Picasso for Writers

I’m going to be brutally honest here: writing is scary. It’s one of the big reasons  we procrastinate. That said, it’s taken me years of attempts at meditation, mindfulness, NLP, Ekhart Tolle etc etc to even begin to detach a bit from my thoughts; to observe what happens between a thought and the response to it.

So, I’m like right, I’ve done the dishes, cleaned the hob, swept the kitchen floor:  it’s time to get to work on my novel. Oh. Hang on. Why don’t I do the ironing? But I hate ironing. I could make a quiche or cupcakes. Or maybe I’ll go for a walk.

Hey, I said to myself: what’s going on here?

This time I stopped and tried to stay present.  What had happened – automatically and unconsciously – between thinking ‘novel’ and thinking ‘ironing’?

What happened was a feeling of DREAD.

Rather than force it out of awareness, or give in to it, or beat myself up for it, I stopped and simply observed. Sometimes, in the simple observing, the feeling we’ve tried at all costs to avoid simply dissolves. Because it’s kind of nothing. It’s the resistance to it that gives it substance.

But why, I wondered, should I feel such paralyzing dread at the prospect of doing what I love, the activity that’s brought me more joy and fulfilment than anything I’ve ever done. How is it possible to feel dread every single time I even think about sitting down to write?

And then I remembered Picasso.

In the summer of 1957, Picasso, aged 75, shut himself away for four months to penetrate the secrets of ‘Las Meninas’, the celebrated 1656 painting by Velazquez, which as an art student Picasso had seen and copied in the Prado Museum in Madrid. The result was a series of 58 paintings probing, reinterpreting and recreating the famous work.

What I remembered was something in a book about Picasso and Las Meninas that I translated years ago: during the painting of the series, a guest at Picasso’s villa wrote: “As soon as Picasso left his pigeon loft-studio, he started fretting to get back there. […] But the next day, when it was time to start work, he went upstairs as if he were going to the gallows.”

But he did go up to his studio every day and he did the work. You can see it at the Picasso Museum in Barcelona.

I don’t have the answer to why our true work triggers such dread, but I can tell you this: we’re in great company.

More about Picasso for writers here.

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7 Responses

  1. Showing up is half the battle! The book won’t write itself. And even if it’s not your best work, if you just do it you’ll be further along than if you don’t. I’m working on getting back into my work now. This inspiration was just what I needed.

  2. This was great, and just what I needed to get myself working this morning. I hadn’t heard that story of Picasso before–but it makes sense to me. Showing up is, I think, the hardest part of the work. Once I get going, I seem to do okay. Hope you have a productive day today.

  3. Thank you for this. Seriously. This is something I am struggling with every time I have the time and even the inclination to write. Sometimes just knowing I’m not alone in this mental paralysis is exactly what I need to break out of it. So thank you for your honesty and good words. Hope you are able to accomplish what you need this week! I’m off to work on plotting. And also the laundry. But first, plot.

  4. Going up to the gallows. Yep. Hence the allure of social media. At least there’ll be something to watch or “like” while they’re securing the noose. LOL. I can put my ass in the chair like a beast. Too bad that’s different from really showing up.

  5. Valerie, I related to this in regards to my own dealing with uncomfortable thoughts. After I looked up HOB on Google, I finished reading your blog. I loved this: Sometimes, in the simple observing, the feeling we’ve tried at all costs to avoid simply dissolves. Because it’s kind of nothing. It’s the resistance to it that gives it substance.

    I need to observe more. I can see that. It is nice to know we’re good company with the likes of Picasso.

    Great thoughts!

  6. I laughed and laughed when I read this, because I wrote about the same subject for June 26. This is a really good post. I loved it.

  7. “As if he were going to the gallows.” Oh my word, this describes me. Like, today, right now.

    It doesn’t get any easier. If anything, the success of my latest book has increased my dread. 🙂 How can I top that? I fret. Because I know I got nothin.

    Nothing! Of course I have nothing! I must put words on that blank page, and then I’ll have something!

    Valeria, I will remember your story about Picasso and the gallows. We sufferers are in good company it seems!

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