A spider’s web is a mammoth effort of construction that begins with an act of faith. The spider starts by throwing out a delicate line of silk into nothing but air, in the hope that it will find an anchor. Once her hope is rewarded, her hard work begins. First, she shores up the anchor thread, replacing it with a stronger line of silk. Next, she creates a sure foundation of spokes. Then, she spins a spiral of widely spaced threads to create the shape that we know as a spider’s web. But this first spiral is only the frame. She will continue spinning for up to an hour, until she has woven closely spaced threads, coated in droplets of glue, to form the web. The frame spiral is then removed and she is left with the beauty of the finished orb that will serve as her den and her source of food. Many spiders will do it all again every day, re-creating their web thread by meticulous thread.
Robert Louis Stevenson said that ‘to travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive, and the true success is to labour’. And so it is with the act of creation. We throw out that first idea and hope to find an anchor for a piece of art or writing. Like the spider’s thread, it may result in nothing. The first words may peter out, the first marks of a drawing may lead nowhere. We hope that those things will become something more, but our hope won’t take us to the point of creation. The blank page is a daunting thing and it’s faith – in our abilities, our talents, our resilience – that will prompt us to keep going. Faith will impel us to continue casting the thread, knowing that at some point, something will catch.
But while hope needs to be buttressed by faith, faith needs hard work to create substance. The artist Grayson Perry said that his work is produced through a ‘war of attrition’ of endless hours of labour. I explored the idea of creativity as a journey, which may take us in unexpected directions, in my post The idea of a journey. But wherever our work takes us, we will only complete the journey with effort and commitment. For me, the most exciting part of a new project is the beginning. I love the spark of the initial idea and taking that first leap of faith. Building the scaffolding of a piece is an exhilarating but uneasy time, when the work is fragile and could succeed or fail. I hope it will turn out well and worry that it won’t fulfil my expectations. But, as with the spider’s web, the first threads are only a frame, forged wide apart so that we have space to explore and experiment within it.
For me, the real hard work begins when I have a structure I’m happy with: some interesting scenes in a story, or the intriguing outline of a painting. The faith I began with will spur me on through the parts that feel like drudgery. The hard work is often furnishing the gaps: colouring the large parts of the canvas, or completing the more mundane scenes in a story. Painting stroke after stroke, writing word after word, until there’s something of substance there. Until the effort is over and I can revel in the flourishes of the finer details that make something breathe.
Of course, there is usually more work to come. The editing and revising that can take longer than the initial creation. The scrutinising and taking apart and sometimes destruction of everything you love about a piece, before you can say that the thing is finally done. But still, like the spider who recreates her web every night, we start again, with the next blank page and the next act of faith, hoping we can create something wonderful out of nothing.