Do It Yourself, Just Like Everyone Else Does Dept.

Barely a day goes by when something doesn't show up in one of my RSS feeds (or my G+ feed, or my Facebook timestream, or event like, or whatever the hell they're calling it now) relating to the nature of creativity. Most of the time it takes the form of some prescriptive advice: do this and you'll be creative. Sometimes it's speculative: what do creative people do that other people don't? Well, creating, for one, but I imagine such a tautology scarcely needs elaboration on my end.

But most of my concern about this sort of thing revolves around something I've come to call cargo cult creativity, or CCC for short. It's the idea that you can approach creativity like you can approach dieting: do this, not that, and soon you'll be creative and 30 pounds thinner. Some part of me resents this thinking, and I've had a hard time determining if it was whether or not it's me being protective of my territory; e.g., the last thing I need is people coming along being all "creative" on me when I have a hard enough time of it myself.

Under that, I do have a reflexive dislike of the idea that you can package up creativity and sell it. If I tell people that I get some of my best ideas when shaving, that's not a hint that they should spend that much more time scraping at their faces and staring in the mirror. But I get the feeling people want something like that to be true: they want to know there exists some set of arcana, some incantations and rituals, that will allow them to produce things worthy of attention and accolades.

The biggest reason anyone should do anything at all, especially anything creative, is because the idea of not doing that thing should be alien to them. For me, any day without having written something, even a crummy blog post like this one, is a day wasted. The doing of it should be its own reward. But so much of the way we package up creativity feels like a parallel to the way we package up being successful: we want to let the person reading the advice think, without ever actually coming out and saying it (because that would be misleading) that this is the way to go about doing it.

CCC is bound up with a concept of creativity borne more of the way the creator has been seen by, and misinterpreted by, the world of commerce than it has anything to do with the way actual creative personalities work. Maybe I should put the emphasis there on personalities rather than creative, because if there's one consistent thing I can say about creative people, it's that they are entirely themselves. They do not contrive themselves in the light of another. They know in the end they are the only ones who can do the thing they have tasked themselves with doing, and they embrace that completely. They may leverage their work in a commercial context, but they are not motivated by personal gain (or, to use a rather gross analogy someone else once employed, they don't eat so they can take a dump eight hours later). And there is no set of instructions, no guidebook, no manual for how to become a fully-actualized person other than the fullest degree of engagement with the world around you.

If there is a point to the do-this-not-that approach to creativity, it's only because such things are about becoming a better person. But we don't like to talk about it that way, or present it to people that way, because becoming a different person is hard, and we don't want to scare people off (and if we scare them off, they won't buy our books teaching them how to be creative, etc.). I would prefer a more honest approach, one where the people who just want to think of themselves as creative — rather than people who actually want to be creative — get weeded out right up front.

‍(Full disclosure: I got the idea for this essay while shaving.)

Tags: creativity creators

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This page contains a single entry by Serdar Yegulalp in the category Uncategorized / General, published on 2014/03/03 10:00.

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