Why Do Some Many Great Works Have Troubled Backgrounds?

When I’m doing a project, I’ll listen to music I love or leaf my collection of inspiring images. This isn’t unusual. Creative people will tell you they use all kinds of rituals and practices to get into the flow of their work.

Today, many companies that depend on innovation focus on creating fun, stimulating environments for their employees. I’ve worked at a few such companies. The ad agency I worked for placed large bowls of candy in common areas for employees to enjoy. Another employer did away with set hours; it was up to each project team to decide how to meet their commitments.

And yet, creative work…often superb creative work…has been created under conditions which were anything but ideal.

This morning I was listening to Pink Floyd’s The Wall. There are other albums by Pink Floyd I like more, but there are moments in The Wall when, as I listen, I think to myself, this is just freaking brilliant.

Like many people, I assume that profound and remarkable things must have been occurring to have inspired such a wonderful musical work. And being a curious kind of person, I checked out the album’s history in Wikipedia to learn more.

Wrong. It turns out that The Wall was created during one of the band’s most acrimonious and chaotic periods.

To begin with, the band was in a financial crisis because of poorly managed investments and tensions were high. Band members refused to record together and parts had to be recorded individually then arranged later. Various production staff quit or were fired and had to be replaced. The Wall was the last album for Richard Wright, the band’s keyboardist who was fired after falling out with other band members.

So how does something so beautiful result from something so ugly and dysfunctional?

I think it’s important here to make a distinction between the creator and what he or she is creating.

As a creator I have so often wondered at the things I have created. I’ve looked at things I’ve drawn or read something I’ve written and asked myself “Really, did I do that?”

This isn’t an expression of arrogance. It’s the exact opposite. It is an expression of appreciation and deep humility because somehow I produced this lovely thing.

My personal belief is that creative work is a kind of collaborative effort between myself and a Higher Power. When I’m creating I feel like I’m like the tuner In a radio. I am necessary to the process no doubt about it. Yet there is something about what I create that seems so much finer than me. So much finer than anything I could do using my own devices.

This is why I think so many great works have come out of painful, ugly situations and why many great artists are often troubled individuals.

This not to say that great art cannot come from happy circumstances and from good-natured, content individuals.

But I find it very interesting that creative work is not dependent upon ideal circumstances being in place. That remarkable work can come from the most unlikely conditions.

If you or I approach or work as artists…as creators…this means we do not have to be victims of circumstance when it comes to creating what we want. Something that gives me hope and inspires me to keep creating.

New Project: Completing Previous Project

I decided to break down the actions needed to complete the how to article into smaller, easier pieces and create a fresh project to complete these pieces.

Making things “as simple as possible but no simpler” seems to be something I need a lot of practice with. I continue to learn that what I think I can accomplish is a lot more than what I do in reality.

I also think there’s wisdom in limiting the number of hours I have each day to do what I see as productive, creative work. 5-6 hours is really good. 4 hours is more realistic. Not only is some time spent on admin work but there’s time driving, doing errands, and dealing with unexpected crisises like bringing my Mac in for repair and using my iPad as my makeshift computer for work.

I created a new Structural Tension chart on Google docs. Once I have a working computer I’ll upload the new chart as well as images of my latest Daily Creations.

11.30.16 Project Status Update


Yesterday, when I sat down, pen in hand to edit the how to article I’ve been working on since late October, I found myself rewriting paragraphs and in one instance, deleting out an entire page.

When edits are this extensive, there’s a larger underlying issue—often structural in nature. In this case, I realized that my How-to article was actually several separate how-to articles. Not only did I have multiple articles, the articles had different audiences: some technical and some general.

For example, one audience to whom I was writing were people looking for good gift ideas. Another audience were crafters. And another were people who wanted to do something using Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop.

I now understand why I’ve felt so much resistance finishing my article.


So I’ve been thinking about how to move forward and here’s what I decided:

  1. I’m going to proof read what I’ve written and break the article into separate blog posts so it’s easier to navigate. Then I’m going to publish what I’ve written knowing it’s a mashup that may not work for any one group of readers.
  2. I’ve made notes of my ideas on how I can rework different parts of the article as future possibilities.
  3. I’m going to call this project complete and move on to other things I want to do.

