Last week, Maria Popova at Brainpickings referenced Tchaikovski, and Jack White, to talk about the marriage of hard work and inspiration in producing art. Both artists in this unlikely pairing have pointed to the importance of showing up and giving creativity a chance. You can’t just sit back and wait for the muses. Says White:
Opportunity and telling yourself, “Oh, you’ve got all the time in the world, all the money in the world, you’ve got all the colors in the palette you want, and…ANYTHING you want, I mean, that just kills creativity.
Thinking about this more, I realize how much sense it makes. Think about creativity from a strictly biological, evolutionary imperative. Why do human beings need to be creative? When we’re in a situation where conventional approaches stop working. But lets throw some context around that concept. Let’s imagine you’re not in a world where creativity happens in well-lit, air conditioned offices, somewhere near a computer screen and a coffee machine.
When did people need to be creative?
When they were in trouble. When they were in danger. When they were up shit creek without a paddle.
Desperation drives creativity. Forces the brain to engage in a different kind of thinking. Makes synapses connect and see how disparate things interrelate so that you get that solution you didn’t even know you knew – and get it right. freaking. now.
I don’t know about you, but my creativity has always flourished under pressure. Not at first, obviously. At first, you panic. But if you put yourself under a constraint, if you’re up against a deadline, if you’re on the spot in a meeting, if you put something off until the last minute and you absolutely have to deliver, something miraculous happens. The mental block evaporates, and you suddenly find that you have interesting ideas. Things begin clicking into place. Suddenly you’re not just thinking about what to do, you’re acting, and momentum starts carrying you toward the goal.
Silly example: last Saturday I was watching my kids, and decided that rather than let them spend a minute watching TV and rotting their brains I was going to do a project with them. So we sat down, and decided to write a story, illustrating it with toys that we’d take photos of.
This was my grand idea. But when I sat down to actually write, I choked.
I had no clue what to do for a storyline. I was tired, irritated, and not feeling particularly creative. So I punted. I asked my kids to tell me what we should write about. That didn’t work out. One child was telling me, “Do a story about DREAMLAND!!” but couldn’t define what that meant. Another gave me a long, involved, and dull tale about a war between various factions of soldiers who were fighting near a cottage full of innocents. Lots of people were dying, and it was a war of attrition. That went on. And on. And on. The third child in the room was running around making gun and sword noises.
It wasn’t working.
So I scrapped the plan. I told them to each bring me three toys they wanted to feature in the story. I decided to mix things up. I made up a story about a Barbie married to a Transformer who had a pink block for a baby, which was kindapped while playing outside by a nefarious storm trooper.
I kid you not.
And as you might have expect with such epic beginnings, shit got real.
The story is still a work in progress. The kids and I will come back to it when we get the chance, one piece at a time.
Does it make a whole lot of sense? No. Not really. Is it funny? I think so. Will they love it when it’s done? Absolutely.
The point is, I had nothing, zilch, nada. I was grasping at straws, and I couldn’t come up with a project to do with my smart, adorable, imaginative kids. Until I created pressure. I forced myself into a box. I put constraints on the side, and said, “You bring me the ingredients, and I’ll make the pie. It might be an ugly pie, but a pie will be baked, by Zeus!”
And lo and behold: pie. A very strange, mixed-metaphor, slightly disturbing pie, but a pie nonetheless.
You have it in you. Even if it isn’t what you’re expecting, make it happen. Don’t, don’t, don’t make excuses. Ever. It’s not worth it. I’m telling you this because I have a metric ton of experience with this sort of thing.
Go out there and make it happen. And if it isn’t working, apply pressure.