WHAT?! is Drooly Dog’s Advice Column for the Creative and Perplexed. In which I answer burning questions about the creative process and what might be holding up that brain of yours. Send your questions to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dear Drooly Dog: I know everyone experiences creative block. Or do they? Sometimes it seems like I am the only person on the planet without a single good idea. In thirty seconds online I can find the most incredible new song, the most beautiful fantasy illustration, some little kid who is a better actor than most adults, a band who made a music video using treadmills. Me? Nothing. I’m just sitting here staring at this stuff and feeling worthless. How is the rest of the world so much more creative than I am?
Sincerely, Creative Blockhead
It’s just awful, isn’t it? Seeing so many things you didn’t create. Watching people get awards and applause and there you are with — nothing.
Except, that is a total illusion. Here is why.
1. You’re falling into the trap of comparing your messy day-to-day with someone else’s shiny, finished product. One they may have struggled years to complete. One that might have cost them their mortgage. Or relationship. You don’t know. But under it all, every single person you see out there making stuff is hustling, looking for the next job or project. Every single one from the top on down.
2. You need to go find something smelly or mooshy or stupid or unfinished or grimy. You know what WON’T give you that? Pixels. Screens. I love media. But as a creative your job is to let in the world, not the flat version thereof. Go smell breakfast being cooked in the morning down your street. Or step in a puddle. Or hear the screech of the commuter train. Sirens. Birds. Garbage. I’m not kidding. Step out from behind the phone or the laptop. That’s your job.
3. There’s a wisdom that says, when you love something, it’s not the result you love – it’s the struggle and the suffering. That picking your life’s work is about what you’re willing to suffer for. All the reps in the gym. All the repeats of the same musical phrase over and over. Pick your struggle and go for it. You’ll know what it is – it’s the thing you do when nobody’s watching, when there’s no award, and when you’ve got a spot of free time.
4. The day I’m writing this is the day of the Academy Awards in the US. I’m not going to watch, because I will be listening to punk/metal thrash and hardcore bands in San Francisco instead. That’s what I need currently. But if you do watch? Remember. Years of effort go into those films. The beauty doesn’t come in the shiny statue – that’s a great resumé item to be sure and can really brighten your employment outlook. But true beauty comes in the struggle, being on location twisted into a weird shape to get the microphone in the right place or sweating over the same damn edit for the four-hundredth time. Shiny things are shiny, but don’t give them meaning they don’t have. The Oscars are a big giant ad for the film industry. And lots of fun.
So go, Blockhead, and do something that doesn’t come in pixels. Your senses and your mind will let the ideas in, sometimes when you’re not even paying attention.
Drooly Dog offers creative advice only. Nothing legal or medical, please follow of your own accord. It’s up to you, man.
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