The following is a piece of writing I found on my computer from early this year. I wrote it after reading Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert, and listening to some other talks on creativity. It’s surprisingly coherent compared to most of the thoughts I type out, so I thought I would share.
I’ve been reading about and experimenting a lot with creativity lately, and I’ve made a few discoveries that I’ve found helpful.
First of all, that most creative adults seem to doubt themselves. Hugely. Even people who have already achieved success in their field seem to always feel pressure and doubt when it comes time to work on the next project. This is a revelation to me, because I experience it acutely, and at least now I know that I’m not alone. Artists tend to try to look confident at all times. Everyone does, really. It’s why we only put our best selfies and our highlight moments on social media. We want to remember the good. And people who are promoting themselves want to project an air of confidence. But creative people don’t always feel that. They often feel doubt.
I had thought there was something wrong with me, to be honest. When I was younger, creating came so naturally. I didn’t think about it. My teachers at school gave me assignments and I completed them. And then when I came home, I went to the basement and spent my evenings drawing or hammering out fanfic or poetry. I didn’t spend a lot of time with my friends. I remember my mom complaining that I spent too much time in my room when I was a teen; she wanted me to come to the living room and keep her company. Now that I’m an adult, I don’t want to neglect anyone. And I’m out of the house for longer hours every weekday. And I have responsibilities to take care of when I’m at home. It’s hard to make time for creative endeavors. I feel like I have to force myself to do it. I have to bribe, reward, schedule, sacrifice. I have to say ‘no’ to my friends sometimes. I have to spend less time with my husband.
I feel like I create for a different reason now. I used to do it because I enjoyed the act of doing it, and because I felt instant gratification. When I finished a simple drawing or poem or snapped a decent picture, I felt an instant sense of accomplishment. Doing the creative thing was intrinsically rewarding. Now, it isn’t. I feel a small sense of accomplishment right after I’ve just spent time on a project, but the project itself doesn’t feel like an accomplishment to me. When I look back on what I’ve created, I feel disappointed. Writing fiction is something that takes such an enormous amount of skill and practice to get good at. It’s like learning to play an instrument. The other arts I’ve dabbled in weren’t like that, except when I tried to learn to play the guitar. I was no good at it, because I didn’t put in the practice time. I think fiction requires that same kind of practice time, maybe. You have to just get into the habit of doing the motions. You have to push yourself to get better. You have to study the art with dedication. Otherwise every time you sit down at your keyboard, garbage comes out. Just like garbage came out every time I occasionally sat down with my guitar.
I’ve gotten off track, but I think that Dawna [I don’t know who this refers to!] was on to something when she said that the main goal is to get back to that state of mind where you can do your work with joy. It’s not just about being an adult and being disciplined and getting the work done. It’s about doing it with gratitude. And someone else—or maybe it was her, too—said that passion doesn’t mean having always having a fun time. It means suffering. Those are actually conflicting ideas, aren’t they? Elizabeth Gilbert says not to become a martyr for your art. It shouldn’t make you suffer and hurt yourself. It shouldn’t torment you. But she said if you truly want to dedicate yourself to your art, then sit your butt in the chair each day and stubbornly write away.
So, I think what i’m getting at is: grow the fuck up and just do it, and also embrace your inner child and quit tormenting yourself over it.
I think you have to just make your mind up to do something and then stop asking the question. You don’t ask yourself every day ‘do i feel like writing? do i feel like going to the gym?’ you just do it because you already decided yesterday how you were going to spend today. It’s not a question anymore. It’s not a debate. It’s closed for discussion. Just do it. You have to do the things you have decided to do, every day. It’s like getting married. When you’re just dating, you have to keep asking ‘is this the right person for me?’ And then when you get married, you must stop asking that question. It’s not a question anymore; the decision has been made. Move forward. Stay true to your commitments. Take choice out of the equation, and you can begin to feel powerful and in control and grateful for all that you have and are capable of.
You know, I think self-image is not really at all based on feedback from the outside world. I think it’s 90% the image that you want to project. There isn’t a single person out there who’s sitting on the edge of their seat with these expectations, waiting to see what you’re going to do next. And if there was, you’d call that person a psycho and move on with your life. It’s all about your own judgment of yourself. And that is ridiculous! You can move completely past the opinions of all the other assholes in the world, and you will still have your own expectations to live up to. What if we didn’t have these rigid images in our heads of what we want to look like? Nobody keeps up their instagram feed for other people. A lot of people probably think they do, but the truth is they keep it up for themselves.
I’m getting rambly. But I think I’ve hit on something. Kids judge each other. Adults sit around and judge themselves. I don’t know which one is dumber. God—life should be a constant celebration!!! Look at these amazing things we’re able to express!! Look at how rich and nuanced and wonderful our language is!! Look at how beautiful everything is. We do these arts because we find them beautiful. Because they are fantastic games, and we want to play. And sometimes playing takes a huge amount of effort and dedication, but it’s still play. It’s still a privilege and an honor.