How Thinking Too Big Can Kill Your Creativity

As artists, we tend to think in huge, Herculean hurtles. After all, we are dramatic…and that’s GOOD.

The problem is that we have been brainwashed into thinking that more (all at once) is not only better, it’s more plausible than step-by-step momentum.

Blame it on our consumer-driven society or early teachers who stuck our artistic child into a corner. “This painting lacks depth” or “this piece of writing isn’t very good,” may have doused many a creative spark inside of us. Vague criticism that lacked any real instruction from people who were creatively blocked themselves has left many a half-written script, unfinished painting, dusty camera lens, book idea or album languishing on a shelf or hard-drive for years. Worse yet, ideas have sat shamefully in the arsenal of our creative brains carefully coated in fear. Academics, though often very well-meaning, are very often blocked creatives themselves. In the words of Julia Cameron: “A lot of academics know how to pick things apart, but they simply don’t know how to assemble them.”

When we talk about creativity, we often talk about it in terms that are sort of mythic. For example, Steven Spielberg: We hear his name, and we think, “Steven got his first movie camera at age eight.” We hear this sort of mythic story, and yet I was once in a hotel room with Steven Spielberg and Brian De Palma. They were sort of babysitting me so that I didn’t date while Marty was in France. (He had put them in charge of me, so to speak, and they were my babysitters.) We were sitting in this hotel room, and Steven Spielberg says to Brian De Palma, “I’ve been trying to make a movie about extraterrestrials, and I can’t get anybody interested in it, and I really think I should just give up.” Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way

Throw in the delusion of rags to riches stories that we only see in instagram snapshots, a la Kardashian et al, (you can be famous overnight), and the fire cools even faster. Instead of thinking in terms of writing three pages of your screenplay a day or filling the form as Julia Cameron would say, the ego become fixated on giant leaps–the finished screenplay, the finished album, the documentary showing at Cannes. Creativity is no longer play, it’s a forced birth by ego that has to be an instant success. It’s creative breach. So we quit before we start.

Today is a day that I want to write, but not out of duty–out of enthusiasm. It’s taken me years to distinguish the two. I really hate to use Arnold Schwarzenegger as an example because I’ve got strong, bitter celebrity-politician taste in my mouth right now BUT, he still works out. Arnold works out everyday.

Why?

Why would someone like him, a body-builder of almost 70 years of age still work out? Why not just chill out and eat nachos by the pool? I mean, seriously.

It’s because he wants to, not because he has to.

His father trained him early on to associate working out with pleasure. Reportedly, Dad had some sort of Pavlovian system whereby the Terminator was rewarded with dinner after working out.

If art, or the creation thereof, has become a displeasing process, whereby I’m only focused on product–not process, I am sure to quit.

Why?

Because my mind is focused on a finished product that already isn’t good enough. Therefore, an evening of laundry, paying bills or mindless television quickly becomes a more attractive, creative-numbing, activity. The fire of the artistic child gets quickly extinguished by the procrastination of the obligated, responsible adult. It’s a little ego, mind-trick we play on ourselves. And it works very effectively because we live in a society that reinforces the idea that creativity is frivolous anyway.

“I think women dwell quite a bit on the duress under which they work, on how hard it is just to do it at all. We are traditionally rather proud of ourselves for having slipped creative work in there between the domestic chores and obligations. I’m not sure we deserve such big A-pluses for all that.” Toni Morrison

So I’m not quitting today. I’m filling the form. I’m living well. You have to live well to make good art. And however simple an action you may find today toward your creativity, I hope you you seize it with enthusiasm, because you want to–not because you have to.

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Originally published at viragomag.com on March 3, 2016.