Welcome, old friends and new, to Notion Potion, which Wave has so generously offered to host! What’s it all about? Everyone who visits this blog is interested in a creative endeavor: writing, blogging, reviewing, and crafting—even reading, in which we “create” stories in our mind’s eyes based on some squiggles we’re decoding from a page.
Many of us yearn to embrace the natural creativity that we could experience in our day-to-day lives…if we weren’t ground down by lack of time, money and energy, of the criticisms of others, and the big, free-floating miasma of discouragement hovering over our heads. It’s my hope that by indulging me as I talk about my ideas on creativity, you’ll find yourself left with a little extra juice to embark on that project of your own you’ve been itching to enjoy.
It All Adds Up
It makes sense to buy something in bulk if you know you’re going to use it eventually before it goes bad. It’s unlikely, for instance, that you’re going to wake up one day and swear off toilet paper. (Yes, I know some environmentally-conscious people use something called a family cloth for their #1, but I’m just not that green.) I remember discovering a gigantic cube of my usual brand of toilet paper—I have no idea how many rolls, but something big, like 32. For a household of one, this is a LOT of toilet paper. But it was also about half the price per roll that I usually paid, so I figured I might as well grab it.
What had happened to the Borg-like cube?
Had I really run through all that TP myself?
What’s funny is, the same thing happened to the ginormous half-gallon of mouthwash that I decant into a tiny bottle because I’m worried the big one will get gross if I pour from it regularly. And the bottle of 300 aspirin I bought because it was only a dollar, and heck, you can always use aspirin. They seemed impossibly huge. But somehow, eventually, I worked my way through them.
One swig, swallow or swipe at a time.
Creative projects are like that. Anything from a novel you want to write, a website you’d like to plan, a painting you want to create, or a business you’re yearning to build—all of these things can be broken down into smaller steps, and I mean incredibly small.
Something: Significantly Better than Nothing
The importance of taking that initial sip from the massive, brimming, sloshing jug that represents your creative goal can’t be understated. This first small action is key, because it bridges the gap between daydreaming and doing, between consuming and participating. According to Clay Shirky in Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age, the crucial moment in taking charge of your creative life comes not from doing something big, or doing something well, but in doing something at all. Shirky says that when a person decides to make their first lolcat by placing some text on a cat photo a significant but unnoticed shift occurs.
Much of the objection to lolcats focuses on how stupid they are; even a funny lolcat doesn’t amount to much. On the spectrum of creative work, the difference between the mediocre and the good is vast. Mediocrity is, however, still on the spectrum; you can move from mediocre to good in increments. The real gap is between doing nothing and doing something, and someone making lolcats has bridged that gap.
If it’s as simple as making an lolcat, then why is this first sip so damn hard to swallow?
Fear Rears its Head
We could probably name a dozen reasons why it’s safer to not sing, write, act, draw, blog, craft, or engage in any other creative pursuit, because when we share our creative acts with others, we open ourselves up to criticism, sabotage, and downright ridicule.
Face it, some miserable so-and-so is gonna be pissed off that you decided to bridge the gap between not-doing and doing, and they’re going to try to make you pay.
If you enjoy the process, you need to do it anyway. You are probably not the best in the world, but you’re probably not the worst, either. By doing it, you may even get better. And at least you’re doing something—something that you enjoy.
But I Don’t Have Time
If you’ve “always wanted” to do something but never made the time, it’s probably fear of criticism that’s feeding your inertia by making you feel like you don’t have any time to work on your project. Here’s a way to circumvent it. Consider this: you want to write, but you don’t have large blocks of time. However, you commit to writing 300 words per day, which is approximately a page or a few paragraphs, and can often be achieved in about 15-20 minutes.
“A few paragraphs a day?” your inner party-pooper will say. “Why bother?”
- If you write only 300 words per day, in a week you will have a short story draft.
- In a month you will have a 9000 word novelette.
- In three months you will have a 27000 word novella.
- In nine months you will have an 80000 word novel. That’s less than a year!
You can achieve the same thing by working on any other project 15-20 minutes each day. How big of a dent would two hours per week put into beautifying your home or practicing an instrument or exercising or learning a new hobby? Not only would you move forward on your goal and foster a sense of accomplishment, but you’d learn to ignore the annoying little voice inside that keeps saying you don’t have enough time or money or talent to do the things that would make you happy.
Can you think of some way to break up into manageable sips?
I hope you’ve enjoyed my ruminations on the creative process. Please let me know if there are other creativity topics you’d like me to touch on in future columns! Looking for more inspiration? I have three years of writing podcasts archived at Packing Heat.