Andrew Solomon, Blogging, creativity, Daniel Gilbert, Dreaming, Gaston Bachelard, Jocelyn Glei, John Keats, Lessons Learned, MIlton Erickson, Oscar Wilde, Paolo Freire, Site Statistics, Top 10 Lists, Writing
1. Your reasons for doing creative work have to be multifaceted.
Because most people do not become artists or writers to make money, you often hear people say that you should only write or make art if you love doing those things. It’s more complicated than that, though.
Both writing and art-making involve a tremendous amount of frustration, disappointment, and failed attempts. I suppose if you enjoy all of that or if you never experience any of it, then you can simply choose to do what you love. But for everyone else, I think that you need to have a number of incentives to push you past all the blockades along the way. Figure out your reasons and try to remember them.
2. Defining your identity in absolute and finite terms limits your options.
When you don’t know exactly who you are, the possibilities are endless. Or, in the words of Oscar Wilde,
If you want to be a grocer, or a general, or a politician, or a judge, you will invariably become it; that is your punishment. If you never know what you want to be,… if each day you are unsure of who you are and what you know, you will never become anything, and that is your reward.
3. If you are honest and sincere, people can relate to all sorts of feelings and experiences.
Others will want to empathize with your shameful secrets or your painful mistakes, because they have shameful secrets and painful mistakes all their own. To understand someone, you don’t have to know precisely what it is like to be that person; you just have to be aware of your own regrets and sorrows and be willing to acknowledge the connections between your experiences and someone else’s. As Andrew Solomon describes it, “Our needs are our greatest assets.“
4. Your posts may alter the way other people see an issue. If you are lucky, though, your writing will alter you.
Whenever I wrote about my personal experiences and feelings, I hoped that my words would be clear and convincing enough to encourage people to reconsider some of their preconceived notions. What I did not realize was that the act of writing might change me. In the past, I spent a good deal of time attempting to fix some of the misconceptions in my head by trying to force myself to think about things differently. Now, I am starting to see that Milton Erickson was right: “Change will lead to insight far more than insight will lead to change.”
5. Know that you cannot know what will be.
Your imagination is not a particularly useful tool for predicting how people will respond to your work. In many cases, our intuitions about the future may be no more accurate than the predetermined fortunes on ticker tape unfurling from those crystal-ball-gazer machines at the arcade. Our minds do not process information as linearly and objectively as those contraptions, but the narrowness of scope and the repetition of narratives is similar.
Frequently, when we consider the possibilities, our ideas pass through a limited set of neural pathways. Our thoughts travel along those same old tracks over and over again, deepening the grooves as they go. And because, according to Daniel Gilbert, “Imagination works so quickly, quietly, and effectively, we are insufficiently skeptical of its products.”
6. Success is a relative term. Clicks are not always endorsements; non-clicks are not necessarily rejections.
The quality of your writing will not determine the popularity of a post. Often, increasing your site stats depends more on knowing the right people, having access to particular platforms, timing, luck, and similar factors unrelated to writing, skill, or worth.
For example, one of my posts initially seemed to fall flat, with almost no one “liking” or re-blogging it. And then, through no effort on my part, the right person happened to see the piece. Because she decided to feature it on a heavily trafficked site, that post suddenly became one of my most popular to date.
7. Your goals will shift and develop as your work evolves, and that’s a good thing.
The alternative is stagnation. If you achieve all of your goals, then there is nowhere left for you to go. “The greatest enemy of creativity,” Jocelyn Glei suggests, “is nothing more than standing still.”
8. I get my best ideas while brushing my teeth.
Seriously, I often make the most interesting connections or have the most creative thoughts when I am not trying to solve a problem, and when I am simultaneously involved in a somewhat automatic, mundane, and unrelated activity.
9. Not only should you accept uncertainty; you should cultivate it.
If you look for it, you will find writers, artists, musicians, philosophers, and probably many others who have talked or written about the need to access a creative place in our psyche that is not reachable through logical analysis or intentional searching. Here are two of my favorite quotes about this sort of openness to ignorance:
[The] quality…to form a [Person] of Achievement, especially in Literature,” is a “Negative Capability, that is, when [someone] is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact & reason.
The important successes take place independently of skill…knowing must therefore be accompanied by an equal capacity to forget knowing. Non-knowing is not a form of ignorance but a difficult transcendence of knowledge.
10. Your dreams help you to cope with fear, disappointment, and frustration, but it is also those same feelings that help you to dream.
When I imagined the potential reactions to a blog by me, occasionally I would become horrified and humiliated if I caught myself fantasizing about some of the possible but extremely unlikely positive responses. Because those feelings of shame seemed so intense, I worked out this strange system to help me tolerate my foolish aspirations. I had recently read about the physical and emotional benefits of smiling and laughing (even when forced), so I decided to laugh at myself whenever my dreams ran away from me. I would try to undo my thoughts and escape my mortification by literally laughing out loud while silently chastising myself with disparaging remarks about my ridiculous audacity.
Until recently, I thought my compulsory laughter was deterring my extravagant fantasies. But I’ve realized that actually that laughter didn’t prevent me from dreaming; it enabled me to dream again. While I distracted myself with tempering my shame, my dreams crept by me undetected.
Before I started this blog, I knew that I would feel afraid and I would worry about failing as I tried to do something totally new. What I didn’t want to admit at first, or maybe I just didn’t know how to identify it, was that I could never have started this blog or made the choice to share some of my most personal experiences if I had been entirely hopeless about how people would respond. It turns out that I needed both my fear and my hope in order to take the risks that I did. In his Pedagogy of Hope, Paolo Freire asserts that, “Without a minimum of hope, we cannot so much as start the struggle. But without the struggle, hope…dissipates, loses its bearings, and turns into hopelessness.”