perseverance.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks a lot for this – I really appreciate it.
      I am glad that you resonated with this, and I’m EVEN MORE glad that you found it to be inspirational.
      Makes me happy deep in the feels.
      Thanks for taking the time to stop by, hope you have a great day,
      – J

      Like

  16. I totally feel this, I don’t know if it’s precisely the same I never want to assume, but If I’m writing something I find that being in a slightly dark state almost a bit depressive can bring about some of my best and most raw work. Unfortunately it comes with the toll of pain as you say. But it is very hard to write something moving when you’re feeling just peachy keen.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Haha yeah that’s because it’s just whatever’s in my head writing when I’m ‘actually writing’ like poetry or fiction I focus my headspace more. My blog is more something that keeps me sane and I just word vomit my thoughts. I don’t even like to edit them! Hope you’re day is great too! Is your music on Soundcloud or anything like that? I’d love to hear it.

        Like

  17. Your post always awesome James, this is about a passion and how to love something and trying to make it happen with full of passion.
    Something that I get from this post, that is keep trying and never give up. ;-)

    -md

    Liked by 2 people

  18. Hmmm. sounds like a similar comment as made by Edison when he was interviewed by a reporter about how he made the first light bulb. The reporter asked Edison how it felt to have failed a thousand times before he found the right filament. Edison seemed truly confused as he replied: ” I didn’t fail a thousand times, I found a thousand ways it wouldn’t work.”

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I really love that quote and the concept.
      Apparently when his laboratory and life’s work was burning down, he said to his son ‘Quick! Fetch your mother, we will never see the like of this fire again!’.
      That guy was a DUDE. ;-)
      (I do sleep more than him tho.)
      Thanks for stopping by.
      – J

      Liked by 1 person

  19. I feel you. It’s like a test…a national broadcast test…you know the one. A whiny, high pitch, ants on the screen, and blaring noise test. Then, it gets quiet…when you make to the other side of the project, and voila! You’ve done it. I go through the same thing with designs. Occasionally I get a blissful day where I just sit down and it all comes together without a hitch. But, come on, that RARELY happens. I also rarely chuck a project that just won’t come together. I usually just take space or time which usually means I was in the wrong space or time initially. Oh, well, whoever said life or creativity comes easy was full of it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s a truly beautiful way to put it. Perfect.
      I know exactly what you mean. I think that the process of creating something is fairly standard, no matter what field you are working in, and I also think that it gets romanticised and mystified WAY too much. It’s important for us to throw our experience out there and have others say: ‘Wow! Me Too!’. ;-) I think it’s also important to dispel the myth that it’s all peachy keen rainbow time when you are an artist.
      (And, I love your last sentence.)
      Thanks for stopping by, and for taking the time to comment. Made me happy.
      Have a great day,
      – J

      Like

                  1. THAT is incredible James! Fess up – you used a calculator right? ;)
                    Got a fire going this end tonight… sure is creeping in now. Long nights for lots of creative pondering and dreaming :D

                    Like

  20. I saw the almost comments when I came back after the Columbus Day weekend here on this side of the pond. This is a better medium IMNERHO for Twitter can only allow for 140 character insights at a pop. 5 of them in a row left me split between whether I was reading between you having a manic moment or revelation. I erred on the side of optimism and see that your entry here on wordpress reinforces it.

    As I finish up my day here at my mother’s watching her monster child (a hefty 9.5 stone Chocolate Labrador with abandoment issues), while’s she’s headed out for the moment for another mammography (no I’m not stalking you, though it does appear that way sometimes)… I stand by my words there on twitter about energy following thought. No, it’s not your first rodeo. No those negative energies are not bad and not the end ot the world. I sense the intent, but I don’t see the words.

    The question that I have is, what is your catharsis? What is that moment you reach purgation from the negative to create in the positive? For in your words (I see) you’re letting go of something in order to realize and actuate your passion, love and expression in music. What is it (you’re letting go of)?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey there,
      First, thanks for your engagement – I find it to be very stimulating, both here and on twitter.
      ;-) It was more of a much needed outbreath than a manic moment, I am glad you were optimistic tho. I appreciate your confidence in me.
      As to the answer to your question, I’m afraid I don’t have a good one. A lot of the internal process is a mystery to me. I try to speak only from things that I am sure of. I DO know that this process, this moving thru some kind of resistance is a constant in any creative endeavour, for me (and for others, it seems), but as to what that actually is, or what it means? No idea.
      I really love our interactions, they make me smile.
      I hope you are well,
      – J

      Like

      1. Mr. Radcliffe –

        It is alwats a process that all artistic types move through. The walls of resistance be it the constructs of forces seen from an external point of view (brought internally) or entirely internal are created. They are later atrophied or obliterated in order for those self-imposed limitations to be exceeded. Hence how harmony is achieved through conflict to convey the messages held within to those that we reach out to in the form of writing, poetry, music and art. It’s unfortunate you haven’t yet found the fulcrum within yourself (yet).

