Creativity: The Monster And The Stairs

Ok. So there are creative people and then there are non-creative people. And among the creative people there are prolific people and there are those who struggle with the muse. These are staple thoughts, right? They’re things that we except blindly and like anything that can be stamped and repeated without the need for reasoning, they’re utter bullshit.

I’ve been sitting at my desk for an hour looking at my to-do list. It says it’s time to get some writing done, but instead of jumping to action, I start-up my excuse machine. 

“I should really organize my notes first. In fact, there are about three or four books that I should read before I attempt this, just so that I don’t sound too ignorant. I have a list of other books somewhere, too. If I put those together with these four, I could order them by importance and that would save me a lot of time later. But where is that list? I know it was on a post-it. It should be in these jeans. It’s not. That’s right, I was wearing the black jeans and where the hell are they? Not in the laundry, so they must be in my car with all the other random clothes I’ve accumulated in the trunk. Maybe I’ll bring everything in and start a load of laundry before I get to to this book list.”

And so on. And so on. Ad infinitum. Another hour gone.

I’m still sitting at my desk. I’ve made tea and I’m listening to the Nerdist with Adam Rogers of Wired Magazine. I’m spacing out and then Rogers says something that cuts through the haze of my procrastination: “That’s what deadlines are for, to get you to finish stuff.” Fuck. It’s really that simple. That’s exactly what I’m doing. I’m actively not finishing things. I’ve lost control of the situation because I haven’t given myself limitations. I’m standing alone on a vast tundra with no discernible sense of direction and the vastness itself has begun to expand and take form. It seems that without limits, creativity itself runs wild and we begin to fear it. It begins to grow fangs and horns and claws. We begin to fear our ability to control it. We begin to fear our ability to even approach it. The savage creativity breathes nothing but fire and failure. We begin to cower and say that those monsters are for other people; people braver than us. We begin to believe that we weren’t built for battle. We begin to take comfort in being free of the struggle.

I quit smoking for a year, and then for some damn reason I started smoking again about 8 months ago. Now I’m 39 days into quitting again. During the first year people would ask me how I did it. How did I quit? How did I battle the cravings? My answer was always: don’t negotiate with yourself. Don’t buy a pack of cigarettes and say that they are “just in case”. Don’t tell yourself that it doesn’t count if you smoke one cigarette when you drink. Don’t put a cigarette in your mouth just to see if it tastes like shit now. The moment that you allow yourself the excuse, you’ve already begun smoking in your mind; you’ve already begun an 8 month detour back into addiction. 

I don’t know why I never made the connection between this and creativity before. It’s not the circumstances and the reasons bearing down on me, it’s that I’ve given myself the permission to be weak when I need most to be strong. Well, it turns out that creativity is like a muscle. It turns out that it needs to be exercised and pushed. It turns out that those who are prolific are prolific because they exercised the shit out of that muscle. When you reach the point where something seems difficult; the point where you feel that you can’t possibly do anymore; the point we call a block, that’s resistance. You can’t form muscle mass without resistance. You can’t grow until you learn to push past that point. Truly prolific people don’t believe in creative blocks. (I just heard Neil Strauss say almost exactly that in a podcast the other day.)

So, it’s that thought of pushing through that I choked down in order to write this blog. It’s that thought that makes me do this every week, even when I don’t know what I’m writing about when I start. It’s that same muscle that will get me through the hardest part of bigger projects. Excuses are for people who could have been. I’d rather be someone who tried to jump a gap and landed on his ass. I’d rather wake up with road rash. I’d rather write 20 shitty books and 1000 putrid blogs than sit and stare at the walls for another hour. It’s time to stop indulging our perceived weaknesses. Let’s get off our asses and stop the bitching. If you don’t know what you’re about, nobody else does either. Define yourself or your life will slip away life a fart on a windy day. Excuses are for bratty children. Try something hard. Try something you have no idea how to finish. Be something impossible in world full of people wasting time on bar stools. Be an escape artist. Be a magician. Be anything but patient, because these are the steep stairs that lead to the grandest sandcastles. These are the steep stairs that lead to lives that are too large for tombstones. These are the steep stairs of creativity and anybody with feet and grit and guts can climb them. 

Categorized as Thoughts

By C.A. Hall

Writer / Podcaster I'm a well-written sentence marred by a curse word. In another life I might have been a criminal profiler, a jazz drummer, an architect, an acrobat, an actor, or a children’s book illustrator.