The three most important truths for creatives: Part 3
Part 3: Repeat
The third most important truth for creatives is to repeat. That is, to keep going. To do what you did yesterday when you worked on and believed in your work.
It was probably Day 2 when I felt like giving up while working at a fishing lodge the summer after my sophomore year in college. After I arrived in Vancouver from California, for three long months, I would work on a ship, cleaning bathrooms, making beds, and serving breakfast. Every single day, for ninety days straight, seven days a week, 12–16 hours per day, I would do these same tasks for people coming to the Queen Charlottes to fish for salmon and halibut. New guests every three or four days. Then new guests again. But always the same tasks. Always waking up at 3:00 AM, working from 3:30 AM to 3:30 PM—sometimes till 7:30 PM—and going to bed no later than 7:30 PM. As the sole housekeeper, janitor and breakfast server, a lot depended upon me.
Back to Day 2.
Knock, knock, knock. “Wake up! Three o’clock!” said my bunkmate whose role as the night steward included wake up calls for the whole ship.
I grunted, then attempted to get up but realized that I literally could not move. I tried to lift myself out of bed, but my body wouldn’t respond. My hands were curled up and dried from the ten hours of cleaning and scrubbing the day before. My back muscles were shot from bending over. My body felt a hundred and twenty pounds heavier. Since the usual “roll out of bed” maneuver was not possible, I slid out horizontally. The task for the day was to repeat what I did yesterday. Then do it for 88 more days in a row.
Over time, after I repeated and repeated my tasks against my natural will to stop, give up, and rest, my body developed callouses like you do when you first learn guitar. It’s horribly painful for the first while—the tips of your fingers become sore, red and extremely sensitive. Then when you play the next day and put your fingers on the rough metal strings, the strings seem to dig into you and leave little metal slivers in your fingers. I don’t know if that’s what actually happens, but that’s what it feels like, especially when you slide up on the neck to reach a higher place on the fretboard. But something mesmerizing happens after you press through the pain: callouses develop on the tips of your fingers as your personal saving graces. Gradually, what used to hurt you only fortifies your shield further.
Back to the ship. My sore back and rough hands came to terms with the new norm. They strengthened while rising to the task. That summer, the process of repetition made me successful, but the process of becoming habitual in my work was extremely painful. Make another bed, clean another toilet, serve another breakfast. These things made me cry somewhere around Day 30. Developing a new habit is always fun for the first few days, but habits lose their luster. Eventually, you face a choice. You either do it…or you don’t. End of story.
Be the person that refuses to give up when life becomes boring. We need you.
Don’t stop writing. Don’t break off your commitment. Don’t quit reading. Don’t stall out on that project. Don’t leave her. Don’t dump him. Don’t walk out on your relationship. Press in. Don’t abandon; repeat, and find joy.