Thursday, July 04, 2013

How to Become a Creative Person

1. FIGURE OUT WHEN THE WORK IS GOING TO GET DONE.

2. WORK IN AN ARTFORM THAT YOU CONSUME VORACIOUSLY

3. FOCUS ON FINISHING THINGS, RATHER THAN ON MAKING THEM GOOD

4. PLAN TO FINISH A LOT OF SMALLER PROJECTS

5. KEEP PROJECTS SECRET UNTIL SOME VERSION OF THEM IS DONE

6. MAKE MORE THINGS THAN YOU SHOW PEOPLE

7. DON’T WORRY ABOUT MAKING THINGS THAT EXPOSE YOURSELF OR OTHER PEOPLE, OR THAT ARE THAT ARE OBSCENE, PSYCHOTIC, BORING, OR UNORIGINAL

8. HANG OUT WITH PEOPLE WHO ARE MAKING THINGS ALL THE TIME

9. SEEK RELIABLE FEEDBACK AT SOME POINT, BUT DON’T TAKE IT TOO SERIOUSLY

10. TAKE CARE WITH HOW YOU SPEND THE REST OF YOUR TIME

When I say creative person, I don’t mean a character trait of creativity (which I don’t believe is a real thing). I mean very specifically a person who a) make things that are b) cultural products, c) consistently. When I say cultural products, I mean things that have the potential to expose the creator. Writing scientific papers or making crafts requires creative problem solving, but does not tend to reveal important things about yourself, in the way that a play, a painting or a serious memoir might. The consistency part is important too: everyone has made *something* at some time or another, but I’m interested in the case where it's a regular part of your lifestyle - now, not at some time in the past.

I would say about half my friends are creative people: they are making cultural products all the time. Of the half who don’t, most of them are just fine with it. However this post is for that slice of people who would be happier being a creative person, but aren’t for whatever reason. They consume cultural products all the time, have strong opinions about them, and have fantasized about having things of their own that they made, but are not doing it.

I recently started making stuff, and I want to share how I got past the barrier. These will be most useful to people who have similar brains to mine, and are being blocked by similar things. I’m going to expand on that list at the beginning of the post, at great length, but first a few words about the question: why make things?

Here’s why not to do it: to get approval. As in, praise or attention or status. First of all, when you first start making things, you’re basically a baby, and chances are it’s not going to turn out very well. If you’re older, you’ll definitely progress faster, and have a lot more life experience to draw on, but it’s still going to take a bunch of years before you’re making things that people outside of your immediate circle are going to want to look at. In terms of money, it’s always been hard to make a living making culture, and it gets so much harder all the time, so you can’t even think about that. Second, if you’re thinking about approval, it can block you up from exploring wilder things you might want to explore. Third, there’s just the practicality that it is hard to get things in front of the right audience for it. There’s a whole other set of skills that come into play, basically marketing and hustle.

Basically it takes a lot of both experience and luck to make something that turns out well and gets acclaim - just think about the most successful and well-established artists you know, and how even they can’t control how everything they make turns out. So how much harder is it going to be for you? It’s a whole separate thing from what I think you should be deriving satisfaction from, which is being productive and following the regime you’ve laid out for yourself. You just have to make things and not care whether they turn out well.

(If I had to venture a theory of what it takes to make things that turn out well, it would be a) making enough things so that some of them hit the mark b) making so many things over time that you build up powerful skills, and most of all c) coming back to a particular thing over and over and over and over, making it better each time, and showing it to different people to get different kinds of feedback. Just investing a huge amount into redoing something. Notice that none of these are innate talent, or having an amazing idea).