        I’ve learned the fulcrum of my purgation within the last 6 years (and still trying to master it). It’s a 2-step process of consciously willing myself to stop whatever over-analysis, being over-emotional, fighting harsh self-criticism, catering to all sorts of distractions and even to stop the endless multitasking I might be doing at the time I decide to *create*: be it writing such as this or making a fractal for a desktop wallpaper. Then it’s taking advantage of something taught to me when I was young to deal with my hypoglycemia… of finding emotional equilibrium. Once everything within me has actually stopped moving and a sort of spiritual entropy has been created. After that? I create…

        Here’s to helping you find that fulcrum. And when you do remember this. Discovery of that does not take away the magic of how it works. Instead it’s learning how to make your own magic.

        Always,
        Michael Andrew

        Like

  21. Reblogged this and commented:
    Just returned from Ireland, and am not back in the groove here on the home front. As I want through the bodacious backlog of emails, I found this on point post from James Radcliffe. As a creative person yourself, I think you’ll be able to relate. Here’s James…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey there, ;-)
      Thanks so much for this. And thanks for the sharing, I’m really glad you liked it and you are very kind.
      What were you up to in Ireland?
      Hope this finds you well, and back in the groove. ;-)
      – J x

      Like

  22. Greetings My beloved Artist and Warrior. I totally resonated with this feeling/journey. I too, have been on this path, and wow, the metaphor of the spirit being constipated! Yes I am in agreement that all the pain, all triumphs, all the yucky icky stuff that so often beats us down and tempts us to give up and not continue with our internal artistic gems, is what keeps us from creating such. Thank you much for sharing this and it brings me joy to know you are now on a path of creating beautiful melodies! I look forward to hearing them. Peace, Light, Love, Bliss and Perseverance.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey there Beautiful Dancer,
      I am really glad that you liked it. I think that it’s a really important topic. I think it’s time we demystified the artistic process across the board. It’s important for artists who are starting out to know that there is hard work, and that this is OK and standard.
      I can’t wait for you to hear the new music, it is sounding really beautiful. (And I think it could be eminently dance-able) ;-)
      Big love to you,
      – J x

      Like

  23. Totally relate to this James! So true for me too… I nearly always experience a burst of growth after I make it through the whispers of stuckness, saying ‘this is it.. that’s all you’ve got, all you’ll ever have, it’s over’.

    I’ve studied psychology and once I learned and came to understand that conscious incompetence is actually the SECOND stage of the learning process… like yourself, I am able now to recognise it instead as progress (not failure) and that the next stage is where I get to be competent.. consciously before automatically. Before I became conscious of ‘not being able to do it’.. I didn’t even know I couldn’t do it! Lol… Progress!

    Love this post.. thank you ;)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You are very welcome.
      I love that you ground your understanding in psychology. I think that this is really important.
      I also love your ‘whispers of stuckness’… ;-)
      Thanks a lot for this comment, I’m really glad that you stopped by and took the time to write.
      Have a great day, you,
      – J

      Liked by 1 person

  24. Thanks for this piece…was exactly what I needed to hear being in the midst of the storm you speak of! Trying to press through to the other side yet feeling a bit lost…so ready for the breakthrough of where this call I have on my life is going! Pressing on!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hey there,
      I’m really glad that you got something from it. Sounds like it arrived at just the right time.
      Keep on going, I am sure that you’ll breakthru soon. It’ll be worth it! ;-)
      Have a good one, and thanks for stopping by,
      – J

      Like

  25. Amen, brother. That’s where the true artist shines, because he has learned, through thousands of excruciating moments of creative practice, that nothing it brought into this world without keen effort, pain, tremendous focus and tenacity…and perhaps most importantly, in recognizing the flash of genius when it appears.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Perfect. This comment is just perfect.
      I completely agree. I think it is important that artists talk about this side of creativity. The fact that there is hard work involved doesn’t really fit the myth of the romantic artist, but I think that it’s vital to know if you’re starting out on this journey.
      Really glad to hear from you, Chris. How are things with you?
      (And, do you mind the ‘Chris’?)

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Perhaps one reason why this particular aspect of the process isn’t discussed much is because we’re too busy focusing on the nuances of our creative process, afraid that we’ll miss that flash of brilliance when it appears…ephemeral and precious. In fact, it is such an incredibly beautiful piece of a much greater mystery, to mention it might be to banish it forever.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. You may be right. It is strange how we separate out ‘art’ from things like fixing cars, laying brick or teaching. People need to start telling the truth about the ‘Work, of Art’. You up for it, Christ? ;-)
          We could start a revolution…
          – J

          Liked by 1 person

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