Creativity

Dan mentioned to me a few weeks ago (when I was debating on whether or not to post that little rant about being subjected to read about human excrement on my Facebook newsfeed) that self-consciousness is the great enemy of creativity.

Did I mention that he is awesome and I love him?

Self-consciousness is the enemy of creativity.  I’ve applied it to a hundred situations and repeated it to a hundred different people since then.  How profound, and how absolutely true.  If you’re worried about what people are going to think about you all the time, you’ll never get to the good stuff, which is usually hiding at least two or three layers down.

I see it everywhere.  My favorite artists, writers, musicians; the people who make me laugh out loud, the people who make me think; the most interesting individuals out there have laid their own reputation on the line – more than once.  They threw what they had out there – into the big scary lion’s den of public opinion.  And I’m so thankful -because now we have it.

Allie Brosh of Hyperbole and a Half comes to mind.  Anne Lamott comes to mind.  Heather Armstrong of Dooce comes to mind. In fact, Heather sort of proves the point when she writes,

“I've been invited to participate in a White House Forum on Workplace Flexibility, and they told me I might want to hold off saying anything until they had completed my background check. Because no telling WHAT they mind find that I haven't written about in way too much detail here. No, really. Too much information. Heather, stop. STOP NOW. HEATHER. No one wants to hear about your episiotomy, HEATHER.

Actually, I wrote a New York Times Bestseller that says otherwise, JON.”

(Jon being her husband.)  Clearly not self-conscious.  Clearly funny.

My friend, Brooke, is one of the most creative people I know, and she continues to amaze me with her bravery.  We took a vacation together a few months ago, and while we were driving to Target (to buy whipped cream and coffee and ice cream – neither here nor there) she asked me out of the blue,

“How do you sell something to Target?  I mean, who would you call?”

“I don’t know…”

“Because you know those drawings I do?  The ones where I don’t look at the paper, and then I paint them in later?  I think they would make really cool plates and stuff.”

In my head I’m thinking, “Ballsy, Brooke.”

Yeah, ballsy and INSPIRING!  I absolutely love this about Brooke, and for the record, her drawings would make the coolest line of dishware EVER.  Self-consciousness is the great enemy of creativity.  Brooke isn’t often self-conscious, and it gives her the freedom to try and explore and expand – to discover the art and talent and ideas three layers down - and she gets beautiful work to show for it.  (www.brookecourtney.com)

So often we get (read: I get) totally, consummately, hopelessly entangled in whether or not something is “okay.”  I send frantic, insecure questions to my friend Megan:

Is this too mean? Is this too weird? Do I sound neurotic? AM I NEUROTIC? Am I allowed to say ‘ballsy’ on my blog?

Anne Lamott writes a chapter in her book Bird by Bird called "Shitty First Drafts."  (See?  Risk-taker)  She writes about the recurring nightmare of every single writer – that one day he will die and someone will log onto his computer and discover how shitty his first drafts really are.  She says you have to get over it and just write.  Self consciousness is the enemy of creativity.  She says to write every single thing you can remember about your parents and your neighbors and your in-laws – and you can worry about libel later.

And Shauna Niequist writes in her book Cold Tangerines,

"It matters, art does, so deeply. It’s one of the noblest things, because it can make us better, and one of the scariest things, because it comes from such a deep place inside of us. There’s nothing scarier than that moment when you sing the song for the very first time, for your roommate or your wife, or when you let someone see the painting, and there are a few very long silent moments when they haven’t yet said what they think of it, and in those few moments, time stops and you quit painting, you quit singing forever, in your head, because it’s so fearful and vulnerable, and then someone says, essentially, thank you and keep going, and your breath releases, and you take back everything you said in your head about never painting again, about never singing again, and at least for that moment, you feel like you did what you came to do, in a cosmic, very big sense.

I know that life is busy and hard, and that there’s crushing pressure to just settle down and get a real job and khaki pants and a haircut. But don’t. Please don’t. Please keep believing that life can be better, brighter, broader, because of the art that you make. Please keep demonstrating the courage that it takes to swim upstream in a world that prefers putting away for retirement to putting pen to paper, that chooses practicality over poetry, that values you more for going to the gym than going to the deepest places in your soul. Please keep making art for people like me, who need the magic and imagination and honesty of great art to make the day-to-day world a little more bearable.

And if, for whatever reason, you’ve stopped — stopped believing in your voice, stopped fighting to find the time — start today. I bought a mug for my friend, from the Paper Source in Chicago (which is, by the way, a fabulous playground for creative people), and the mug says “Do something creative every day.” Do that. Do something creative every day, even if you work in a cubicle, even if you have a newborn, even if someone told you a long time ago that you’re not an artist, or you can’t sing, or you have nothing to say. Those people are bad people, and liars, and we hope they develop adult-onset acne really bad. Everyone has something to say. Everyone. Because everyone, every person was made by God, in the image of God. If he is a creator, and in fact he is, then we are creators, and no one, not a bad seventh grade English teacher or a harsh critic or jealous competitor, can take that away from you.

My friend leads a junior high ministry, and it’s a fun, funny, creative group of kids and leaders who get together on Tuesday nights to talk about how to live great lives and make the world better in God’s name. He asked me to come one Tuesday night so that he could interview me and let some of the students ask questions. We talked about being a writer and what that’s like, and about Henry, and about bands that I like, and after it was over, one girl came up to talk to me. She looked nervous, and a little shy.

“I write, too.” She said it like it was a confession or a secret. She leaned toward me and opened a notebook and showed me page after page after page of precise cursive. “Do you have any advice for me?” she asked.

“Thank you, and keep going,” I said. “Thank you for writing, for taking the time and spirit and soul to write, because I love to read, and I’m so thankful to writers like you, for writing things for me to read. And keep going, even when people make you feel like it’s not that important. It might be the most important thing you do. Keep going.”

So to all the secret writers, late-night painters, would-be singers, lapsed and scared artists of every stripe, dig out your paintbrush, or your flute, or your dancing shoes. Pull out your camera or your computer or your pottery wheel. Today, tonight, after the kids are in bed or when your homework is done, or instead of one more video game or magazine, create something, anything.

Pick up a needle and thread, and stitch together something particular and honest and beautiful, because we need it. I need it.

Thank you, and keep going.”

(For the link to a PDF of the whole chapter courtesy of Shauna’s website click here.)

Self-consciousness is the great enemy of creativity.  Go be you, the best version of you.  Figure out what you were put here to do, and go do it.