Creating is scary.
It means you will be bringing something new into this world — something that can be judged. And since that something is your something it means that you are being judged. (Well, okay, your work is what’s being judged, but when your work is your passion it can be difficult to separate the two.)
This is why the creative process can carry so much anxiety with it, along with anxiety’s debilitating symptom: procrastination.
Perhaps you, like me, have had the experience of being so lost in the throes of Creative Pressure Hell that you wonder how anyone is ever able to create anything. It’s usually a fleeting feeling, but it sure feels real as it fleets.
How do we survive it?
I say by bringing balance between our pride and our humility.
Hey! You! Yes, you. Yes … you are creative!
Here’s a quick aside for those of you whose attention is waning right now because you don’t consider yourself creative.
We’re all creative. And we all engage in creative endeavors, either at work or at home.
My job requires creativity in the form of writing … a musician’s job involves creativity in the form of music … an accountant’s job might involve creativity in the form of problem solving and process improvement. Whatever. It’s all creativity.
Too often, we link creativity with art. That’s too limiting a definition. It’s wrong.
Creativity is, quite simply, “a phenomenon whereby something new and valuable is created.”
So while there may be varying levels of creativity required by different jobs and hobbies, and varying levels of creative pressure that go along with them, don’t try to give me the copouts of “I’m not creative” or “I can’t be creative” or “I don’t need to be creative.” Yes you are, yes you can, and yes you do.
And when the creative going gets tough, here’s how primility will help you survive …
Hit, Play, Love
That awkward subhead is an homage to the speaker in the video I’m about to ask you to watch: Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of Eat, Pray, Love.
I’ve never read the book, nor did I see the movie, but I do know it was a worldwide sensation. And I became familiar with Ms. Gilbert when we ran this edition of The Writer Files about her on Copyblogger.
Ms. Gilbert has done two TED talks she has done, and I have been inspired by both.
I linked you to one of them in this past Sunday’s newsletter (it’s subscriber-only, so get your free subscription here if you don’t have one.) It was this one: Success, Failure, and the Drive to Keep Creating.
Here is number two, and my preference is that you watch the video or read the transcript before continuing on.
So … hit play love.
Good stuff, huh? She does a wonderful job of weaving storytelling into her presentations.
Did you catch where she outlined the primility mindset as the key to creative survival?
How to survive the creative process
Toward the end of her talk, Ms. Gilbert tells a story about ancient dancers in North Africa who would experience moments of transcendence — moments that they interpreted as being beyond human and inspired by God.
But, the tricky bit comes the next morning, for the dancer himself, when he wakes up and discovers that it’s Tuesday at 11 a.m., and he’s no longer a glimpse of God. He’s just an aging mortal with really bad knees, and maybe he’s never going to ascend to that height again. And maybe nobody will ever chant God’s name again as he spins, and what is he then to do with the rest of his life?
This is hard. This is one of the most painful reconciliations to make in a creative life.
But maybe it doesn’t have to be quite so full of anguish if you never happened to believe, in the first place, that the most extraordinary aspects of your being came from you. But maybe if you just believed that they were on loan to you from some unimaginable source for some exquisite portion of your life to be passed along when you’re finished, with somebody else.
And, you know, if we think about it this way it starts to change everything.
What she is describing is having a humble mindset toward these gifts of inspiration we are given. And whether you believe in a higher power or not, it still applies.
Expressing gratitude for our greatest moments of inspiration, rather than believing they were ours and taking full credit for them, is actually freeing — even if it doesn’t fully satiate our ego.
This is also why curating ideas and knowledge is so important. Our own brains, no matter how brilliant we think they may be, aren’t just going to conjure incredible ideas out of thin air. Our brains demand useful input (from experience and the knowledge of others) before they can ever synthesize useful output.
But, of course, too much humility might the lead the dancer (or you) to never take his or her place dancing beneath the moonlight again.
After Ms. Gilbert shares the story of how Tom Waits finally conquered the capricious nature of his muse — by reminding said muse that it needed Waits as much as he needed it — she describes how she has applied that lesson to her own creative pursuits:
So when I heard that story it started to shift a little bit the way that I worked too, and it already saved me once.
This idea, it saved me when I was in the middle of writing “Eat, Pray, Love,” and I fell into one of those, sort of pits of despair that we all fall into when we’re working on something and it’s not coming and you start to think this is going to be a disaster, this is going to be the worst book ever written. Not just bad, but the worst book ever written. And I started to think I should just dump this project.
But then I remembered Tom talking to the open air and I tried it. So I just lifted my face up from the manuscript and I directed my comments to an empty corner of the room.
And I said aloud, “Listen you, thing, you and I both know that if this book isn’t brilliant that is not entirely my fault, right? Because you can see that I am putting everything I have into this, I don’t have any more than this. So if you want it to be better, then you’ve got to show up and do your part of the deal. O.K. But if you don’t do that, you know what, the hell with it. I’m going to keep writing anyway because that’s my job. And I would please like the record to reflect today that I showed up for my part of the job.” (Laughter)
See? Just because we are humble about the source of our inspiration doesn’t mean we have to be submissive to it.
What we do have to do is show up and work hard — whatever our jobs is — with a positive attitude and a commitment to doing our best. In other words, take pride in our work. That way, whatever our source of inspiration is can do its job too.
And when we do this — treat creating with the primility it demands — we can survive the scariest moments of the process and come out on the other end with something new and valuable.
Over to you …
What specific techniques do you use to overcome the trickiest moments of the creative process?
Or, are you one of the folks who balks at the notion that you are even creative or need to understand the process? I would love to hear your counter to my argument that everyone is creative (or can be creative), because perhaps I’m wrong and oversimplifying.
Thank you for reading.