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Creativity is a Spark

Tonight, I spent some time on TED, specifically with Elizabeth Gilbert on nurturing creativity.

While watching the video and reading the transcript, I started to think about writing a blog post. So I am. And if you watch Elizabeth’s speech, then you’ll know that I’m showing up for my job – waiting for its arrival.

Gilbert raises a lot of great points in this TED talk. She describes the unrealistic expectations we put on artists, and on ourselves as creative people.

Aren’t you afraid you’ll never be able to top that?

Aren’t you afraid you’re never going to have any success?

Her short answer is yes: she’s afraid of these things. These are real fears, but it’s not entirely our fault. She notes that we’ve become absorbed with the creativity as part of ourselves rather than something on loan to us. As a result, we’re harder on ourselves. We’re harder on each other. When she started talking about it, I was a little skeptical. How can creativity be something that ISN’T solely you?

But I loved what she had to say about fear and creativity and nurturing your genius as something that doesn’t reside within you – it passes through you. For awhile, it becomes part of you, but it continues on to another when it’s time for you to let go. In her speech, she asks the audience if it’s right to fear what one feels he or she is put on this Earth to do. For you, is it?

Is it worth sacrificing what you truly want in order to move ahead financially? Or geographically even?

Is it worth it to give up what makes you happy because you’re afraid of failure?

The Trust 30 challenge I completed this summer asked a lot of these questions. In fact, fear was one of the most popular subjects in the prompts. I liked that. Fear is something we all have; something we lean on as a crutch. When we take time to step back from our fears, recognize them, and then have the courage to at least challenge them…well…to me, that’s a huge step.

Conquering a fear is never easy. It’s hard. It’s a long road and it takes practice. Right now, I’m confronting a fear that I have. But like Gilbert, I need to let that pass through me. Creative people have a tendency to want to hold onto whatever spark we have. We get this feeling…if you’ve felt it before you know what I mean. It’s like you’re doing exactly what you should be doing, and as she notes in her speech, you light up. You ignite. You set the world on fire as St. Ignatius said. Fear and creativity are amazing things and it’s incredible to see what they can make us do. I realize this post might be a bit rambling, but it feels good to think out loud. To be doing exactly what I should be doing.

I’m not a huge fan of Gilbert’s writing. I wasn’t able to get into Eat Pray Love, but what she said in those 19 or so minutes meant a lot. It made sense to me. It made me want to give her book a second try because maybe, this time around, I would get it. If I do, great. If I don’t, it’s alright. I can still appreciate that she sparked and let something pass through her and because of that, she’s able to nurture her creativity.

So often, we punish ourselves. There’s this expectation that once you produce something great, you should produce all great things from now on. We do this with movie directors, actors, artists…hell, we do it with companies. As people, we have this expectation of excellence that’s unrealistic. Who could possibly get everything right all the time? When we don’t get it right every time, we ridicule. We approach the issue with criticism instead of new ideas. We become calloused. We hurt. That’s it. We hurt.

We hurt ourselves when we expect too much of ourselves and other people. There’s not one person on this Earth who hasn’t felt disappointment or been disappointed. It’s a crappy feeling. But like creativity, it’s not permanent. We get over it. We let it pass through us. Why can’t we extend the same courtesy to the creative sparks that keep us making things that are important to us? To each other?

After listening to Gilbert speak, I thought about my own relationship with creativity. The self-doubt, the criticism, the nervous excitement I experience every time I open up a new Word document. It’s all part of the process. Maybe it is healthier to take the burden off ourselves. Maybe I should try letting go to free myself of the hurt associated with the loss of that spark. It’s not a bad thing, you know, to remember that we’re human. We’re not as powerful as we think we are.

Sparks, as ideas, don’t ignite every time. But they can. And when they do, accept them. It’s a gift – not an expectation.

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5 Comments

  • Reply Bumble |

    Well said. Bumble sometimes puts off writing because he is afraid it won’t be funny enough. The worst is the expectations about topping yourself. A year ago a 100 pageview day was huge to me. Then one day a few months ago the perfect storm of time, content, and context came together. Over 9k pageviews in 24 hours. The excitement lasted about a week. Then fear set in. I knew it was a fluke of sorts. All mini-memes are. You can’t predict what will resonate. I know 9k is really small compared to pro writers, but it was 90 times my best day gor trafffic. Of course since then I’ve written what I think is better content many times. The results have never come close. So the truly sad thing is while I know some people would kill for a post like that, I feel like a one hit wonder when I look ar stats.

    I don’t think most people understand how vulnerable it makes a creative writer feel each time they hit the publish button. That’s a little part of you that you’ve just shared with anyone willing to read it. For me, the worst is the downvotes with no comments. Ugggh.

  • Reply Mandy |

    Hey Bumble!

    I definitely get what you’re going through. There’s always this nagging feeling back in my head that no one will read what I wrote. Or the really great posts will go unseen. But after awhile, I start thinking about why I wrote the post in the first place.

    I write on here because I want to and because I have the freedom to write about whatever I want. Sometimes, a post sticks. Sometimes it doesn’t. And like you said, sometimes you get the perfect storm and you have a great success. The fear that follows is normal. One of my guest posts on another blog was a “perfect storm”. I got noticed – then got scared. How can I write this well again? How can I make every single post I put up count?

    It can negatively impact the quality of your blog if you worry all the time about the stats. I try not to. I don’t have a ton of subscribers and my visits are erratic at best. But what I can feel good about is that there’s at least a few people who appreciate what I’ve written, even if it’s just my parents.

    You’re right about the vulnerability too. It’s gut wrenching! Once it’s out there, it’s out there and what happens from that point on is kind of out of your control. Screw the downvoters. It’s likely they don’t share any part of themselves. But hey, from another perspective, you can see any interaction as a good thing. It can tell you what people like and what people don’t.

    Now, Bumble, I know you outside of the internetz and you’re a funny guy! So don’t worry about not being funny. You are funny. But you can’t please everyone always :) Look to make yourself happy first. At the end of the day, you’re the one who has to be happy with what you produce – not the world.

  • Reply Bumble |

    Thanks for the kind words of encouragement. It’s nice to know that other people err cats go through the same types of ups and downs. :)

  • Reply Rachael Seda |

    What a great post to start off my morning! I can relate to this in so many ways. In graphic design, in writing, in work – the pressure is on to produce something creative every time. When I was younger I went to a really good school and was constantly practicing writing. It was one thing in school that I was really good at it. Then in the middle of high school I moved. Even though I was in honors classes, I hadn’t written ONE essay or had one paper critiqued. I was out of practice, I still am. I know I am not the best writer and when I started my blog I was worried, about keeping up, about writing well, about what others would think. At the end of the day not everything you do is going to be amazing but hopefully that practice and feedback from others will feed into your creativity and be the backbone of the creative milestones you do produce.

    I thought “Eat, Pray, Love” was really hard to get into. Once I read the whole thing I appreciated the journey and I liked the book alright. More than anything I respected her risk taking and where it got her. But I can relate to you here as you can relate to my thin hair conundrum ;)

So, what do you think ?