Two Life-Changing Lessons in Creativity
I just finished reading War of Art by Steven Pressfield (Ok, fine, it was an audio book version). It's an inspiring, quick read on how to be more productive creatively. I highly recommend it, and would like to share the two big lessons I took away from it. As the title of the book implies, being creative is a battle. I myself am literally tormented by the urge to create and produce music all day, everyday. Sometimes making music is the most magical escape from the pressures of everyday life. I forget about what is upsetting me, I channel my negative emotions in a positive way, and I can sit back in awe at some beautiful piece of music I am putting together. Other days, it is pure torture. I feel like everything I create has been done before or it is boring, or I am completely unable to create anything at all. Sometimes just getting started is nearly impossible. Activities like washing the dishes and doing laundry suddenly take on a cosmic significance and must be completed at once, leaving music unmade. I get paralyzed wondering if what I am working so hard at is actually just a well crafted piece of crap. My mind swirls with self consciousness and worry about what others will think when they hear what I am doing. I start contemplating if the mere act of making music is just another piece of hard evidence proving I am just a child trapped in a man's body and should grow up and get on with my life. Perhaps life would be easier if I just gave up and did normal adult things. But inevitably, that burning urge to create comes firing back.
Lesson One: Recognize Resistance and Fight Against It
These kinds of forces I mentioned are what Pressfield defines as "resistance." Resistance is the often sneaky force that convinces us not to work on our creative endeavors. Resistance's true power lies in its difficulty to be recognized as such. We decide that there is something else that must be completed first, and thus do not get to our creative urges. The reason resistance is so effective is that being creative is risky. You might fail. What you create might be uninteresting or boring. I've heard it said that the opposite of love is not hate. Love is a passionate feeling, it motivates and inspires people. Hate is also a hot emotion, which can motivate and inspire as well. Of course we want people to love our music, but if someone hates your music, at least it had enough to it to inspire such powerful emotions. The opposite of love is actually indifference. When people don't care, that is perhaps the most hurtful. We invest countless hours on a project and those countless hours are supported by an unimaginable amount of time spent practicing and learning. If we put something out there and no one notices or even cares to pay it any attention, that is painful. Today, our means to reach other people is greater than ever before, but that means more people are trying to reach out. It becomes harder to break through the noise and get noticed. Resistance is a product of the ego; it looks to protect you from such hurtful feelings. So, resistance invents convincing reasons why your work should be put off. Learn to recognize it and resist resistance!
Lesson Two: Focus on the Work, Not the Results
This is my favorite lesson of the book, and I've heard it before, so it's not entirely original, but every time I hear it, it inspires me. We can't control what will happen and how people will react to something we create. Tomorrow, you might write the most amazingly beautiful symphony man has ever created and no one will ever know. I'm sure we all know some amazingly talented person that just never received the recognition he or she deserved. We can't control that. What we can control is our work. Pressfield makes a distinction about professionals. Professionals always show up and get to work. They don't worry if what they do is good or bad, or if it will yield a specific result. They simply worry about showing up and doing the work. If nothing else, it is practice. If we are consistent in our work, results are likely to follow. But we can't make them happen. The only thing we can make happen is getting to work. By just getting to work, we will improve our ability to create. Workflows are improved, lessons are learned, and technique is refined. Define success by doing work and you will be fulfilled just by doing. You will have complete control over your sense of fulfillment. Define success by results, and you will be powerless over your own contentment. You won't follow your heart and create what you love, you will instead become obsessed with what others think of your work and become enslaved to the opinions of others. Your work will lose its authenticity and the very people you seek approval from will be less likely to enjoy it. It is a dangerous downward spiral. Get to work everyday, let that be your goal.
The Heroic Artist?
I read something online (I can't seem to find it, but if you know what I'm talking about, please share it in the comments), that says the artist is one of the bravest types of people. Although I think that is a giant exaggeration and I hope I never take myself that seriously, there is some truth to it. Artists are constantly facing rejection and/or apathy. Their work is often undervalued in relationship to the time it takes to create. Ever been told you can't be paid, but it will be great "exposure?" They are asked to sacrifice their ethics for success, and left for dead once the money dries up. While I might shy away from calling it heroic, the artist's work is hard. So next time you are faced with resistance, failure, or just having trouble getting started, embrace these troubles as part of the process. Realize that anything you create is even more beautiful because of the struggles that needed to be overcome. Keep fighting the fight even when the fight has run out.
I'm sure there may be some people that might accuse me of hyperbole in titling this post "life-changing." But that is only true if you define creativity as "the ability to create art." If you looked in the refrigerator and there was nothing to eat, and you didn't starve, then you did something creative. You found a way to solve a problem. Life is a non stop sequence of creative challenges, from finding an alternative route to work when a road is closed and thinking of a new way to convince someone of your point of view, to painting a picture or writing a song. It all involves imagination and inventiveness.
What are your tips on being creative? Do you agree with the ones above? Anyone read (:cough: listen) to War of Art? What are your thoughts? Let us know in the comments below.