Making cultural products is making a million decisions, one after another, and concentrating hard over a long cumulative period of time. I’m going to focus on the scenario of making things without a partner and without a deadline, because that’s as hard as it gets. (collaborating can’t be a *break* from the responsibility of making all those decisions - that’s how crappy, lazy things get inflicted upon audiences - so it’s better if you are ready to shoulder the whole burden)

So why put in that effort, if not to get praise, or any money or recognition whatsoever? (I’m a believer in the Onion model for creative hobbies)

1) To engage more with the world. This seems paradoxical, but for me anyway going away into my lair to make cultural products encouraged me to pay more attention to the world, and become a better observer. Things you see in regular life can be much more wondrous and amusing when you’re thinking about how to use them in your creations. It can become a habit. I think of Philip in Of Human Bondage, challenged about the value of studying painting when he ended up dropping out: “I learned to look at hands, which I'd never looked at before. And instead of just looking at houses and trees I learned to look at houses and trees against the sky. And I learned also that shadows are not black but coloured.”

2) To engage more with art. When you start making things, you’ll find yourself much more appreciative and forgiving of cultural products - you’ll see that flaws are often need to be there for other parts to work, and that many little bits are done wonderfully even if the thing as a whole isn’t so successful. There are always things to learn from, and apply to your own creations, and you’ll be able to see much more deeply into the heart of the art you love once you’ve tried to solve similar problems in your own work. The growth of your taste will accelerate, and how much you learn from each thing you take in will multiply.
WARNING: That said, starting to try to make a particular artform will destroy your ability to enjoy it in the same way ever again. Consuming it will now feel a little bit like homework, and you might find yourself avoiding it as a fun-time activity. This is a genuine downside to making things.

3) You can make your own action. When there are no texts and your social networks are silent, you can do something that feels real and positive, and not like it’s just killing time. When a creative project is really rolling, it’s like an invisible forcefield against boredom, loneliness, discomfort, and heartache. Any tedious meeting can be an opportunity to work out problems. You might appear to be sitting quietly on the subway, but there are whole worlds turning around in there. It’s important to know that creative projects won’t feel like that all the way through, but at certain times you’ll be absolutely on fire.

4) It’s fun to see what comes out. I’ve found less than half the creativity is in my initial inspiration, and more than half comes out when I actually sit down to try to make it. It’s amazing how your brain will come up with something to instantly fill holes that are created as you go along, holes you didn't even realize were there until you tried to set it down. On a different note, your final product will necessarily be composed of the kind of stuff that fascinates you and is on your wavelength, and works through the things that are concerning you. It's not hard to create at least the *type* of art you would love to happen across - if not the quality.

5) You’re building creative muscle that may be of practical use. I don’t want to play up this one, since if it’s for your job, say, there are probably way more efficient ways of using the time to hone your skills or knowledge, but if you’re having a good time because of 1-4, there’s no reason why not to receive this benefit. The skills in expressing yourself might be useful for your job or other hobbies, and simply practicing making yourself do the hard thing of filling a blank canvas, over and over, is such an important thing.

Therefore, onto my tips. Most are not really original, being inspired by writings by Keith Johnstone, Ira Glass, and many other people, but this is the way I’ve synthesized them for myself - this is a manifesto for me, who is only beginning to make things, even more than for any potential reader.

1. FIGURE OUT WHEN THE WORK IS GOING TO GET DONE.
It takes an astonishing amount of time to finish even the shitty first version of something. I mean just for the time to actually do the typing, move the brush, etc, not counting the time for planning, and for bashing your way through problems. And not getting into revisions at all, which take a multiple of the original time. So just to get started, you have to figure out when you’re going to put in that time. And it’s likely going to have to be focused, uninterrupted time, which is hard to come by in big stretches for most of us.

But the good news is that if you can figure out how to put in solid half hours on a frequent basis, that can accomplish an enormous amount over time. You might write for half an hour before breakfast every morning - my friend Jim Davies wrote an entire book that way, which is now being published. Sunday evenings are a good time for me. Any kind of regular schedule can be helpful, because your body and mind will rev up to do the work at a certain time (so it doesn’t require so much willpower), and you’ll start to have ideas in anticipation of the session, while not having to feel guilty for not working at other times. That kind of regularity isn’t always possible, but the work has to keep getting done - I would say aiming for no more than a week between sessions, even if it’s just a 20-30 minutes engagement.

