The hard work of creativity
When creativity happens, you're in the flow, and it's a golden moment. You rush to record that freight train's message then sit back basking in the applause for your genius.
That's cute. That's sweet. I could punch something.
Creativity isn't always pretty, and it isn't always good. A lot of times, it's crap. I have a short story whose idea I loved and carried with me for months before finally writing it down.
And it. Is. Terrible.
I haven't erased it yet because I still pay it visits in times of procrastination. It's a great idea, I still believe that, but it doesn't work as I've written it. Oh, does it ever not work. Yet instead of causing discouragement, it makes me laugh. The blush of love I once had for the idea has faded, but it still brings me joy. "Well, look at this one," I think while reading it. "Creativity done me wrong this time."
Curiosity about what might still happen keeps us hanging around when a troubled creativity would have us working on the noose's knots.
Remember being 7 and playing with the neighborhood kids, back before we second-guessed our imagination? Someone would suggest, "What if I'm a pirate king, and you're one of my shipmates?" You wouldn't say, "But that doesn't make sense. We don't have a boat, no one would let you be king, you know nothing about pirates, I'm taller, it'll never work, etc." You likely responded "Aye aye!" and moved forward to loot for your new boss.
What if when we asked ourselves "What if?", we just went with it?
Because we might mess up.
"Creativity is going into the uncertain, and the uncertain is always scary," writer Elizabeth Gilbert said to NPR.
Show up every day for your work. Be diligent. Be disciplined. Be patient.
Yes, it's hard. Had you heard otherwise?
That's part of being a creator, though: It's your job. You show up for it. Sometimes the work doesn't work, but you're there, trying, being open for what might venture in.
Said composer and singer-songwriter Sting: "[Creativity is] the ability to take a risk, to actually put yourself on the line and risk ridicule, being pilloried, criticized, whatever. But ... you must take that risk."
We write because we must. And it isn't the end of the world when we're less than genius: Humans have created art for 30,000 years, and have you seen some pieces considered art? Well, it's subjective, to say the least, though I'm sure their moms were proud. As creators, we know anything you do to express yourself is art, and if it's your calling, you aren't scared off so easily.
When I want to tear my hair out over creativity's freight train yet again missing my station, I recommend five things:
Extend some grace to yourself.
Why do you think you'll do it perfectly the first time? If it were so easy, everyone would write stories about others instead of take selfies. Your only goal for today is to write, not to write well. Work on that later, once you're writing regularly.
Switch off your phone (really power down; I'm watching), and turn off your wi-fi.
This is honestly the only way I can work. I want to be Hemingway, but I'm just me, and there are cooler apps now than in Ernie's time. If you have to write -- if it's your vocation, your calling, you what-it's-all-about -- then limit the distractions. They'll still be there when you're done writing.
Give yourself a timeframe -- a real one.
You might set the timer for two hours and pledge that if you don't produce any writing in that time, then you'll take a walk around the neighborhood. Two hours is an honest chunk of time. It's enough time to get over the hump of boredom, get angry about your lacking imagination and get on with it.
Ask for help.
There are loads of resources about creativity. (Get six of my favorites here.) In book form, of course, you have Elizabeth Gilbert's Big Magic and Twyla Tharp's The Creative Habit, to name two glorious tomes. But you also have a whole creative community at your disposal -- and every single one of us is pissed about the days (weeks, months) we have when we convince ourself we aren't creative in the least.
It just isn't true.
Every person is creative. Even accountants write stories about dolphins -- I know, because he made up characters for me every night while putting me to bed as a kid. (Her name was Rebecca the Dolphin, and she was nice to every ocean creature, even when they were rude.)
If your creative juices feel dried up and you're sure you'll never be creative again (I once had a multi-year dry spell), your tribe is here to talk it out. I'm always happy to chat in general about your creative life or dig in with tailored, comprehensive solutions. Or you might sign up for The 52-Week Project to receive one writing prompt a week for a full year. I get a massive amount of inspiration from prompts.
Just know that you aren't alone in your creativity. First, there's you, and you're pretty awesome, and your hair looks great today. Then, there's us, your champions, your fellow creatives out there battling comma splices and irreverent plotlines in the jungle of our brains.
Put it all into perspective.
You guys, Romeo and Juliet is a really terrible play, whose tragedy is founded on a frustrating gullibility: If Romeo had only questioned Balthasar to make sure he was really, really sure of Juliet's for-certain death ... but maybe that's just our modern skepticism. I'd certainly balk then get a second opinion.
The point is that this story's been told over and over by a multitude of authors with their own characters. Consider that it's all been done before -- and back when there were far fewer distractions than there are today -- and being creative means putting your own spin on an idea.
Just try it. Maybe something beautiful will happen.
Or maybe you have a brand-new, never-been-done idea and you're scared to take it on. Can you imagine the risk Laurence Sterne took in writing The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, which included interactive sections, such as the suggestion that the reader draw a portrait of one character? That was in 1759. Or Jonathan Safran Foer's 2005 book Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, with his typeset illustrations of the result of Oskar's grandfather's grief.
I can imagine their book pitches. "OK, I want to do this kind of weird thing in my book. Just hear me out."
That's what I love about creativity: It's weird and unusual and unique and totally stolen from a piece of dialogue you overheard that biker say while crossing the street. And it's never gone for good. It's yours, and the fact that you keep on keeping on, that's the magic.
Well done, you.