J.D. Moyer

beat maker, sci-fi writer, self-experimenter

Radical Responsibility and the Creative Process

I'm starting a new company called "BoozeSnap."

I’m starting a new company called “BoozeSnap.”

Yesterday morning I showed up at my writing desk not quite ready to work. I was in a foul mood, a little tired and lazy, and feeling distracted. Not just feeling distracted but actively looking for distractions (which, on the internet, are not hard to find).

After an hour or two of wasting time and wallowing in my bad mood, I figured out (for the eleven-hundredth time) that I had nobody to blame for my mental state but myself. I could have said no thank you to the 18-year-old Lagavulin my friend brought back from Scotland and poured freely at the D&D game. I could have attended one decadent social event instead of two. I could have eaten better, exercised more, and gone to bed earlier.

Radical Responsibility is a form of self-empowerment. To me the phrase means looking for solutions and possibilities instead of excuses, and never passing the buck. It means being ready, brave, and confident. It means exercising my free will (and rejecting fate, powerlessness, and inertia).

Of course, having an ideal and living an ideal are not the same. But the point of having an ideal is to stop pounding your head against the wall before you hurt yourself.

So … I acknowledged to myself and my family that I was in a terrible head-space (I had kind of been taking it out on them up to that point). I sat down and meditated for five minutes. I turned off the wifi on my laptop, opened my working document, reviewed my notes, started writing, and kept writing until I had met my daily quota.

Immediately my mood lifted. I read the work and felt excited by it. 27 days in a row working on my current novel (“don’t break the chain” in full effect). There’s no better reminder that emotions don’t have to control you than pushing through and doing the work anyway.

But There’s a Better Way …

Ideally, I shouldn’t have to expend so much willpower to get rolling. I wasn’t ready but I could have been ready. Artists can choose to be ready physically by being reasonably rested and fed (but not overfed — less is usually more when it comes to food and creative productivity). We can be ready emotionally by not getting entangled in other people’s drama (Polish saying: “not my circus, not my monkeys”), by avoiding disputes and the need to always be right. We can be ready with an abundance of ideas by paying attention to the subconscious mind, by meditating, and by consuming brilliant work by artists we admire. If depression is holding us back we can do something about it. If we don’t have enough time or a fancy working space we can fit in bits of work here and there; we can create a distraction-free zone in some little nook.

We could make an excuse for not being ready, but do we want to? Why not just be ready when it’s time to work?

The Perfect Excuse Guy

When I was in my early twenties I had a shitty temp job at a warehouse packing boxes. I also had a few techno and house tracks signed and published (one with a major label) and I was working on music about twenty hours a week. There was a guy at the warehouse, probably in his thirties, who was interested in electronic music and frequently asked me questions about how to get into it. I told him my story: I had saved up money to buy a keyboard, figured out how to plug it into my computer, taught myself MIDI sequencing, sent demos to labels, and so forth.

Anything I told this guy, he had a perfect answer for why he couldn’t do it himself. A keyboard was too expensive (I had saved over a year before buying mine). He didn’t have time because of his job (I was currently working the same job and producing music nights and weekends). I would try to explain to him how he could get around the obstacles he was setting up for himself, but he always had an answer ready. I would give up trying to convince him, but then he would start asking me about music production again. He clearly wanted to get into it himself. He wanted me to talk him into it! I tried, but the excuse part of his mind always won out, and finally I just refused to talk about making beats with that guy.

A different guy from the warehouse was a DJ. He heard I was producing tracks and asked if he could come over and check out my home studio. I said yes and we had a great production session — we exchanged quite a bit of knowledge in just a few hours. It didn’t turn into an official collaboration, but it left me wondering why the first guy never asked to check out my studio and see what it was all about (I had done the same thing with Josh Davis aka DJ Shadow a few years earlier when we both worked at Steve’s Pizza in Davis, California — Josh showed me his four-track + turntables recording setup which was an eye-opener for me at the time in terms of ways to make music).

I want to be the opposite of the Perfect Excuse Guy. I want to be able to produce and create even when I have shitty tools, no time, not enough money, no great ideas, inadequate skills, and a lack of natural genius. Because I just jump in and start. And then keep going. And then get better. And then keep going. That’s the guy I want to be, forever, no matter the field or the game.

So what’s your story? Are you ready to be radically responsible for your own mental state and creative output?

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14 Comments

  1. whoa! great post! thanks; i am artist, gardener, trainee in life management and what you said effects my daily life in all those areas and more.