I considered several other possibilities but at this point completion is what feels best. There are projects that feel more compelling and I generally like to go where I feel the most energy.

Although completion feels best, it still doesn’t feel great. I feel like the guy in the picture here who has tried fixing his computer, has removed lots of pieces, and isn’t sure how to put it back together again. Rather than replace the pieces he’s just throwing the pieces back, and putting on the lid, and calling it “done.” That’s how I feel about this project.

I’ll be writing a Creator Moment of Truth post as well and will probably have more insights on what I’ve learned.

11.28.16 Project Update


I didn’t spend much time working over the last 10 days because my family was at home and I wanted to enjoy being with them…particularly my son who has been in Asia for most of the year.

It felt luxurious to listen to my son’s stories and observations without feeling the pressure of having to get something done.

With this project being so close to completion I’m surprised by how little motivation I feel to do the last few steps. I’m not entirely sure why I feel so resistant to doing these last steps.

I made commitments in my writing support groups that I would complete the article this week as a way to hold myself accountable.

While I intend to meet this commitment, it hasn’t given me much in the way of energy or motivation.

In the Creative Process, Robert Fritz talks about using the structural tension between our goal and current reality as a “little engine” that moves us forward. He has also talked about how, as structural tension lessens, our drive to do the work also lessens. I’m wondering if the reduction in structural tension accounts for my loss of interest.

Something I’m doing as a way to increase structural tension is to create a more exciting image of the goal. Although I think my written description of the desired outcome in this project is good; certainly good enough to get me to 95% complete, I’m needing something more to do that final 5%.

I like visuals a lot. Sometimes a picture really does capture more than words alone. So for my daily creation I’m drawing a picture of what the finished product will look like. I’ve also included some marketing copy to reinforce the benefits of the article to my intended audience and the benefits to me when it’s completed.

Here’s my goal in a more concrete visual


I consider this project a success when I’ve completed all the steps in my action plan. Whether an audience responds will be something I study and learn from but not something on which my self esteem rests.

11.10.16 Update

I’ve finished the second written draft of my how to article.

Next thing to do an editorial pass and document the following:

  • Changes to make to the text to make the article easier to use assuming no major changes to the content.
  • Changes I would make if I were to do a major update.

Some observations:

  • Maybe someone should take all the graphic applications off my mac. I write this half-jokingly. Nothing swallows me whole in terms of time spent like messing around in Photoshop and Illustrator. Nothing.
  • I surrender! I’m going to purchase an Adobe Illustrator subscription. I would love to become more adept using a free or inexpensive piece of software but Illustrator is the standard language most designers speak.. It’s easier to find classes and get help.

specific Next steps:

  • Print the article as it is currently on WordPress.
  • Make final changes.
  • Publish
  • Send to writing group buddies for feedback.


As I’ve put together this article I’ve gotten a lot of idea for things I would like to do to make the article more useful to an audience. A limitation that keeps bugging me is my lack of skill when it comes to creating the right images. I’ve already written about this issue and possible solutions. It’s just worth noting that I often like to use images when I’m explaining a concept or giving step by step instructions. I find the right image can take results-based content from “meh” to “yeah!”

One of my continuing challenges is to resist the temptation to raise the bar on my goal as I have ideas for improving the outcome.

I’ve been blowing off my daily creations lately and want to get back into that routine. I guess I’d like to find some objects that are a little more interesting than silver <grin>.

I recently purchased Robert Fritz’ book “The Path of Least Resistance for Managers” and am looking forward to getting into the material. I’m finding that the Creating Your Life course is great for personal project where I’m the main player. I’m curious, however, how do you apply these ideas when you’re working on something which depends on a group of people working together toward a common objective.

11.02.16 Distractions, distractions!


My update was 8 days ago. Ugh! I was wondering “what happened?” and took a look at my how I used my time last week. What the heck occupied my attention?

Here’s what happened: I enrolled in a writing class and got immersed in my writing assignment.

