The Learning Journal: Business of Creativity
This past semester one of my assignments was to keep a learning journal for my Business of Writing class. As the semester progressed I felt that I got more out of the class by keeping the journal than ones where I show up and cram for exams and rush to finish papers. So, I kept one for every class. This is the first of three. Enjoy.
When most people think of creativity, they think of fun. After taking a Business of Writing class taught by Ross Laird, the only word that comes to my mind is work. Most people I talk to cannot accept that it is just work, they assume that some people must possess some special talent or foresight to be as successful at what they do. While nobody is a product in a vacuum, work is the most important aspect of creation. Working means confronting yourself and changing your life to accommodate your creative endeavor even when it is easier to just watch YouTube for hours on end. This class, more than any other, encourages students to confront themselves and figure out what their process looks like. It forces you to recognize where you get stuck, when do you get your best ideas, and most importantly, carve out time daily to commit to your creativity.
Every activity, no matter how small, says something about you. I know some people will roll their eyes or scoff when Ross picks up on a student’s uneasiness or when they are uncomfortable and will dive deeper into what it says about them. As the semester continued on and the more I read and tried to write I found that the willingness to question and self-reflect is key in regards to creativity and pushing forward when I did not feel like working.
When trying to form a project for this class I knew I wanted to write about things I follow on a day-to-day basis. There are countless examples of people writing/talking about the things they are passionate about for a living so why can’t do it? The first problem was simple: I do not write enough. I sit on thoughts and wonder if I understand the material enough or if the angle I have is original or interesting enough or if too much time has passed for it to be relevant. While, these questions are useful, they are poison if I get too caught up in them. So I began to start taking notes on things I watch/read/listen to. Some times those notes are thoughts or ideas that could turn into 500 words and other times it would simply be quotes I liked and could be used as reflection. Even if the ideas will never be posted online it does not matter because at least they are on paper or on a screen and out of my head.
During our last discussion about projects and how the semester went, Ross explained how one of the worries students had was that their ideas grew too fast and became overwhelming. His advice to us? Do the smallest thing and then what comes after that and what comes after that and keep going. All of the examples we looked at in class took years to develop. None of them were an overnight sensation. However, all we generally see in the media is the finished product and Ross preaches that it is not the end goal that is important because we cannot predict the end goal. Instead, we should focus on our process and how we keep it moving.
We did not just focus on the personal growth aspect of creativity. As in the title of the class we talked about business. I enjoyed the entrepreneurial aspect of the class because it did not feel like your average classroom. Instead, of following the traditional model of publishing or pitching ideas to publications, we focused on how to build something ourselves. Our class was a safe space to share your ideas and pitch your project, no matter how far you got when you presented. No idea was shot down or called stupid. We understood that nothing would be perfect in 14 weeks and it would be silly to expect that. What we did do was talk about what we finished at the time of presenting, what we thought of our ideas, and what did we learn from creating it. We saw websites, blogs, videos, and even a video game. It was fun to see what people loved to do and since you knew people cared deeply about what they were doing and every idea was different, your idea had to be up to par. Also, people had endless suggestions on how to improve your project or what were the next steps. I realized that ideas are only bad when they are unwilling to change and every idea we have is a culmination of our lives up to that point.
Having freedom in a project is nice but it can be intimidating. We are used to following instructions but making us form our own habits and structures of creativity pushed the accountability and responsibility of our projects onto the students. As much as every class felt like a three hour haven of creativity, Ross always reminded us that we need to find time for creativity every day. It reminded me of when I began to take basketball more seriously in high school. I was at a basketball camp and the head coach asked one of the best players at the camp how often he played a week and he answered, “Everyday.” Then the coach asked me how often I played and I told him three to four times a week. I remember this because the coach then said, “See the difference. Irving isn’t bad but if you want to be great you have to play everyday.” I felt embarrassed not only because I was used as a negative but also because I knew I had lied. At that point in my life I might have played only once or twice a week. I was embarrassed because I thought of how much time I had wasted not playing basketball and how much better I could have been if I had played more. It is easy to pile on yourself and it is even easier to assume that everybody else has it figured out but most people do not. They complain that they are not better but they do not put the time in to improve. It is hard to stick with something when you do not feel like you have the proper support system in place. When I was at that camp nobody else who went to my school cared about basketball. However, when I started going to a basketball academy I went everyday after the first session. I had found people who cared about basketball more than I did. When I am writing and posting now I feel the same as I did then. I want to find people who are not only interested in the same things I am but interested in asking the same questions about them.
One of my favourite things about our class was that it did a good job of holding each other accountable. Class discussions were never flat or had that awkward silence praying for somebody to say something so you would not and you never felt pressure to speak unless you truly wanted to. This also transferred over to our projects, I was more mindful of the consequences of what I produced. I also had to accept the fact that I cannot predict how something I produce will be received. Something I write that I think is awesome might only get twenty clicks but something I rush out and is short and sweet gets over 100 in the first couple hours. A good lesson from this semester is to let go of expectations because they can prevent you from continuing. For me, the worst thing is not if people do not like something I write, the worst thing is if nobody cares.
I cannot remember our class discussing failure, at least in a negative light. The only way to fail in the class was not to show up. I believe this was deliberate by Ross. I think, in trying to break down our preconceived notions about creativity, he had to have our class not think of creativity in terms of success and failure. Rather, we needed to look at creativity as something that we must continue to do and the more we do it the more we learn about ourselves and how we work. As a counter to the belief about failure our book list for this class is quite extensive, only two books were required: How to Fly a Horse: The Secret History of Creation, Invention, and Discovery by Kevin Ashton and Contagious: Why Things Catch On by Jonah Berger, but there was no shortage of books to read on the recommended list. I appreciated this because no book has all the answers. And if you think so, then you have not read enough books.
From our class discussions to researching my project to seeing other people’s projects I have realized that creative breakthroughs are not inevitable. They are things that you must work towards and they are not the same all the time. We must also recognize that creative breakthroughs are different for each person and we cannot predict them. Creativity is a muscle we must continually train and never forget that it is something that you possess and it is not saved for a special few. It is easy to believe that some people are extraordinary talented and that’s all it takes. However, the more people you talk to or listen to about their process, nothing is an accident or coincidence. They just work harder than most people and stick with it. This isn’t an easy process but anyone can do it, if they choose to. The only easy thing is to choose not to do it. While everyone has the capacity to be creative we must choose to do it because by doing so this is how we grow and learn.
I will end with an example of one of my favourite creators: Aung Than, the creator of the website Zen Pencils. He takes famous inspirational quotes and illustrates them into a short comic strip every week accompanied by a quick reflection about the quote and comic. In the comic below he talks about how he gets comments by many people saying, “What’s the best advice you can give me?” Or “I’ll never be as good as you.” His response to these comments was, “I hope people don’t think I left my old job and just picked up a pencil for the first time and starting making these Zen Pencils comics. It doesn’t work like that.” And his advice to anyone is, “So the best advice I can give to any young person, no matter what their pursuit: PUT IN THE WORK!” It would be nice if there was a shortcut or an easy mode but there isn’t one and there never will be. We have to choose to do it and continue to do it over and over and over. Who knows what will happen if we do.