Once in a while you’ll feel inspired and want to work on it long into the night. But the reality is that putting in time on your creative projects isn’t always going to feel fun. In the words of Paul F. Tompkins: “Having written? That is the best. The part where you have to tell your fingers to tap the appropriate keys on the keyboard? Blegh. You can keep it.” Often, many other things you could be doing seem more attractive - and definitely a lot easier. If you’re really trying to finish things, and not just ending up with a bunch of half pages of ideas, sometimes you’re going to have to force yourself to work.

Basically any trick or advice you can find, from any source, is worth considering if it will help you a) start working and b) keep working during the time allotted. One of the only ways I’ve been able to consistently put in time on personal creative projects is using a program called Freedom, which shuts off your computer’s access to the internet for a set period of time. I’d feel sad that I need that, but apparently Jonathan Franzen does too. Besides the reduction in temptation, it also acts as a handy timer, so I know, “hey, I put in 30 minutes of solid effort”. Other approaches might be to get a buddy to check in on you, or use an automated system to track your production. One novellist I heard interviewed said that she puts on the soundtrack to Mortal Kombat every time she sits down to write, and that helps her to shut out the world and signal to her brain that she is now in work mode. Experiment on yourself. Try everything.

2. WORK IN AN ARTFORM THAT YOU CONSUME VORACIOUSLY
When thinking about yourself as a creative person, it’s tempting to imagine yourself working in an artform that is considered prestigious, or at least “normal”. Like a poem, a painting, or a realistic novel. But is that what you voraciously consume? If you read supernatural romances practically every day, and have strong opinions about the good and bad ones, something in that ballpark is what you should work on. You probably have highly refined taste for that artform, which I think is an important step to making something good, or at least having no trouble finding ideas you want to play with. Take prestige and approval out of the equation.

Of course it is possible to shift your interests, by changing your consumption habits. But will it ever run as deep as the things that you’ve been consuming for many years? Maybe getting really good at making animated gifs will be your creative outlet. Or tweets. Anything can give those kind of rewards if you put some willpower and longterm commitment into them.

3. FOCUS ON FINISHING THINGS, RATHER THAN ON MAKING THEM GOOD
This is important for people who have the same hangup that I do, which is basically vanity. It’s uncomfortable to watch my fingers type something that’s not good. I want to be making good things! But I believe in this rule for a few reasons: first, as soon as you actually finish a thing, it becomes dramatically more useful. You can give it a name, show it to other people to get help, and make use of even this not-so-good version in a surprising number of applications. You certainly can give yourself credit for it at that point.

Second, it will jumpstart your creativity for the project. It’s a lot easier to improve something than to start with a blank piece of paper. And your draft serves as a map of the territory, clearly showing the areas that need a lot more thought and care - which also helps you to estimate how much more work is needed. The combination of pride and shame whenever you think of that complete draft will drive your subconscious to beaver away on the outstanding problems. Third, when you get a version of an idea down, it frees up that slot in your mind to have another idea. So you get a boost to creativity *outside* of that project too.

Note that there’s a difference between finishing a version of a piece that’s not so good, and not properly finishing it. You’ll know it in your heart. Like avoiding tackling a section you know will be a pain in the butt. Much better to fill that in with a shitty version, than to leave in a line that says “insert cool action sequence” (or a 100 word version of something you know should be 500 words). That attempt to tackle it, even if a failure, will pave the way to future victory.

4. PLAN TO FINISH A LOT OF SMALLER PROJECTS
Many people have had success with setting up a schedule to finish smaller things on a regular basis. In fact, being forced to produce something regularly, like a radio show or comic book issue or television episode, is how a lot of famous creative people built up their creative strength quickly. It’s great if you can find a structure that will force that, but if you do it on your own, then you’re ahead of the game. Every time you finish a smaller project, you get a little motivation boost. If it’s a total dud, no big loss because you’re finishing another one next week. And you get to try a lot of different things.

