How to start living that “creative” life
November 11, 2016. Leonard Cohen passed away today. I am not even going to pretend like I was a huge fan of his music because truth be told, I have only heard two of his songs. Both are lovely, of course. What I did admire deeply about him — and ridiculously enough, despite not having come in much contact with his work — was his approach to leading a creative life and maintaining a certain type of work ethic.
I know a lot of people who do a lot of offbeat, if not vaguely creative, work for a living. Some of them are experimental film essayists, some anthropologists, and some of them are more conventional aspiring artists in their own respective fields. Some of them are so weird that I feel like I am looking at a personification of a Pollock piece when they describe what they do, so I just nod a few times and tell them it sounds fascinating, which is not entirely false. I also know a lot of people who do amazingly detailed, data and analysis heavy, often repetitive, work on a day-to-day basis. I used to be one of them, so that made it entirely appropriate for me to tease a fellow corporate whore about how that Versace blazer which was ordered online from the work laptop during an absolute moment of weakness past midnight in the deserted office would easily camouflage the missing soul and reinvigorate the sleep-deprived body.
Before talking about how best to transition to this profession of creativity, I would like to begin by saying this: despite what the world might have you believe, all professions have the capability of being creative in their own way. When I was working for a very brief period as a corporate lawyer — so brief, everyone thinks I made it up — I constantly yearned to be on the other side where the grass was greener. I would sit at my desk like a cow locked inside a room with an open window, and with an unacceptably bovine expression on my face for any human, I would dream of one day jumping out and running to that wonderfully lush meadow, mooing in ecstasy. However, after spending a few months doing that work, I realised that I was wrong to create such a segregation because the manifestation of creativity was just a little subtler in law. It isn’t colourful and emotionally stirring, it isn’t a product of inspiration seeded in your brain as you walk with and past all the others heading in some collective direction — and I swear to the higher power I selectively believe in that corporate law in particular is only capable of arousing frustration in people, especially those who practice it — but it is there. It is there in the critical thought and insights, in opening and closing loopholes, in finding a solution to a seemingly unsolvable problem in a very short amount of time. Granted, the work is often monotonous enough to almost literally bore you to death, but dismissing it altogether as bad work and ridiculing people who fall prey to its calling is, I feel, unfair.
I mean, I’m not saying that I was capable of expressing myself creatively in that field, and this cow did happily jump out and sprint towards the lush green meadow, but I still firmly believe that.
CREATIVE WORK (also) SUCKS
On the other hand, creative work is often dismissed as not being work at all. This too is unfair — ask anyone who has tried taking a picture for Instagram, struggling for minutes to select just the perfect filter, toggling with the editing options for noobs who like to believe that taking a picture using the automatic setting on their DSLRs will suddenly make them all professional photographers, and finally, choosing the best #hashtags that will propel them to the fame they know they deserve (guilty as charged myself). This representation is as inaccurate as fivethirtyeight’s 2016 POTUS prediction, but this is what creative work is treated like. Sit, do something, look all cool while doing it, over.
This is not true. As much as it is necessary to dispel the myth in order to grant due to the hardworking, persevering artists in our community, it is also important so people who want to get into this line of work know exactly what they are signing up for — but very conveniently for myself, I cannot do this for the world. I have just started down this path, and I am as qualified to comment on the life and times of an artist as Trump is to be President (I know, I know. I am too far left and not even American but I am hoping we can all agree on this..hoping.). What I can do is help a fellow noob like myself to make this transition and hopefully build a certain work ethic that reveres practice and productivity over spontaneity. I say this because as much as I like the idea of a free-flowing creative who waits for the perfect moment for her labour and inspiration to collide and consummate, I also feel that if you are a creative person, then performing your craft is a way of life. As with other ways of life, this one too then needs to happen on a habitual, close to daily basis. I say this also because if I do not force myself to do what I love, I often forget just how much I love doing it. Of course, you might have better memory than me.
LET IT GO, ALL OF IT
First of all, before you even start working, I would suggest that you shed all your inhibitions about what you should be doing and whether you’re doing it right. I misguidedly sound like I am speaking from experience here, and to be entirely honest I am essentially talking to myself right now, but I think it is a universally acknowledged fact that there is no one way when it comes to any form of art. It is not a science — thank heavens, or I’d have to go back to being the cow in the room with a view — and the distinction in your work comes entirely because of your perspective.
HAVE A ROUTINE, YOU UNDISCIPLINED BRAT
Second, and this is important, set a schedule for yourself. Get a calendar, mark down your own deadlines and goals and try to stick with it. If you’re like me then you’ll also soon seen that there is no structure left in your life anymore, and you can choose to spend the whole day on Netflix (guilty as charged, again). Don’t do it. Let people know what you’re working on so they can hold you accountable and judge you till you delete all your social media accounts and go on a “detox”. This is not just the view from the brick jail anymore; it’s where you live. I realised that the best way for me to transition into this new line would be to maintain any semblance of routine that I could. If you write, try to do it everyday. Make versions. Keep your brain occupied. There is nothing special about an idea until it is executed.
COLLABORATE LIKE YOU DON’T KNOW HOW TO WORK ALONE
Third, speak to people, collaborate! Feedback is so important because after a point of working on a project, you stop seeing the project at all. This is also difficult to do because it is not always easy to ask for help and then have people point out what is wrong with the project you’ve sweat blood on. And to be honest, I sometimes experience longstanding phases of overconfidence (usually right before I miserably crash down to realise who and where I am). I still find it very difficult, even more so to keep a straight face when someone is giving me an honest, constructive criticism, but I know it is absolutely crucial for the sake of my own work. For example, I had made a short film years ago with a few of my friends, and we’d uploaded it soon after we finished editing it. We did it just for fun and it was decent for the amount of time and skill spent on it, but we could have definitely improved a number of things had we only stopped to get a few feedbacks.
I am still trying to follow these myself, and I am so incredibly far away from being able to truthfully say that I work enough for anyone to call me a “filmmaker” that I just tell people I am in between jobs. Hopefully, we will both push through this and years later, we can act like it was so easy to get there, but we won’t do that today.
Today, we work.