Monday, February 13, 2017

311: Paradoxical Surrender

–ONE of the worst creative blocks I ever had was when I contracted to complete a 112-page graphic novel. I had already completed the first 32 pages, and the publisher loved the arc of the story. I reassured him I could easily produce eighty more pages. Euphoric, I returned to my studio and began trying to write the remaining chapters. Despite my enthusiasm, I found I couldn’t rise to the challenge.

My inability to move forward was agonizing. I tried and failed with many attempts to come up with a reasonable solution. I wrote out drafts. I did sketches. I dove into the final rendering of pages. I discussed possible plots with my wife. Nothing worked–everything I tried was less than what I expected.

Finally, in total desperation I scribbled some sketches on tissues and began, panel by panel, to render the story, making up each frame and dialog balloon as I went. My goal became, not to create an amazing comic as originally intended, but to simply deliver 112 pages to the publisher. I gave up on creating a quality product. With great disappointment I told myself I would have to satisfy myself with just delivering the pages I promised.

But a strange thing happened. The less I tried, the better the pages looked. Most amazingly, a story began to appear. Soon I found myself imagining a complex and satisfying tale. It was a strange story to be sure (the San Jose Metro later described one chapter as Griffin and Sabine on acid. But it was sheer creativity–no mind altering substances needed). But ultimately the book had an internal logic I found deeply satisfying.

The phenomenon of chucking expectations and proceeding with a project regardless of imposed standards became a frequent solution over the years. I came to regard it as Paradoxical Surrender–the less I tried, the more I succeeded.

There are many expectations we deal with. Some are self-generated. Some are projected onto us by others. Shirking expectations and plowing ahead with total disregard for quality is admittedly an odd solution. And it won't work unless you have one essential ingredient working for you–the actual ability to create such a project.

Do the following assessment the next time you have a creative block; how would you rate your ability to complete the project? Have you ever completed such a project in the past even if to a lesser degree? If you have the ability to repeat that success, can you muster the confidence to give it another try? These two factors, your level of ability and confidence, will give you an idea why you are choking with this particular project. If you've had a reasonable amount of success in the past, and in your best moments have summoned the confidence necessary to complete such tasks, you can assume that you can replicate that experience.

Your next challenge is to get out of your way. Turn the project over to your subconscious mind. Press forward with as much haste as you can muster. Shirk off all expectations! Commit yourself to doing a mediocre job. In fact, challenge yourself to do the job with as much mediocrity as possible. If you are so obsessive/compulsive you don't know how to be mediocre use the steps James Altucher, in his book Choose Yourself, calls The 7 Steps of Highly Mediocre People. If you surrender to mediocrity, you will find you suddenly have the chops and your work will improve as if by magic.

I know this process seems counterintuitive. But I've tested it many times. I forget to use paradoxical surrender at my peril. Although I occasionally forget to use it, it is one of my most cherished super powers. Give it a try.

Brad Teare –February 2017

Reflection of Shadow, (above), 36" x 36", oil on canvas, SOLD, other paintings available at Anthony's Fine Art


  1. One of your best posts ever, thank you!

    1. Thank you, Padmaja. I've really enjoyed your paintings on instagram. Thanks for your kind words.

  2. Brad-

    Just a reminder the Cypher graphic novel fansite (museum?) still exists at

    I invite your readers to take a look at part of your brain they've never seen before. Cypher-dude lives!


    1. Thanks for the reminder. That is a fun way to preview the comic. Thanks for the link!


Thanks for your comments!


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