What if the artform you truly love is novels, or some other longform creative product? This is risky when you’re first starting out, because you might be committing to an idea for a novel that’s not going to work. Maybe you’re okay with abandoning novels 50 pages in, over and over, but many people would find that sapping their motivation after a while. This is why I think the National Novel Writing Month is flawed, despite being a great fit for many of my points here. Why not National Write 20 Short Stories Month? As a last argument for trying shortform, most novellists I know published short stories before novels, and in the field of science fiction half the classic novels are expanded short stories (Ender’s Game, Permutation City, A Canticle for Leibowitz, Blood Music) or even just a bunch of short stories stapled together (City, The Martian Chronicles).

One tip from the David Allen school for finishing is to draw a clear line between projects you are and aren’t committed to. I would suggest a literal list of projects you are seriously trying to finish, that you update weekly (as in, take things off or put things on). You can collect ideas for the ones you’re not committed to, but until they’re on the list you have to be disciplined about not spending your serious work time on them - that’s a form of procrastination. Also if you take care to formally ditch projects you’re not keen on anymore, that frees up psychic energy for the ones you really want to finish.

5. KEEP PROJECTS SECRET UNTIL SOME VERSION OF THEM IS DONE
When you tell people about something you’re planning to make, you get a portion of the reward, without the effort and risk it takes to finish something. If you’re not careful, that can be a loan that won’t get repayed: it might sap your will to actually sit down and finish things. It can also be a trap to show people unfinished things, for the same reason. Plus unfinished things are less satisfying to consume, and you can use up the goodwill of your readers or viewers (whose attention you should be very grateful for). Also, potentially super embarassing, especially in the eyes of people who never make art themselves and so don’t understand how awkward things look in their early stages.

But how to keep your unfinished or sensitive work secret? If it’s work that’s done on a computer, I advocate using cryptography, which puts a very secure lock on your private files. That way people sharing your computer won’t accidentally run into it, nor will it turn up on searches. Even if you die suddenly it’s likely that no one without the password will be able to access the contents. It’s a little room of one’s own where you can feel free to explore to whatever extremes you like.

6. MAKE MORE THINGS THAN YOU SHOW PEOPLE
This helps to dissociate approval from the satisfaction of finishing things. You can’t count on liking everything you make well enough that other people should see it. Sometimes you need to sit on things a while to know whether you’re ok with sharing it. And some things you’ll want to keep private for good.

7. DON’T WORRY ABOUT MAKING THINGS THAT EXPOSE YOURSELF OR OTHER PEOPLE, OR THAT ARE THAT ARE OBSCENE, PSYCHOTIC, BORING, OR UNORIGINAL
The previous two are prerequisites for this one. These are all things that I think are tremendous blocks to creativity for some people, to even sitting down in the first place, even more than being afraid of making things that aren’t good. But if you keep projects secret until some version of them is done, and make more things than you show people, there’s no reason not to try everything that might inspire you. Let’s take these individually:

- Expose too much of yourself. If your creativity comes from your own experience and your own emotions, as it should, it may expose things that don’t fit with the image of yourself you would wish to present to the world. Like say you write eight short stories, and the first one is about a lonely mushroom, and the second about a lonely acrobat, and the third about a lonely seahorse and so on. You would be embarassed for someone to see them all, because together they seem to reveal that you’re very lonely. And yet if that’s the mood you’re inspired to write about, that’s what you should write. Once you have finished it, you have the power to show some of them to people, or none of them. Things you make might reveal that you’re uncool, or uncultured, or ignorant about some important things about the world, or that your life sucks. You might find out things you don’t like about yourself. You have to be ok with that.

- Expose too much of other people. You may be driven to make things inspired by real people, that would hurt them if they were to see it. Or at least make things weird with them. If you create in secret, you can get it out of your system, and decide whether to change details to conceal who it is – or merely use parts of them to inspire future fictional creations. This is one reason why I think blogs can be a trap as a creative outlet: your mom will probably find it. And so you become a politician, and can never quite say what you’re dying to say, and those thoughts are lost even to your own memory eventually. I’m a big fan of Harriet the Spy, and its message of how valuable it is to be able to write what you really want to write, no matter how potentially hurtful. As her mentor Ole Golly says, “Sometimes you have to lie. But to yourself you must always tell the truth.”

