Finishing School–Finishing’s Cool ; )

Before we get going, here is something really great for belly dance: Middle Eastern bellydance. Variations, styles, nomenclature. Wednesday 18 May 2022 at 17:00 Cyprus time (10amEDT). CID is the dance arm of UNESCO. A MAJOR world heritage organization highlighting our dance! This is HUGE. I encourage all dance professionals to attend! Click here to learn more.

Now back to our regularly scheduled article ; )


The spring semester at the college where I work closes this week. Semesters have ends, and you are done whether you’re ready or not. Seasons, too. It’s spring here now (finally), and the plum trees are just leafing out. Summer will come and go, fall, winter–there are these natural rhythms in the world. As there are in human lives, and in our creative processes, starting things, and finishing them.

Or do we?

It depends…

Some writers, for example, crank out a novel a year, or even more. It took me four years to write Midnight. It took Michael Crichton 20 years to write Sphere (and 8 for Jurassic Park). Ralph Ellison took 40 years to write Juneteenth, and passed away before he finished. All of these are wins–I read recently that 97% of writers never finish their novel. Yikes!

Okay, so what does this have to do with dance?

Creative folks often struggle to finish their work. We start things, and they get hard, and we lose steam, and…. um…

Yeah. Nada. Zip, zero, zilch.

I was at a talkback with screenwriters a few years ago. Two things folks said really stuck with me. Michael Arndt, screenwriter of Little Miss Sunshine (which is hilarious), said. “Finish what you start.”

Easier said than done.

What does it take to finish work?

Deadlines help. Oh yeah. We can adrenaline up and crank something out when the chips are down and a grade, paycheck, show is on the line. For me, and maybe for you, it has to real–self-imposed deadlines, meh–I need some external accountability to kick me into high gear. For example, the 30-day time-frame of National Novel Writing Month helped me complete two novels!

As dancers, we often have deadlines for shows. We have to send in our song by X date (which means we have to pick a song, which is hard enough–never mind finishing a dance!).

Some of us just show up and dance–improvisation is a wonderful thing ; ). But others of us have an exacting and often fraught relationship with dancemaking, agonizing over every second of the music–this move or that one? And even improvisers may want some structure for their dance–a context, a story, a series of stage patterns–we’ll wing it, but we also like some structure.

And we don’t always have deadlines.

Sometimes we make things for ourselves–A book. A new class, a dance, dress, picture, desk, chair, stained-glass lampshade–whatever. And even when we do have a deadline (hello tax return day), who needs all that anxiety?

How do we reliably make things without the external pressure/adrenaline addiction of deadlines?

At that same panel discussion, a woman writer, whose name escapes me (sigh), said, “Writing equals ass plus chair.” She didn’t coin this (Stephan King did), but it was the first time I heard it. And this is how completion happens. Let’s broaden this a bit.

Creativity=ass+chair.

It takes Time and Focus to make creative work.

Time has to be set aside, made special, because Focus takes Time.

Recently I have been enjoying an “AM Bookend.” When I get up in the morning, I don’t open my phone. I don’t check my email. I don’t even read a book (!). In fact, I stash my phone the night before, so I will be less tempted. I get up, wash up, do my morning things, and eat breakfast looking out the window (instead of at my phone). I visualize my Glorious Self for the day’s tasks, and then I get to work.

No inputs until the day’s most important creative work is done.

The less sleep I’ve had (I have a PM bookend, too), the sooner I flag/crash/burn, so those early day moments are key.

My brother’s early morning is around 3pm. Like many folks, he works 9 to 5–that’s 9pm to 5am. When you get up isn’t the issue–the designated Focus Time is (and okay, yes, the body does seem to want to sleep at night and that’s better for it, but we make do with what we have).

So how does it work?

I make my to-do list the night before–and I don’t add things the next day (well, sometimes–but I avoid it). So each morning I don’t have to decide what to do–I have a plan. I just get straight to Number One. Today it was this article. Last night I chose what to write about. This morning, I knew what I wanted to do, so I drew the above picture. Then I started writing. And here we are.

This is how I finished Midnight, too. I got up at 5am every day, before anyone else was up. I protected that time. I sat down and I worked.

I invite you to try it. It is popular among creative folks because it‘s effective.

The other most useful thing I’ve found is daily accountability. We’ll talk about that (and creative fallow periods) next week.

With all my love,
Alia

PS If you’ve got a dance to make, or just feel like making one for fun, I invite you to join How to Make a Dance in FIVE Days! Registration is now open! The class will be available from May 22 through June 4. I’ll be around through that time to support, advise, and cheerlead!

PPS if you’ve had issues completing work, and you’d like to resolve this, please email me. I have a project that might interest you.

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