By Debbie A. McClure
People ask writers and other artists all the time, “How do you do it?” I have to admit, I don’t know. When I think about the hours a writer, musician, visual artist, clothing designer, interior decorator, architect, basket weaver, whatever, spends on his/her chosen craft, there’s this huge mystery around the how of it all.
So let’s tackle the “why” question then. We create things because something, anything, sparks our imagination. We see or hear something that resonates with us, inspires us and puts a mental picture in our heads of what that something means, or could mean. It’s different for each person. A painter will see it in terms of paint, a musician will see and/or hear it in terms of notes of music or song, and a writer will see it in terms of words on a page that tell a story or impart some sort of information.
Because we are moved by these experiences, we want to capture them. We want to bring them to life – much as a parent who is pregnant and wants to bring their child into the world and hold it. Creation is actually a very selfish act. We need to bring it out of our heads and into a medium we can manipulate. If we don’t, it won’t let us alone.
Ever had an idea that just keeps repeating in your brain? Yep, that one. You know it won’t let up until you do something about it. A business person who creates a new business to service a need in society is driven to make it happen. He/she eats, sleeps, dreams about this new idea until it just about drives them crazy. Same with the creative artist.
An inventor or scientist is driven to bring their vision or hypothesis into being, sometimes to prove that they aren’t crazy. Sometimes it’s to prove they’re right and everyone else is wrong.
In the beginning, the creator doesn’t care what others think. They do what they do because of an internal drive that has nothing to do with other people. It’s only after the creation is finished that our thoughts turn to showing the rest of the world what we’ve brought to life. Talk about visions of grandeur, but oh how beautiful it is!
What about when we fail though? Well, that’s okay too, because failure is part of the road to success. Can’t have one without the other. In fact, people learn more from their failures than we ever do from our successes. That’s why we do it over, and over, and over again. We want to make the finished product fit the image we carry around in our minds. We are our own most ruthless critic.
Of course we love to hear other people tell us how much they adore our newest book, play, movie, piece of music, building, clothing line, or room design, but if we aren’t satisfied, nothing you can say or do will convince us that it’s perfect and couldn’t use a little tweaking here or there. That’s why each creation is slightly different that the last one. As creators, we are forever perfecting our craft. My father is a retired building contractor, and I remember him telling me years ago that whenever he finished a project, he could always think of ways he’d change this window, or move that wall the next time. Now I get it.
As to the how of creating something new, well, that’s as easy, and difficult as you can imagine. For me, it’s about setting routines and sitting down to write five days a week, from around 9 or 9:30am to about 4-5pm. I’ve worked at this writing gig full time for the past three years now, and I’ve made some serious sacrifices to do that. Doesn’t make it right, or easy, but it’s right for me right now. I typically sit down at my computer and begin with a to-do list of things to tackle each work day. I don’t worry about prioritizing, but I usually have a pretty good idea of what needs to be done first and last. As I do each task, I cross it off my list. This gives me the illusion of control. Every creator has his/her own flow and schedule. Life also gets in the way, and allowances are made for life, because in the end, it’s where we draw our inspiration.
I’m a novelist, so as for the writing part, I don’t let myself focus on what isn’t there in front of me. I just re-read the last page of what I’ve written the day before to refresh my memory and pick up the threads. Then I start typing whatever comes to mind about what happens next. I don’t edit as I go when writing the first or even second draft. I don’t worry about what works and what doesn’t work. I don’t concern myself with plot or character development at this point. I just let myself write, and the time flies. I see the story roll out like a movie in my head. I’m just recording it. I do research of course, some of it before I begin to write the story and some of it once I’m writing the second or third draft. I’ve discovered that research is a great boost to the imagination, because it gives the writer more information to play with. In addition, you just keep writing, and reading, and writing, and reading … You get the picture. Practice makes, if not perfect, then at least eventually, better.
I’d have to think the same is true for any creative expression. When you’re in the “zone”, it just takes you away. When you’re working on the craft, you learn more about what you love, so it doesn’t feel like work. When you practice, you sloooowly get better. You also gain a small measure of confidence. Through research and study of your chosen field, you learn what’s been invented before so you don’t have to go down that road. You also start talking to other creative people, and begin to realize we have many things in common. There’s also an energy and strong vibe among like-minded creative people.
Entrepreneurs fit in here too, since they have a vision of what kind of product or service they want to bring to others. Don’t believe me? Just go to any industry conference or workshop and you’ll hear and see groups of people gathering and talking about what brought them together – their work! I’m not talking about the company employees who could care less and are there for the drinks and socializing; I’m talking about the visionaries, the creators, behind the businesses. They have invested in their creations whole-heartedly, with every fibre of their being and every resource at their disposal. That’s not to say that employees can’t share this buzz, if they too have a vision for the future. After all, leaders learn by watching other leaders.
Here’s the thing though; creative people aren’t just dreamers. We express our thoughts in concrete ways, then move heaven and earth to share it, in the hope that the creation will have a positive impact on others. If we fail to hit the mark, then it’s okay to rant, rave, and howl at the moon! Decry the unfairness of it all, and the stupidity of the fates. Then it’s time to suck it up, buckle down, and go back to square one. Creativity will always find a way to express itself. Your job is to help it accomplish the task.
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