- Obscene. If you grew up in a household that was fairly modest, and never really rebelled against it, then this can be an invisible barrier. It can be very freeing to write something with elements that are extremely sexual or gruesome, or that feature an immoral or destructive character. Maybe your ambition isn't to become Clive Barker or Barbara Gowdy, but knowing that you have the ability to go to very dark or passionate places might unlock your creativity. There are plenty of well-respected artists out there fantasies at least as messed up as the worst thought that’s crossed your mind, and most of them that I’ve read about are perfectly well adjusted in their personal lives.

- Psychotic. “This thing I’m making is the dumbest, most insane thing I’ve ever seen. If my friends saw this, they would think I’m having a schizophrenic break.” Again, this might be the place you need to go. A good exercise might be to make the most obscene, psychotic, self-exposing thing you can imagine. That you would be horrified if anyone were to see it. It might turn out interesting, and it might unlock something. (This makes me think of U and I by Nicholson Baker, a book-length essay about how much he wishes he were friends with John Updike. Someone asked him if it was embarassing to write, and he said, “Oh yeah! I had to force myself to type every word!” And yet this is an actual published book, and an entertaining one too.)

- Boring. On the other side of the coin, you can’t get hung up on whether your imagination is too tame or boring either. You just might not be that extreme - or, more likely, your version of extreme might look different than the stereotypical kind. You have to follow the thread of your own interest, whereever it may go. Since I mentioned Nicholson Baker, he wrote an entire book about card catalogues, and another which is a novel about mundane observations during a single escalator ride. And they were not boring. As long as you find it compelling, you can’t think about whether other people will judge you as boring for it.

- Unoriginal. This one is almost as big as self-exposure. If you consume a lot of art, you might be really blocked up by how hard it is to come up with something genuinely new. Don’t worry about it. If you’re not looking to earn money, or win praise for how original you are, you can start from whereever feels exciting to you. For example, fan fiction. Many people grow to become strong storytellers, and find interesting things to say, writing Harry Potter fan fiction or other such things. Though this is a secondary argument, very many recognized artists write fan fiction, in the form of authorized spinoffs. Every tv writer and comic book writer who isn’t the show’s creator is essentially doing this too. (Is the creativity involved in building a fictional world more praiseworthy than that of telling a story in an existing world? I would say that’s highly debatable.) Never abandon an idea just because you hear it’s already been done. (and never tell someone their idea has already been done) Never question whether you’re creative enough. You should also feel free to repeat yourself. You might hit the same idea again and again for years, never quite nailing it, until one day, you’re ready. If you’ve made enough stuff, especially if they’re secret, you can loot them for parts, or just let them fertilize something new.

Of course, even if you take some time to sit on a project before releasing it for other people to look at, things still might be revealed through them that you don’t want people to know, or else false impressions you’re not happy with might be created. But if you’re making things all the time, that’s not your only chance to make an impression, and what you are trying to get across will eventually make it.

(Note that while this whole post is heavily inspired by improv teacher Keith Johnstone’s books Impro and Impro for Storytellers, the title of this point is very close to his quote: “The truth is that the best ideas are often psychotic, obscene and unoriginal.”)

8. HANG OUT WITH PEOPLE WHO ARE MAKING THINGS ALL THE TIME
The big reason for this one is to make it seem normal to be making things. The reason is not to have people from whom to get approval. (nice things said about your work by your friends should probably be given the same weight as Facebook “likes”: a mixture of real feedback and social courtesy, and you never know how much of each). Sometimes you’ll get the reaction from someone that it’s amazing that you’re making things, “I could never do that.” I think this is often a mild social sanction: they’re saying what you’re doing is special, but a little abberent. Enough of that and it could undermine your resolve. And that’s assuming you have nice people around you, and not shitty, judgmental people who will tear down your work (and are probably not making things themselves). Much better to hang out with people who are not only supportive, but finish things all the time.