  2. nateb

    It’s like you’re in my head! I find it surprising how the moods and emotions your describe, mirror my own. I want to excel at being a competitive bagpiper, but I find myself coming up with lame excuses to not practice, then when I compete in at a Highland Games, I regret not having done more work and wishing that I could place near the top. Thanks for the example…now time to go put in some practice.

  3. Zac

    Nateb, I have experienced extreme embarrassment from failure at my instrument. In front of my colleagues, teachers, adjudicators, and probably at the time a couple girls in band I wanted to impress, they all were expecting something awesome(including myself) and things just broke down. That wasn’t such a big deal, failing. It was the fact that it got me so down that I gave up. If you’re into the bagpipes, go all the way. Even somebody thinks you’re insane because all you think about all day long is “PIPES”, so be it. At least you put your heart into it. Better that than the bottle I presented to the writer! Like the Campbell motto says- Ne Obliviscaris: Forget Not. Don’t forget why you started doing it in the first place.

  4. Reblogged this on SPIRITWRITER and commented:
    Great post from J.D. about staying On Path and avoiding excuses…

  5. Zoë Blowen-Ledoux

    Thank you! Your posts often hit the spot, but this one really came home. At 34, I have finally figured out what I want to do with my life: permaculture. We may live in a crappy neighborhood in a third floor rented apartment surrounded on two sides by parking lots, this summer I have covered nearly every inch of our 10×15 foot patio with plants. Who would have thought it: we are eating from this garden! It is so liberating to own this interest, to invest it in, to start somewhere despite less-than-ideal conditions and through it all to watch my children watching me love something so much. Zoë

    Date: Tue, 24 Jun 2014 15:56:35 +0000 To: zozita@hotmail.com

  6. John Hampton

    I appreciate the post, J.D. This one hit me the same way as ‘You are responsible for your own brain chemistry’. I’ve noticed that it all adds up in terms of personal productivity – every angle that we try to approach it from. So many things to focus on, but the more we remember to do the right things in all areas, how they all benefit each other – meditations, building habits (don’t break the chain), staying active w/ exercise. It’s a positive feedback loop.

    Personally for me, the hardest part is simply getting enough sleep. Going to bed earlier is something we should remind ourselves to do, as you note. I could come up with an excuse why I don’t but that would be contrary to the spirit of this post.

    • Thanks John — glad this post was helpful.

      A big sleep breakthrough for me was using less artificial (blue wavelength) light in the evening. I’d always identified as a “night owl” but it was just the light keeping me up late. Relevant post:

      http://jdmoyer.com/2010/03/04/sleep-experiment-a-month-with-no-artificial-light/

      Much easier than “trying” to go to bed earlier, which never worked for me. If you’re able to go to sleep earlier when camping, you may find the same strategy to be useful.

  7. Peach

    Just wanted to let you know that 3 weeks ago I was ready to kill myself. I hardly slept for weeks. Iw as choking on lung fluid and past 2 years I had developed a mysterious asmatic bronchitis. I’ve been put on so much medication but it would always come back. And the medication, actually made me suicidal too.. I think. It was just all too much. Anyways I came across your blog when i did another one of my desperate google searches. And you really convinced me of your method. I instantly bough every single supplement you adviced. The exact same thing. Now 3 weeks later I do not have to use an inhaler anymore. And it’s been this way for the past 2 weeks. I did felt slightly breathing trough a straw here and there, but now since this week its 100% gone.

    Today is a day where its very hot and cloudy here. Humidity high. Usually I would have been neer to choking. But today I worked out! It’s been so long and I don’t get out of breathe anymore. I want to thank you thank you, from the bottom of my heart. I can finally start living again.

    Now next step for me is drastically changed my diet, and I’m really excited. I forgot to mention that I also had really bad eczema, and that too seems to be getting better.

    • Hey Peach — thanks for letting me know. Delighted to hear you’re feeling better!

  8. Jill

    Great post. 🙂 Don’t be too hard on Excuse Guy. Sometimes people feel they SHOULD want to do what they’re asking about, but don’t really want to do it.
    Maybe he’s not confident enough, or thinks music is cool but isn’t all that interested. Maybe he doesn’t really know what he wants to do or what he’s interested in.
    That encounter yielded and interesting, thought-provoking post. Maybe THAT was his function. 😉

    • rabeall

      We’ve all been excuse guy at some point. I feel like a lot of it comes down to unresolved ambivalence or cognitive dissonance. Both of which can be addressed by digging into one’s values as deeply as they can manage.

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