I’ve been blogging consistently for two years now.
Today I would like to share the three most important lessons I have learned in that time about creativity.
Lesson 1: you can only control the inputs not the output
I had been writing on Medium for a couple of months when I trained my sights on writing in some of the big publications. I had written an autobiographical piece about transforming myself from a computer programmer to a writer and I thought it would be perfect for one of the publications.
I dutifully followed their submission process and heard nothing. Crickets. A couple of weeks later I nudged them about it. Nothing. At the same time I had submitted an article to another large publication. Again I didn’t even hear back.
I was really discouraged by this and found myself being very depressed. Eventually it dawned on me that these publications probably have hundreds or thousands of submissions. Mine either never got noticed or it wasn’t quite what they were looking for. Or maybe is wasn’t good enough.
I realised that I can’t control how my work is received. I can only control what I put into it. This was a deep revelation and it was very freeing. All I had to do was keep working and keep producing. That was it.
You are not guaranteed external validation. We yearn for it and think that we need it. But it is foolish to base our self-esteem and our creative lifeboat on something we can’t control.
The only thing you can control is the work you do and what you put into it. If you do this enough you will validate yourself as an artist (or writer or musician or actor or whatever your thing is). This is a much stronger form of validation than you will ever get from anyone else.
Lesson 2: Creativity really is about the process
It’s about the journey not the destination. It’s about the process not the result.
It is easy to bandy these sayings about. Following on from lesson one, the natural conclusion is that creativity is about the process of doing your work, not the result.
When you create you are compelled to act on an idea or to say something that your heart is desperate to elucidate. You have to do this.
You often go through some kind of metamorphosis in order to achieve this. For example, you have to overcome your own demons and other obstacles in your daily life. If the idea terrifies you then you have to overcome fear to do it anyway.
You have to change you own life state in order to express your truth through your creative work.
This is the process. This is what the work is all about. The results of that work are less important. Maybe you will have something you are proud of. Maybe it won’t turn out in the way you had hoped.
Maybe people will love it, maybe they’ll hate it or maybe they won’t even notice.
You can’t control the result and how it is received. Once it is done it is out of your hands, your part of the process is over. You have to get on with your next piece and the process starts again.
The result isn’t important. What is important is the truth that you had to speak and the change you went through to speak it.
Lesson 3: You only learn by doing and taking action
I would not have learned the two lessons fundamental lessons above had I not been taking regular action to create. I learned them because I was doing. I would not have learned them by thinking about doing. I also would not have learned them if all my desires had come true and those Medium publications had immediately accepted my work.
In working through what I perceived to be a failure I learned lessons that have transformed the way I create.
You don’t need to know everything in order to start creating. You don’t to do just one more course before you feel ready. Just start.
You will learn your most important lessons by doing, by failing, by getting an experiment wrong, by getting through disappointment and by keeping creating in spite of all of this.
All of your life experiences can go into your creative pot. When my creative work takes me to tough places I write about it. It is the ultimate form of recycling.
When the penny dropped that rejection from the publications wasn’t a personal attack on me, I wrote this: How to cope with rejection.
When I faced a tough dilemma about my day job versus creative time I wrote this: Is your creativity worth the sacrifice?
When I struggled with integrating my responsibilities in daily life with my desire to spend more time writing, I wrote this: Yes, you will piss people off when you do your creative work
Creativity is about action, your action. What you create comes from your action. It does not happen if you just think about it. You are likely to be very disappointed from the validation you get from others. Do not let this stop you creating.
These lessons have transformed the way I view my creative process. They have made it less painful because I am focussed just on what I need to say and the act of saying it.
You are in charge of your creativity. You are the person who validates you. You are the person who gets to make your creative choices.
Now I’d love to hear from you
What are the most valuable lessons you have learned about creativity? How has this changed how you create?
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Congratulations on your consistency! I’m currently celebrating 18 months of consistent weekly blogs so I completely empathise with the effort it takes!
One of the things that I’ve learned about creativity is that it, too, loves consistency. If I spend time away from my tools and materials they act like a cat does when you come back from holiday. They sulk and don’t play nicely for a couple of days. Then they forgive me. Writing is the same. If I keep up the consistent practice of writing at least one blog a week (which is not a lot of writing, in truth) then the words tend to flow for me.
Hi Mary. I love your cat analogy. You are doing very well doing a weekly blog. I publish on this blog twice a month although I do try and post additional material on Medium
Hi Cali , I’m not particularly interested in writing but I have made time to start reading again even if it’s only once a month ! I’ve recently started Slimming World and so had to be much more creative in my cooking . I’m being more adventurous and experimenting with ingredients which is one of the ways I can be creative ! Xxx
Good for you Chrissy. Creativity comes in many forms.
I love this post, Cali, thanks for sharing your learnings. What you say about ‘journey’ versus ‘destination’ can be applied to life in general – we risk missing out on so much when we’re focussed on a particular goal or outcome without enjoying the journey to get there.
Thanks for sharing your process. Since I signed up to your blog I was stuck on my editing, you replied with some sound advice and I thank you for it. I have singled out my favourite book and have made some good progress with my editing, it is put away now for a few weeks until I pull it out again and go over anything I may have missed. In the mean time I have taken to writing anything down, daily, that pops into my head, from a list of names and places in my selection box of ideas, this keeping my creative mind working and although much of it is crap writing it is writing none the less.
Well done. I’m so glad you are making progress. I’m really pleased for you. Just keep going one step at a time. Some stuff will be crap but through that crap you will sometimes unearth something that is really precious. A bit like an archaeological dig. You have to sift through a lot of boring earth to find the treasure that you know deep down is there.