In an improv class, every person in the class creates things constantly. They’re not preselected to be super creative, it’s just that it’s expected. It doesn’t matter what you choose, as long as you choose something. Every once in a while I have to stop and marvel at how rare that is in the adult world. Many of us can go years without making something that risks exposing ourselves. It’s great when you can be around people where it’s expected, and you don’t get approval just for the *intention* to make things. You should seek out environments where you can’t possibly get any points just for calling yourself a writer or artist.

Note that *it doesn’t matter whether you care for everything these folks make*. It might even be inspiring if you see problems in the end products. *Not that you should ever tell them about it.* Nor should you offer calibrated approval. I believe the best approach is to cheerlead your friends in a generic way, encouraging them to finish things, without passing God-like judgment on the final product (the very same God-like voice in your head that makes it hard for you to create). Sure you might have the drive to give strong and sincere praise for something that they made. But then if you don’t care for their next thing, will you stay silent? Or fake the same level of enthusiasm? Praise the process and the commitment, not how it turns out.

9. SEEK RELIABLE FEEDBACK AT SOME POINT, BUT DON’T TAKE IT TOO SERIOUSLY
It’s obvious that feedback is critical for making things better. But I’m in favour of finishing a version of the thing first, as I said earlier. And like I said in the previous point, friendly acquaintance feedback is not real feedback. On the other hand, you will develop a small circle of trusted friends you can show things too, who can give suggestions for how to make it better, while respecting your feelings and the integrity of the work. That’s a precious thing.

It can be tempting to latch on to a guru or mentor, and in fact someone like that can accelerate your progress. But it’s also dangerous if you become dependent on that person’s approval (and some mentors will seek to cultivate that dependence). Ultimately you’re trying to develop your own taste to a high level, and please yourself, and what other people can offer is an outside perspective. Therefore any collection of smart, trustworthy people with good taste should do. Oh, and they should be making things, even if in a different artform.

The thing is that if you have your factory going, no one criticism can clam you up: there’s plenty more of your work coming down the line, and plenty more chances to try it again. Your ego isn’t tied up in any one thing. Feedback might give you a course adjustment, but you have plenty of momentum on your own. You’re not looking for somebody else’s permission to proceed.

I’m considering the advice that when it comes to that point, far down the line, you should actually weight objective feedback more heavily than that of acquaintances. Things like: YouTube or webpage views. Laughter of strangers in a club. Real, competitive awards. Acceptance of your book for publication. How much you can sell a piece of art for. Obviously these are extremely noisy measures, and everyone can think of examples of things that unfairly did or didn’t receive those credits. But they should be able to tell you when you’re truly onto something good, or when you’ve wandered far off track, which the people around you won’t necessarily do. The one critical point: do not compare these metrics with other people’s - only with those of other things you’ve made.

10. TAKE CARE WITH HOW YOU SPEND THE REST OF YOUR TIME
By far the most important thing is making the time to sit down and work on your projects, which is why I made it number 1, but it might help to examine how you’re spending the rest of the time. I’d like to say it’s the time spent going out and having unique experiences in the world that will provide the most inspiration, but it is hard to say in general what is a good or bad use of your time: a YouTube deep dive into Tamil vampire movies might be exactly what you need to get fired up. As with your own work, you have to listen to what you find compelling, and follow that thread deeper into it.

A caution is that if you don’t yet trust yourself to finish things, it’s a bad idea to explicitly start projects with research. It can be a way to avoid making all those millions of choices. Instead, just start writing, and do the research afterwards, or simultaneously. E.g. if you want to write a historical story set in Egypt, just make it all up out of what you already have in your brain, and then fix it later based on research (which will be very fun and engaging, because you will know just where you can use things).

