Creativity is one of those things that’s incredibly individual. It requires a deep digging within; the ability to pull out something that isn’t the same as everyone else simply because it is your own.
I guess that is why everyone is afraid of making blanket statements when it comes to how to be creative. The standard line is, “Do it your way.”
Especially these days, in a world of relativity, both physical and moral, it almost seems inevitable that creativity should be as well.
This is for sure true in many situations. You have to find what works for you. I write on the subway, for example, while others prefer to write in cafes or studios or offices.
But the more I’ve written, the more I’ve also noticed that there are universal laws of creativity as well. Things that, the more I’m in touch with other artists, the more I do my own work, and the more I see who is tapping their potential the most (which is completely different from “success”), have become clear to me apply to practically every artist.
And I think it would help everyone if these universal “laws” became more and more agreed-upon. Because while it is nice to find your own way, it can make your life so much easier to know there are certain things you just have to do in order to tap that potential within.
The one that keeps coming back to me over and over again is this: one must create every day.
I’ve met so many artists, especially beginners, that say they can only write/paint/practice/play when they are “inspired”. They make it sound like there is a muse hanging over them that hits them in the heart whenever it’s ready to start flowing through them.
It’s even become a sort of mythologized ideal that artists talk about. That “moment” when they are struck and write a twenty page story in an hour. They feel like they tapped into some sort of spiritual reality.
And I don’t mean to demean them or that theory. It’s true, really, that there is a muse that hits us. That moment of “flow” when we are clear-minded, moved by a sort of more real version of ourselves.
But to assume that the muse only comes out when it feels like it is a misunderstanding of how it works.
In truth, it is our responsibility to bring the muse out from within ourselves. To practice bringing it out. To give it a sort of regiment that allows it to come out clearer and brighter every time we sit down.
As Stephen King put it so well in On Writing: “Don’t wait for the muse. As I’ve said, he’s a hardheaded guy who’s not susceptible to a lot of creative fluttering. This isn’t the Ouija board or the spirit-world we’re talking about here, but just another job like laying pipe or driving long-haul trucks. Your job is to make sure the muse knows where you’re going to be every day from nine ’til noon. or seven ’til three. If he does know, I assure you that sooner or later he’ll start showing up.”
Or, as Brenda Ueland said in one of the best books on creativity, If You Want To Write, “I learned…that inspiration does not come like a bolt, nor is it kinetic, energetic striving, but it comes into us slowly and quietly and all the time, though we must regularly and every day give it a little chance to start flowing, prime it with a little solitude and idleness.”
And that theory, that belief that writing comes like a “bolt”, is a dangerous one. One of the common worries when people are confronted with this universal law is that when we “force” ourselves to create at certain times when we’re not “feeling it”, we will create worse work. This is one of the biggest lies that is perpetuated in the creative community.
This lie is perpetuated because of an even deeper lie: that when we are “feeling it”, we are creating better work.
That high that we get from working creatively has nothing to do with the quality of our work. It is simply a feeling that comes for different reasons. Part of me believes that the high comes from our body trying to tell us just how good creativity is for us. Or perhaps it happens when we think we’ve created something great.
But anyone that has created enough knows that our feelings during creation have very little to do with the quality of the final product. I’ve worked on pieces that made me as high as if I was injecting heroin straight into my brain and I only realized later how they weren’t even close to as genius as I thought they were. I’ve also written pieces that I was convinced were absolute garbage, that took every ounce of me just to get one more word out, let alone finish, and that turned out to be some of my best and most popular writing.
We are not objective when it comes to our own work. Especially in the moment of creation. And so our emotions have absolutely nothing to do with what we are creating.
No. The quality of our work is outside of our emotions. And so the only way to improve that quality is just like any other work in the world: practice.
But not the boring, empty practice we’re so used to associating with that word. No, practice in the most alive, creative way you can imagine it. Practice in the sense that we will tell ourselves that every day we sit down to create, we get better.
In fact, most writers I know, when they stop creating for even a few days, know for a fact that they are getting worse. They can feel it. The creaky feeling of not being in the flow. The need to edit more. All these are indications that writing and creativity in general can only reach its full potential when we practice every day. Sit down and put ourselves in a creation mindset. Tell that muse where we will be and make sure to be on time for the appointment.
Creating regularly, as close to every day as possible, is an unbreakable law of creativity. It is the only way we will reach our potential. And the sooner we shake the ridiculous myth that creating in spurts when we are getting high off it, the sooner all our art will reach the heights we expect of it.
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