I had recently listened to an interview with Lindsey Vonn who talked about her experiences with body image and self care and thought it would be a great topic to write about. Like a lot of women I’ve struggled with body image, diet, and feeling genuinely good about my appearance. So I spent a large chunk of the last week connecting with women via social media and writing about what I learned.

  • Exploring the topic produced a lot of positive results:
    Women who responded have a strong interest in the topic and in creating positive options.
  • The responses opened up lots of possible directions to take my research.
  • I wrote up everything in an extensive outline.

But I did not work on the article and this has affected my timeline. My 2-week project is turning into a one month project.

In addition, I have a compulsion to create original artwork for my blog posts. Even a quick sketch on paper can cause problems. For example, last week I spent several hours trying to figure out how to “erase” lines from sketches I do on lined paper. I found a solution but I’m not sure it was worth the three hours I spent messing around with Adobe Acrobat’s prepress tools. Talk about brain damage!.

  • Lessons I’m taking away:
    All of this comes back to making conscious decisions. Sometimes it’s fun to have time when I can pursue my whims and inspirations. But too often I chase a whim before I’ve taken care of the work I have scheduled.
  • To cut myself some slack here, again, this is a personal project. When it’s work-related and people are depending on my deliverables, I stay on schedule.
  • Reduce distractions. I still take on too many commitments. Remember I can say “maybe” rather than “yes.” I may also want to consider just getting away from my computer. The Internet is a minefield of distractions.

Today I’m going to spend time working on the how-to article. I’m going to write for 30-minutes. I could spend more time but 30-minutes is what fits my schedule today. The goal for now is to find time to write even if the time comes in very small increments.


10.22.16 Project Update

queen-card-1queen-card-2 queen-card-3-3

I’ve created all the images for the how-to article. All that’s left to do is to insert the article text, add images, and adjust spacing so that the article is easy to read.


The last image is of the card as it looked before I wrapped and mailed it. I wish I had taken a few snapshots of the card before wrapping it but I was in a hurry to get it in the mail. I figured I could probably recreate it somehow.

But creating a somewhat realistic version didn’t work very well. I tried to create a booklet that looked 3-D in Photoshop and using another application called 3-D Boxshot. After messing around for an hour with no luck I gave up.

In Creating Your Life, Robert Fritz talk about how much of our time creating will be frustrating because we are learning the skills necessary to create what we want. This is a perfect example where I had a clear image of what I wanted to create but don’t have the skills and know how to create that image.

It’s worth noting here that this frustration is inherent in the journey and is not a sign that I should give the journey up. I’ve found that in today’s culture of instant gratification it’s helpful to remember looking foolish and stumbling in part of the path to mastery. So my willingness to take the steps and look awkward is worth celebrating.

10.20.16 Project Update


Current Reality Snapshot

All images but one are completed. YAY!

I’m setting the publishing date to 10/26 although I’m leaving it as 10/23 on the Action Plan. This gives me more time to complete exercises in Creating Your Life.


The specific steps in the creative process are actually pretty simple. If you’ve done any project management you’ll find it easy to create and update Structural Tension Charts.

The more challenging part in the creative process is the mindset piece because shifting from a problem solving perspective to a creating perspective doesn’t come naturally to most of us myself included. Creating Your Life provides lots of exercises and ideas for making the mindset shift easier and I want to spend some time doing those exercises.

Without taking time to integrate the ideas I quickly get caught up in checking off boxes on my ToDo list. While I love the endorphin rush of checking off those little boxes, it can get addictive and I’m back to mindless activity and problem solving instead of  consciously creating.

10.17.16 Update


After reviewing my list of illustrations, I selected 8 out of 18 which I think truly add to my How-to article. This will make it easier to complete the article by the 10/23 deadline.


10.15.16 Project Update

After reviewing the How to document and identifying places where the article would be improved by an illustration or diagram I’ve identified 18 possible images to create. This is more than I anticipated.

I enjoy creating images but I’m wondering what the effect will be on my timeline.

I’m going to take another pass at the list of illustrations to see what I could create and make the 10.23.16 deadline.

Here’s a pdf file showing the Structural Tension Chart as of today: 10.15.16 Structural Tension Chart