As far as time spent consuming other people’s cultural products, here’s my ranking of them in descending order of how inspiring I think they are:
- Cultural products from my friends
- The highest quality cultural products
- Terrible, or just random, cultural products
- Mediocre cultural products (Man of Steel)

I’ve come to see new mainstream movies as a pretty low efficiency use of your time, if you want to improve what you’re making. Before any movie comes out, there’s a giant military campaign of hype that is trying to make that movie seem alluring, and even necessary. But you’re just having the same prepackaged experience as everyone else, so it’s not going to make your mind or art more interesting. Not to mention the fact that it’s probably marketed to your precise demographic slice. So it would almost be more valuable to close your eyes and take a DVD at random from the store to watch, and become intensely involved with its world and what it does well or poorly. But it’s still better to make up your own stories, alone or with friends - pay attention to the balance of time you spend creating vs consuming. (and movies are only a 90 minute investment of time - spending hours watching a heavily hyped TV show seems like an even bigger potential misuse of a time, unless what you’re writing is screenplays).

It’s also important to leave room for boredom. With portable electronics, it’s possible to be entertained basically all the time. But your brain needs time to chew problems over, which it can’t when it’s being entertained. A lot of people have said that they get their best ideas in the shower or on their commute - time when they are not forcing themselves to think about the problem, but rather to just move things around and put them next to each other, and otherwise follow little byways in a much looser way (randomly, I published a book chapter about this very topic!) Screenwriter Alex Epstein mentioned that he gets his best ideas 10 minutes after he’s stepped away from his work. Which probably wouldn’t happen if those 10 minutes are full of Parks and Rec.

I have a theory that it can be counterproductive to listen to too many interviews with highly successful creative people. You can get hints from it, but it also puts them on a pedestal, often above the people making art around you, which could make creating seem like something only special minority of people should do. Plus people being interviewed often give what I think is a misleading account of their creative process, making it seem like they had a clear destination in mind and travelled directly towards it, whereas the real road to a final product is very windy, with more collaboration than is usually admitted to. If you’re not careful, listening or reading to too many interviews with successful people can become a kind of self-indulgent fantasizing, and not a great use of your time. The same thing goes for reading books or blogs of advice: take it easy on those until your engine is well in motion.

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There’s nothing wrong with deciding not to put energy into creative projects - many people don’t have that energy to spare, or have no secret desire to make things. But consider whether it’s something that might give you a lot of satisfaction, and whether you are only held back by fear, or just not making up your mind to do it. I’ll finish with a couple of inspirational quotations:

“Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possibly can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.” — Kurt Vonnegut.

“You are not imaginatively impotent until you are dead; you are only frozen up.” — Keith Johnstone

1 comment:

Jim Davies said...

Some things I'd add: 1) be wary of your preconceptions of what you think you should be good at right away. Nobody thinks their first time playing the violin should sound good, but people will often conclude from their first short story, standup act, or improv performance that they suck at it. All arts take practice, no matter what your culture or intuitions tell you. 2) Try to work on things every day, or at least once every few days, to keep things fresh and accessible in your mind. This allows you to draw connections to the creative project to things you see in your life every day, and also gives you problems to work on when you're on the subway or lying in bed trying to sleep, or standing in line. I'm plotting a novel now, and if I leave it too long, I don't remember enough of where it's at to productively work on it in my spare moments of thought. 3) Re: Glass's comments on taste: Just because you love something does not mean you have good taste in it. For example, I love hip hop but I don't think I have good taste. That is, I absolutely adore many albums that most people think are trash (e.g., Lynch Mob, Young Black Teenagers), and I really dislike a lot of stuff people go crazy over (e.g., Tupac, Puff Daddy, Jay-Z, and much of Kanye West). Thus, when I make hip hop, I should have low expectations for external success. I still make it, but purely for my own pleasure. Also, I give it less focus, because I realize I don't have that great taste that Ira Glass talks about that will allow me to hone my work into something that people will love. (now that I'm thinking about it, this might not be an inspiring thing for this collection, but I still think it's true.)