As you, my friend, know. (Since you are my friend, right?) I have been working on a coloring book project. I am very excited about it but it has taken much longer than I expected. I have had to understand why it has taken so long because God is good and I have had people interested in purchasing the project even before it is complete, which is quite humbling. This process prompted me to publicly think through why the project is not yet complete. That post has since prompted some more random thoughts about creativity that I wanted to write down before I forgot. Since I was writing them down anyway, I thought I would share. Because, you know; that’s what we do, right?
Anyway, as I’ve struggled to understand my own creative process, here are some dditional thoughts. Make of them what you will. Correct what you must:
It’s OK to feel like you don’t have anything to pour out right now.Creative types love story so we tend to mythologize those we admire. For example, I love Wes Anderson’s movies. Taken as a whole, it seems like he’s been on an unbelievable creative streak. Just consider the progression of his work (and this isn’t even a complete list!):
- Bottle Rocket (1996)
- Rushmore (1998)
- The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)
- The Life Aquatic with Steve ZissouA (2004)
- The Darjeeling Limited (2007)
- Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)
- Moonrise Kingdom (2012)
- The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)
Creatives often look at a list like this and think to themselves well crap, I’ll never live up to that, so why even try. But look again at the list: there’s typically a 2-3 year gap between the finished products that we are given. That’s a long time. I’ve never met Wes Anderson so I don’t know, but I’m willing to guess that there were plenty of days during those 2-3 year gaps during which he didn’t feel particularly creative. There were lots of tasks to be done, but even when those tasks are in the pursuit of creativity, they may not, in and of themselves feel particularly creative.
But I know many creatives who go to deeper with these gaps. There are honestly times when many of us simply feel like we don’t have anything to give. As I stated earlier, this is the time to fill up. Know yourself well enough to know what to put in to your system. Maybe you need to read some Scripture. Meditate. Watch a movie, listen to music, read a book, take a walk, sit in silence, drink a good cup of coffee or a craft beer. Get some sleep?
Creativity demands not only that you know yourself well enough to know when to fill up or pour out, it demands that you know what fills you up but it also demands that you know that this drought is but for a season because:
Creativity takes a long time and takes the long-term vision as seriously as the short-term creative bursts.
Creativity is always interested in finding its true voice, that’s why the big picture is so important. A letter is not a word and a word is not a sentence and a sentence is not a paragraph and a paragraph is not a novel and a novel is not a body of work. All of them are capturing, displaying and refining the authors’s voice but it is not until there are several novels that an author even truly knows their own voice.
Creative expression is not just pouring out, it is a visualization and projection of the self. It is sharing with others how we see and understand the world. We create things no one else could because no one else is you. I have had people who write songs I could never in a million years compose tell me that they look at some of my drawings and feel like they could never do that. And that’s a beautiful thing because:
Creativity forces us to humility, to learning and growing.
Though there are always some arrogant jagweeds in every circle of life, generally speaking, creative people are humble because they have come to the self-awareness that they are always learning and growing. And they have creative output to visualize their progression. The creative process is never static and thus it always requires the creator to understand that they are trying to get better at their craft. They are trying to write better songs, paint better paintings, write better stories, explain things more clearly. And each creative piece is a step along that journey because:
Many creative people are not satisfied with their current creative status and sometimes creative souls are quite hard on themselves.
Even though many creatives understand the beauty of telling a grand story, we get critical of the step we just took. It is quite common to notice the flaws no one else does. And not just notice them but dwell on them. In fact, they become all we can see in a piece. So much so that we are rarely satisfied with our current status. It’s almost like when Jonathan Safran Foer says in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, laments:
“Sometimes I can hear my bones straining under the weight of all the lives I’m not living.”
The beauty of possibly and the fallibility of our last step keep us humbled by the potential. The potential is so grand that our last step forward never gets us where we want to be. And so many creative people are their own worst critic. We measure by what could be rather than what just was because we often forget that:
Creativity sweeps itself up in itself. Like an avalanche.
You might be able to start an avalanche (take care of your soul, fill up with creativity-inspiring things, etc.) but you cannot control it. Though most are killed by avalanches, many dream of surfing one.
Creatives often love the thrill of the creative process as much as anything they actually produce. In this surge, we must remember that we will not remember everything. Some things will escape and much will be lost. And that’s OK because:
Creativity requires you listen to the whispers before you can hear the chorus.
Avalanches start small. A snowball here, a homeless boulder there. But there is no avalanche without the spark and there is no creativity without the whispers. Though creative outbursts sometimes come like the fully formed “Hallelujah Chorus” and all we have to do is record it as best we can, more often, it starts as a whisper. It becomes a conversation with the muse, hearing the whisper until it becomes louder and is coaxed along the way. For most creative people, most of the time, this requires patience and work which leads me to conclude:
The “creative life” might seem more mundane than you’d like to believe. I have friends who used to build weapons but now build robots, works with museums and has hung out with David Byrne. We don’t all get to live that life. In fact, most of us don’t and won’t. And that’s OK.
Since the creativity is concerned with the artist’s voice as much as any particular statement, we must remember that creativity ultimately encompasses all of life. We find our creative voice as we follow the Creator God who brought order from chaos. Doing the dishes is a much less glamorous or even attractive way of doing this, but it, nonetheless, brings order from chaos. It is an expression of the self over the created order, reorganizing the universe’s molecules as only we could.
I often think of the Christian life as a continual process of undoing the effects of the Fall. When Adam and Eve chose to mistrust God, they thrust themselves, everyone and everything following them into slavery to sin, disruption, distrust, disorder and entropy. Picking up trash along the way is a way of making a difference, of reversing the Fall. Fighting for social justice, caring for the environment, loving the least of these, painting, writing, composing. All of these are ways of bringing the progress of Good News to bear on where and when we live. But we should not be so naive as to only classify some of them as creative and others as mundane.
Though creativity tends towards the extravagant, it born in the everyday.
I’d love to hear more about how you understand the creative process. I’d also love to hear which is your favorite Wes Anderson movie and why.