You are where you are: Some thoughts on creativity
July 11, 2020
I think if we are to undertake any sort of creative activity, it is vital to be accepting, and ideally, embracing, of our current level of proficiency.
This year I’ve been writing songs, solo, for pretty much the first time in my life. I have found that the experience of doing so can go in one of two directions.
In the best-case scenario, it’s the best fun in the world. I go along with whatever ideas come to me, without judgement, and it feels more like play time than it does anything else. And, crucially, I am unconcerned with the quality of the song at the end of it. I don’t even really think about it. All I think about it is how fun the process has been.
In the worst-case scenario, I don’t follow any ideas through to the end. I start something, decide it’s not good enough, try something else, decide I don’t like that either, and the cycle continues until I put down the guitar, give up, and conclude, in an utterly miserable mood, that song writing isn’t for me.
What causes the worst-case scenario, I believe, is a belief that I should be able to do better. Someone like me, who has been playing music nearly their whole life, who has been to music college and worked as a professional musician, should be writing better stuff than this, I say to myself.
If this sounds familiar to you, I think there are a few things to consider here.
Our perception of our output is the problem, not the output itself. Creating ‘better’ art will not make you feel better if you do not like what you are creating today. We must be accepting of the quality of our work.
We are where we are, and we are almost certainly de-valuing what we can already do. There will most likely be people out there who would love to be at your level of proficiency. And what we are capable of creating is what we are in fact creating; nothing more, nothing less. Whatever our ability, that will always be the case. We mustn’t torture ourselves with comparisons to others, and with beliefs that, for whatever reason, we are capable of better, and just aren’t delivering.
Finally, we must remember that our output doesn’t define us. I think it is likely that some of my self-worth is wrapped up in my musicianship. That is to say, at some level, I feel my musicianship compensates for whatever personal deficiencies I perceive myself to have. Somewhere deep down I hold the belief that I may not be X, Y or Z, but that’s OK because I’m a creative. That’s what I’m good for.
That’s a lot of weight to put on our craft. And it will lead to the inevitable conclusion that, if our craft fails us – if we do not live up to the standards that we set for ourselves – we feel pretty useless.
It may be easier said than done, but the healthy approach has to be to keep our craft entirely separate from our identity. I am not a musician. I am a human being who plays music from time to time.
Ultimately, I think it’s important to keep at the forefront of our minds that creativity is about play.
Engaging in our craft should be engaging, fun, joyful. It should in some way, be a positive experience, that gives us energy rather than drains it from us. If it becomes something else, it’s likely we are thinking about it in the way wrong, and should take a step back, and have friendly word with ourselves.