You have an idea.
It hits you in the movie theater. A high concept idea, perhaps a variation on a previous idea or one spawned by a single line of dialogue.
If you’re like me, your creative sixth sense can mean that anything you see, feel, hear, or taste is less real than when you’re in your mental flow state. You name the characters, build the world, and maybe even outline the story in your head.
You cannot wait to get home and finally write that elusive masterpiece. Then, you pick up the pen, open your laptop, and sharpen your pencil.
Why would you write this? Nobody will like it. Why did you pursue the writer’s journey? It certainly wasn’t to enjoy writing. After all, you wrote 1,500 articles for work the previous year and cannot remember a single dotted ‘i’ or crossed ‘t’.
You’re a phony and a fraud. You’re barely capable of signing your name on one of those nasty pens you sell away your credit score with at the grocery store. You are the worst thing imaginable — a writer.
If it isn’t obvious, the you here isn’t you, it’s me. 2020–21 has been one of the most trying, yet strangely rewarding years of my life. I’ve spoken at great length about the mental health journey, but I feel it is also important to talk about my creative one.
Though Artist and Creative are two descriptors I never really labeled myself as until recently, they are now my go to. Since I was a kid, I was driven by my creative drive. Perhaps, this was partially due to me hiding a laundry list of mental health problems from myself and others, but it’s also one of the few things I enjoy doing. I am not adventurous. Anything that involves falling or getting on something with wheels does nothing for me. I sometimes struggle to relate with non-creatives because, quite frankly, I have a hard time understanding them and finding common ground. My self-worth has never lied in finances, relationships, or anything that a lot of people with high regard. My creative output, even if I didn’t have a word to describe it, was always my way of contributing to society. If I am not creating, I become that scene in Click where 2020 Oscar Snub Adam Sandler mindlessly eats dinner with his family because he’s in “fast-forward.”
My lone creative force was writing. While my teenage years leading into my late twenties are now an anxiety-induced haze fueled byself-preservation, I always had the creative bug. I wouldn’t say I taught myself to play piano and guitar… I can barely play. However, from about 18 to 24, I used them as a mindless creative endeavor that I never quite built the confidence to achieve in.
This, perhaps moreso than anything else, is why art is such a God-send to me. That lack of confidence has always been there in everything from social situations to my own thought process. That second-person intro was the closest I could come to recreating what goes on inside my head. Everything is a process in which nearly every outcome is put through the filter of my brain to the point where any endgame whatsoever is downright overwhelming. Then, when I don’t see through what I started, the shame and self-judgment comes through. If I do finish and publish, but it doesn’t immediately elevate me to a comfortable living with a enviable writing gig, it was an abject failure. I can give people impeccable creative advice, because I am constantly ignoring that same advice in my head and know the damage of not following through with it.
Art was different. It started as little more than digital tracing. Before long, I was trying out painting. Then, weekly trips to Michaels for physical supplies became more common, and I was experimenting with pastels, paints, inks, pencils, markers, and all the subcategories between them. Expensive? Yes. But while my wallet sometimes hated me for it, I genuinely think that it was vital. Art, for me, is not my attempt to become the next Da Vinci. Yes, I want it to be good. Sometimes, I want it to be great. For the most part, however, it’s my take on journaling. It’s how I discovered true meditation, too.
For much of my life, I have repressed thoughts for too long, gone with the flow of things against my own conscience, and shut off my individuality in settings where I fear that it will only be a nuisance. While I have always been a wordsmith, of sorts, and nearly every creative writing professor I have had encouraged me to strive for greatness, it’s hard to do so when your creative thoughts are always going and the person behind them hides beneath their clouds. Art had no expectations. I have awful handwriting and while doodling has always been a way to pass the time, I seldom put much effort into it.
Until I did.
Those same things that kept my doodles at a third-grade level started making sense in writing, too. I vaguely remember a Mitch Hedberg bit that I may have made up in my head (Google didn’t help) about him having a good idea, not having a pen to write with, so convincing himself that it was bad. I feel like this is my creative process in a nutshell. I have a strange creative phobia. If I do something too well, even if it is well within my skill, I convince myself that I could never do that. That’s for talented people. People born with that ‘it’ factor that elevate them. Certainly, if my idea reaches that level, it couldn’t have come from a lowly fool like me. If I try to write too well, people will think I am pretentious. I convince myself that the endgame is impossible, because I assume that everyone else who wrote a best-seller or blockbuster script had something that I don’t. That something was confidence.
Art helps me realize that. Until recently, I found myself falling into the same traps of having a good idea for art, drawing a sketch, and being afraid that any further revision would ruin its integrity. Sound familiar? It’s my entire creative story.
My passion project, which I have told many people but still keep relatively silent to the overwhelming masses, has been lingering in my head for eight years. It has taken many forms, its thesis has changed with my ever-evolving worldview, and I firmly believe it’s the idea that will get me to my ultimate dream… if I get around to doing it. It was my Honor’s thesis in school, and several workshops featured chapters from this. However, I never get past the beginning. The story is in my head, but the words fail to come out. As I have come to grips with this, I noticed that my creative self is coming out more naturally.
I tend to start everything I write for fun a thousand times til something sticks. It’s a terrible strategy that, unfortunately, I know I am not alone in. After all, what if I get a hundred pages in and realize I lost the story? What if it doesn’t sell and I wasted years of my life? Certainly, those ideas that I have been told are worth pursuing are just people being nice to me. I have written thousands of novel pages in my life and have never finished a single novel. On the flip side, because I tend to thing so big, I rarely have an idea and think “That’s a good short story!”
I’ve tried everything, from Patreon to notes app, and it doesn’t work. However, thanks to the way that art has helped me rewire my creative process, my self-destruction, while still active, is starting to subside. I have made it a point to write down any creative idea I have, even if it is just one line. The kinks are still there. I have written five drafts of the same beginning this week alone, and if I had to guess there are well over a hundred sitting in the cloud at Google, Apple, and whatever other services I forgot I used. However, I am starting to distance myself from those ideas and realizing that the story I wanted to tell five years ago when I workshopped a draft at UC Davis isn’t necessarily the story I want to tell.
I am a creative force, but I also treat ideas as sacrosanct. Anyone who has collaborated with me will now how much I stress some flexibility in any creative space, because I do not want any project to experience the same pitfalls mine do. Every writer is hypocritical when it comes to their advice, but they also know what needs to be done, even if they do not always do it.
I hope to write a novella, be it for self-publishing or selling off with an agent. I know I have the talent. Hell, I could probably paint the cover and make it all my own. But I am still overcoming these creative boundaries that hindered me so long. Now, I am using it as motivation to do better.