Creating connections through the arts and across cultures

Creativity Practice Essay by Walter Hawn: “It Ain’t Practice Unless It’s Work”

Walter Hawn is an award-winning writer, former broadcast newsman, and a photographer practicing in Wyoming which he calls "the last best place in the world." You can find more of his work of capturing Western light through photography at I met Walter through an Eric Maisel creativity support group, and am continually enchanted by his wry wisdom. --JGR

Garden Creek Path by Walter Hawn (copyrighted)
"Garden Creek Path," photo by Walter Hawn (copyrighted by
Walter Hawn, Fine Art Photographs of Wyoming and the West, "It's fraught with possibilities."

I Get Creatin' in the Mornin'
It Ain't Practice Unless It's Work

"Creativity Practice" is just that, practicing your own version of the creative urge. An actor acts, a writer writes, a dancer dances, and so on. Creation, of any sort, is a profession, just as the more recognized 'practices' are: A doctor practices doctoring, and lawyer practices lawyering, a plumber practices plumbering.

The problem we artists face is that what we do looks 'way too much like fun. It's treated in school as ancillary and unimportant. Many of our parents thought the same, and threw in "frivolous," besides.

Because creative practice isn't honored as work, it's hard for us to face as work. It seems like it ought to be fun, always, and fun you can pick up and put down whenever you like. When something stops being fun, we tend to stop playing. So, the ideal is to generate the same practicing mentality of a professional engineer or optician. Or truck driver. We go to work, we do our work, we experience our fun (for it is fun), and we set it down at quitting time and move on to other things.

The appointed time for many creators is the morning. Twyla Tharp says she starts her day with a cab-ride and a workout, then gets to the dance studio. Robert Silverberg, for years, took himself to a cheap, low-rent, run-down office first thing after breakfast, where he wrote non-stop for hours. My friend Spencer Bohren, as a high school kid, practiced on his (I was jealous) Martin Guitar every morning before school. He plays so much better than I, even though I now have an Alvarez that he might covet....

For myself, I am less certain "the morning" is necessary. For one thing, I don't have a time-bound job, so I can awaken when I like, and my body prefers to awaken at around nine-thirty to ten. I do find though, that if I postpone beginning my creative practice very much beyond an hour after waking, I never manage to get to it. For those with the nine-to-five syndrome, I suspect that an early morning practice an hour long is preferable to trying to squeeze it in after supper.

A meditative practice can be helpful, but it's not the creative work we're trying to accomplish.
For some, it's foreplay for creation, for others it's post-creation cuddling.

Most creators find that three to five hours a day is about all the concentrated effort the human mind can stand. After that, we find easier things, like income tax preparation, to slow the mind down to a 'normal' pace. Sadly, some use various substances to put the brakes on. At quittin' time is when I find meditation to be most helpful. It slows things down, and it helps fix accomplishments in place, so that I don't go wondering, "What is it I just did?" for I have a tendency to be amnesiatic about what I do while in the creative trance, and meditation helps me find my center again so I can do the dishes and sweep the floor.

© 2008 Walter Hawn

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8 Responses »

  1. Good morning Walter and Janet,

    I just wanted to say Walter that a light went on in my head when you said "because creative practice isn’t honored as work, it’s hard for us to face as work. It seems like it ought to be fun, always, and fun you can pick up and put down whenever you like. When something stops being fun, we tend to stop playing. So, the ideal is to generate the same practicing mentality of a professional engineer or optician." As well as treating art-making as a job (and not waiting around for inspiration to strike)

    I need to believe that my being an artist is as valid as being an engineer or optician. I certainly believe this about other artists and think the world is a better place for it. But I question my own work and its validity. Thanks for your insights and humour. Keep on sending them to the group.

  2. Yvonka,
    Thanks for visiting. In so doing, you honor all of our creative work: Walter's, yours, mine, and other group members, and artists everywhere.

    Since I was trained as a musician as a child, I resonate to the idea of art as practice. The metaphor also works for me from a spiritual standpoint, as spiritual practice in the midst of our creative work.


  3. Walter and Janet,
    How nice to connect with you in this way. I agree that creative work is a practice and takes practice. My artist friends are among the most disciplined people I know. Thanks for sharing. Now I must get back to my studio.


  4. Ah Walter and Janet, so much of life involves that fine line between fun and work, pleasure and perdition, livelihood and poverty, heaven and hell. Always inspiring to read of those who find and make balance as path through the wildnerness of a life. Thank you for giving the tongue of my mind these thoughts. Take good care, Cecile

  5. Walter and Janet,

    This creativity business is both exhausting and exhilarating. Not being a morning person, I am trying to make the shift to having at it first thing which requires getting up early and therefore going to bed early. This habit change will supposedly be in place after two months. Sure hope so because right now just getting to the three hour productivity mark would be really grand. Love your wit Walter!

  6. Walter and Janet,
    As I was reading your piece Walter, I was reminded of a quote from Chuck Close. "Amateurs look for inspiration, the rest of us just go to work". Love your humor, so keep it coming.

  7. Walter I like your writing style and the content of what you wrote. I also liked the photo you put there with the writing.

    Janet I think you choose interesting topics for your blog. I am learning about blogs from watching yours and some others. Visually I thought it looked really good yesterday, the choice of colors, placement of the
    photo, and words.

  8. I write after my son and my husband go to bed. I write almost every night between 10pm and 1am--and I still get up 6:30 to face the day. Its all work and practice and fun and not fun. I liked the bit in this post about creative projects being seen as fun and getting no respect. I certainly can relate. Thanks for the post.

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