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Brooks Jensen, editor of Lenswork, never fails to pen thought-provoking essays.

In the May-June 2009 edition, Jensen offers many reasons why photographers fail to finish work, touching on “forces at play that inhibit completion”: procrastination, perfectionism (Mom…this is why I don’t enjoy playing the piano anymore), discouragement, rejection.

The arrival of this missive on my doorstep could not have been more timely.  Grieving from the recent loss of my father, reeling in the swirl of my “real” job, being busy just being busy…..I have worked myself into a really good rut.

Jensen identifies ten ways to overcome “three of the great deadly sins of the creative life: procrastination, creative avoidance, and sloth”:

1. Structure
Jensen: “If I ever find myself struggling for motivation, the first thing I try is to erect a structure in which to work.” 
    His New 100 Prints Project is an example. He set a goal to post a new image on his web site every third day (so…over the course of a year, that would yield 100 or so new images).
    I once had structure: regular darkroom sessions. Time to get back on track.

2. Commitment
    Commit to the plan.
    Back in the day – when my parents gave me the piano I played growing up, I set a recital date to force myself to practice. I had to commit to rehearsing – or I was going to sound pretty bad in front of my friends.
    I haven’t made any concerted effort this year to get an exhibit together. It’s time to commit to the plan.

3. Peer Pressure
Jensen: “Arrange to go photographing with a group of friends, and you’re much less likely to cancel if the weather gets drippy or the conditions are not perfect. Participate in a group exhibition, a group portfolio, a group publication, or even a group website, and your motivation will improve to the extent you value your relationship with your peers.”
    This is where my friend/darkroom buddy Becca comes in handy. She’s the reason we’re getting back on track in the basement this week.

4. Projects
Jensen: “Random photography is fun, liberating, useful in its own way, but far less motivational than photography that is engaged in for a defined project. Simply said, wandering around the landscape looking for “greatest hits”  photographs does not have the potential for success as trying to do a specific project about a specific landscape or a particular kind of landscape image.”
   This was a concept my friend/instructor Sarah Thompson instilled in us…and from which I have strayed.
   I have started projects from picking a concept…then photographing (that’s how my “Hands” project came to be). And I have also been inspired to “pull focus” on a subject from flipping through reams of negatives and noticing trends (the “Branching Out” series was born after I noticed how weird trees randomly crept into my work).
   I sat down over the weekend with, oh, three years’ worth of Lenswork editions, culling through assorted projects and themes. And – in the end – it got the creative juices flowing.
   I know what I want to do next…uh, but I haven’t started on it yet.

5. Visualization
   Jensen: “Gestalt psychology teaches us that the more clearly we see a proposed result in our mind’s eye, the more motivated we are to move toward that result. Ergo, the more completely and with greater detail we can visualize a finished project in our mind’s eye, the more we will find ourselves motivated to complete it.”
    True, true, true.
    My “visualizations” usually manifest themselves in the form of written words (huge fan/believer of Julia Cameron’s “morning pages” exercises…see “The Artist’s Way” for more info).
    I have kept journals for more than 30 years. I don’t go back thru them very often, but when I do, I’m always struck by how my words usually manifest themselves. I “see” something…I write it out…it happens. Could be a trip I want to take, a job I want, a venue in which I want to exhibit – doesn’t really matter. 
     Ask. Believe. Receive.


Stay tuned for the next five motivations! I promise not to procrastinate too long between posts.