What does it mean to be creative?
I'm sure if you ask, you would get a different answer every time. This, I believe, simply lends to the fact that we are all creatively different, and that we all have new things to bring to the creative world -- which, as I try to often say, is a good thing.
But if we take this question, and delve deeper into it, it can lead to the related question: how can we be creative?
For this, too, everyone seems to have different answers, but recently in my creative studies (which consist of reading journals, articles, and books by other creatives that I admire), I have begun to notice a theme:
10,000 hours of practice.
Something a lot of us don't want to spend: time.
In the book Brain Storm, by Don Hahn, the author mentions how Malcolm Gladwell suggests in his book, Outliers (wow, two books to read in the same sentence!), that 10,000 hours are required to become a master -- in anything. Is it surprising that this doesn't seem to be a popular opinion in our fast-paced age? Most articles instead seem to read "How to be creative in 10 easy steps", in which those other three zeroes that make up 10,000 are thrown out and forgotten.
Why are we so daunted by the idea of spending time -- and not just a few hours, but time -- on perfecting our work, on becoming better at it? And more than that, why do we feel like we waste time when we don't get things done quickly, when we have to set aside that painting, or that written page, or that idea, because it simply isn't good enough; why do we feel like failures if everything is not right the first time?
As always, my favorite author, Madeleine L'Engle, has something good to say in her journal (A Circle Of Quiet), these words born after the rejection of her most famous book, A Wrinkle In Time: "Does it really matter if we are geniuses or second-rate"?
Can you be a master of your craft, after 10,000 hours, and not be a genius?
I don't suppose it's up to us to decide whether or not we are geniuses, because that doesn't really matter, in the end, and everyone will view you differently, anyway (there are people who think my favorite authors -- I will use J.M. Barrie, author of Peter Pan, as an example -- were not geniuses, and I will heartily disagree with them). What matters most, or at all, is the work, and how much you put into it. What matters is doing it with passion.
Don Hahn also wrote, concerning music lessons he took, where he had to practice, practice, practice, that: "My lessons taught me two important nonmusical facts: art comes after an incredible load of work, and only one thing will see you through that work -- passion."
Our lives are busy, certainly. We have to try and juggle school, relationships, kids, work, and on top of that most of the time, creative work besides. It is difficult to put in those 10,000 hours, or even two hours. It is difficult to think that we should be focusing on becoming better, no matter the time, no matter the effort (and there is effort, so much effort), instead of thinking about those ten easy steps that can really be more hindering than helpful.
But then, it's much easier to think about staying in bed than it is to think about getting up and facing the day, isn't it?
If we want to become all that we can be in our crafts, in our creativity, we are going to have to work hard, because working is the only way to accomplish things. We have to go through the fire before we are tempered; we have to move our arms and legs before we can swim. Passion is what drives you forward, what you cling to when things seem too hard, or like they are taking too long, but work is what gets things done.
In Austin Kleon's book, Show Your Work, he writes: "The writing community is full of lame-o people who want to be published in journals even though they don't read the magazines they want to be published in," says writer Dan Chaon. "These people deserve the rejections that they will undoubtably receive, and no one should feel sorry for them when they cry about how they can't get anyone to accept their storers."
Writing is work -- and yes, you should show it; it's fun, if nothing else -- and part of that work, as stated above, is reading. Part of that work is researching. Part of any work is learning about your craft -- how it began, who the pioneers were, what they studied, what they said, different methods and techniques, modern examples. Part of being creative is taking the initiative to learn more about creativity, especially from those who came before you, who had unique views, just as you do.
Take time in your work -- time to create, time to be inspired, time to listen to what your work is saying, time to listen to others...time to do your best, to work hard, even if you don't feel like it, or are frustrated when you have to set that work aside. Work adds up, and we learn something from everything that we do, whether we release the finished product or not.
In 2012, I had an idea, and in 2013, I implemented it. It was at a time in my publishing career where I was trying to make things work, to "be successful" (which, I can assure you, is never a good pursuit, at least when you're worried about numbers and revenue). It was a great idea, I felt -- release a short bit of a book, and have readers vote for what happens next -- and at first I was really enjoying working on it. The problem was, at that time I hadn't yet learned how I work best, my own, personal way of writing and creating, and so I didn't really know that I was basically shooting myself in the foot by trying to use the methods of others to be successful. Over time, it became much too much for me, and I had to throw the projects aside -- and I felt awful for it, like I had failed, when really, all I was doing was learning more about myself, about writing, and about creativity. Even if I never touch that story -- which I had spent years writing the full of back in the mid 2000s, and time re-writing in 2012 and 2013 -- again, I have learned something from it that I could not have learned otherwise; I am adding it to my 10,000 hours towards mastery. If I had not spent the time on that "failure" of an idea, if I had not gone through the frustration of trying to make it work, and seeing why it didn't, then I would not know what I do know now.
Do your best. Do your work. If you cut corners, it will always show -- and even if it, by some miracle, doesn't show to others, you will always know, and nothing is worth knowing that you didn't do your absolute best.
Don't be daunted by those 10,000 hours, and don't be daunted by the idea of hard work. Don't be afraid to try new things, and even if they "fail", celebrate your failure, because you have learned something new, and that knowledge will keep moving you forward.
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