Notes on Creativity – 2


As society goes speeding on in pursuit of Bigger Better Faster More, many things become harder. One of them is choosing to spend time and effort on something that doesn’t immediately, and may never, produce Sexiness, Celebrity or Money.

Something like writing, say.

And when a writer does Make It Big, it might often appear from the news stories that it took hardly any effort at all.

The phrase Overnight Success should be banned. There is no such thing. There never has been.

Most of the time that ‘first novel’ is the fourth or fifth or sixth, or written after dozens of short stories or other work. Even those whose actual first book is a huge success do not vomit it out overnight without any thought, effort or preparation. True, it may sometimes seem as though that’s the case, but we weren’t there, we don’t know how hard they worked, or how much they agonised over it. And look at any hugely popular creative work, throughout history, and there are people who thought it was a piece of tat. (Sometimes history may agree with them, in which case the work will fade from public consciousness – sometimes history is proved wrong, and the work is rediscovered as a forgotten classic. Nobody knows nothin’, as the saying goes).

The point is that whether someone else’s work does well in society’s terms is irrelevant to you, sitting there right now, trying to get some work done. The only thing that needs to matter to you, right now, is the fact that they managed to get the work done.

And, although there are exceptions, mostly they didn’t do it for money. Or celebrity. Or even for approval.

Because much of the time, none of those are on offer for creative work, certainly not before it’s actually been created. Often the reverse is true: you have to fight to get creative space, to even make an attempt to do the work.

This is harder for some than for others; we all have different pressures. Some of us were brought up to believe that anything that didn’t involve money-making was a waste of time, that life was about financial security. Others, that it was about having a perfect house, perfect career, perfect family or perfect hair and any time spent on something else was at best, foolish; at worst, a selfish and dire sin. (You want to do something that isn’t about being the ideal offspring/image/partner/parent/activist/employee? Burn the heretic!)

Sometimes we have internalised the idea that anything you do on your own, locked away in the silent chatter of your own head, is weird, freaky, wrong – that we’re all supposed to be out having fun with friends or family in a noisy and noticeable fashion, so everyone can see how well socialised we are.

Sometimes we just have an awful lot else to do. Job, family, home, community – these all do, really, take up time and attention and energy and sometimes it feels as though there’s no room left for doing anything creative, and we get so tired, and no-one cares, no-one’s going to even notice, so why bother?


We do this because it’s in us to do it. Human beings are by nature creative; we see the results of that all around us, every day. The computer I use, the embroidered cloth on my walls, the desk I sit at – someone imagined all these, someone made them, as well as the books on my shelves (and bed and table and floor. Ahem. I am fighting the ‘perfect housekeeper’ ideal. Quite successfully, as it happens).

We do this because if we don’t, part of us withers and dies. And it doesn’t die clean. It rots painfully away, and infects the rest of our lives with a slow gangrene of unhappiness.

We do this because it feels good. When you actually get going, when you get something done – it feels great. It’s the world’s cleanest high.


Ah, there’s the rub. I can’t prescribe. I don’t have the universal antibiotic for block’s disease and no-one’s given me a certificate saying I’m a GP of Creativity. But I have some suggestions.

If you can, forget money. Money for what you’re doing may be important later, yes, but not now, not when you’re just trying to get one thing going.

If you can, forget fame. It’s the most pointless of strivings, a bad-tempered chimera that even if it decides to alight on your wrist is likely to bite you and disappear, leaving you with blood poisoning.

If you can, forget approval. Some of the people whose approval you want are never going to give it, not for this, even if they’re still alive. (Oh, so many of us are still waiting for the dead to give what the living withheld. Give it up. Or try, at least.). The small fraction of society that actually reads books may approve, or may decide to be offended at you on the internet. Hell, you yourself are likely to look at the work at various points and go, jeez, this is a pile of steaming pooh, why did I ever…yeah, since that’s all to come, why borrow trouble this early in the game?

If you can, just think of the work. Not who you hope will see its worth or what you hope you’ll get for it. There’s only one thing you can ever be completely sure you’ll get for any piece of creative work, and that’s the satisfaction of having made it. You’ll have made a thing. And that’s good.

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