Thursday, April 28, 2011

"Yes I can" and "Yes it will"

What elements must be in place for a successful round of creative work? First of all, there are two things that are fundamentally necessary. You must have:
  • An idea or goal, or a problem to solve, an inspiration, a vision, an opportunity, an irritant — something that gives you a direction for your work
  • A set of resources to work with, for example: time, a pencil, a guitar, and your accumulated knowledge of music and rhyme
These two things are so basic that they apply in any realm of human activity. So let's set them aside for now and look at another pair of essential conditions that apply specifically to creative work.
  • You must believe that it's possible for you to complete the work, to reach the goal, to hit the target, whatever it is.
  • You must have hope that the work will make a difference. It's going to matter in some way to someone if you get this done.
To put it another way, you need to have a definite response for each of these doubts:
  • You can't do that.
  • What's the point?
For example, your responses could be:
  • I've done this before, and I can do it again. Just watch me!
  • This song idea won't leave me alone. I need to give it a try and see what happens.
Now, when I say these two things are essential, it's not hyperbole. They are absolutely necessary. You simply won't be able to move forward without them.

Creative work is different from most ordinary activities, where you can go ahead and attempt something even if you are sure you will fail, and where you can take actions even if you feel certain that your efforts are futile.

Life is full of half-hearted efforts and pointless tasks. You can drive to the store even if you know that it's closed. You can donate a dollar to the Save the Theater Fund even if it seems impossible for them to raise enough money by their deadline. You can paint the first third of the wall even if you know there isn't enough paint to do the rest.

But you can't do this in creative work. You can't enter the creative state of consciousness unless you actually believe that you can succeed and that it will make a difference. Without access to the creative state, you can't get your creative work done. You'll sit there with your goal, feeling impatient and frustrated that you aren't starting to work on it. You might try any number of motivational tricks to get yourself moving, but none of them will do any good.

To flip this insight around, we can say that creative work requires a specific kind of self-confidence and optimism. If you feel confident in your abilities and optimistic about your results, the creative state will open up its doors for you, and then you'll be able to get your creative work done — and you will actually have a chance at getting some positive results.

For artists, self-confidence and optimism tend to be self-fulfilling. Confident and optimistic artists are more likely to be successful. If you want to be a creative artist, don't try to be soberly realistic about your prospects; that's a losing strategy. You're actually better off having an inflated sense of your own talents and a rosy view of your successful future. (Just don't quit your day job.)

It will take another dozen blog posts for me to fully explore this important subject. For now, if you find yourself creatively stuck, ask yourself these questions:

Do I really believe that I can complete this work/reach this goal/solve this problem?
If not:
  • What is something that I actually can do, something that will put me in a stronger position to face this main goal?
  • What is a simpler, smaller, or narrower version of this project, one that I would have a better chance of completing?
  • What is the key obstacle that makes this task seem so daunting? Is there a way that I can tackle that one difficult aspect head-on?
  • Are there people around me who are trying to discourage me and undermine my confidence? Am I carrying around negative, self-defeating thoughts?
Do I really feel that completing this work will make a difference?
If not:
  • What would actually make a difference?
  • Can I focus on a different aspect of this work, one where the difference it makes is easier to see and quantify?
  • What if everyone in the world went ahead with efforts like this one? Or what if everyone in the world gave up on efforts like this one? Would that add up to a difference that I would notice?

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