What Ira Glass, Rainer Maria Rilke and David Foster Wallace can teach us about learning slowly, deliberation and the discovery of creativity from the inside out.
I often find that my biggest struggles with Creativity can be compared to this commonplace experience: Have you ever tried to remember something (someone’s name, where you know a certain actor from, the title of a book you’ve read a thousand times, what you had for dinner the previous evening) and no matter how you reframe the question to yourself and can associate certain memories with the one you’re trying to recover, your mind is a big, blank space of nothing, a desert, an expanse that overflows with everything but that one piece of information you’re desperately trying to uncover?
To me, this is often times my experience with Creativity. I know it’s there. I can sense it. I can even sense the idea of my idea, of what surrounds it and supports it. There is a tipping point on which I am constantly teetering, an edge to which I am dangerously close, but I am grasping in the dark without a clear vision of what I’m grasping towards.
If that sounds at all familiar, my hurried reassurance is this: don’t worry, and this I say even to myself. We’re all there, too, more often than not. For those rarer instances when the thing we’re trying to remember appears to us during a moment after we’ve called off the search (in the shower, on the train, in the middle of the night), more often we are left trying to field a connection about as successfully as aiming for a bullseye by throwing sand into the wind.
Instead of perceiving this to be discouragement, I find it both an enlightenment and a relief to know that anyone who pursues a creative practice goes through that. Even if the work they’re doing is tremendously varied from one project to the next, there are a lot of similar questions that come to mind, all of which seem to center around the wonderings, “What am I trying to do? and “Is it even any good?”
The famous words from Ira Glass on creative beginnings (and the below video version by Daniel Sax that I can't stop watching) have been a constant reminder to me and many that goodness, and what it takes to uncover that innate craving and knowledge we’re so desperately trying to remember through doing, is not necessarily the point. At least, not at first.
In a society that is deeply competitive and, in the spirit of spade-calling, pretty close-minded in terms of what qualifies as “talent” or “skill”, there’s not a whole lot of natural space for creativity to thrive, at least in any individual sense. Instead of us viewing our artistic endeavors as a potential or a curve by which to learn, we automatically strive for the final version of great which, according to Glass and many other creative thinkers, is a moment for which to be fought, not an instantaneous status to achieve the second we put our pen to paper.
In my personal endeavors, I have found that the work I am most happy doing is when I allow myself to remain unconcerned with (or perhaps, deep enough within the actual work to not even consider) what other people will think of it. If we can stop ourselves from asking “Is the work good?” and instead focus on what we’re learning from it, then we can dramatically alter the reasons why we choose to be creative in the first place: not for the nods of approval or widespread understanding but for our own personal breakthroughs, of churning through a “huge volume of work” most of which will be terrible, but it is only in those rough drafts and sketches and outlines that we piece together our true intentions. Through the rubble and discord comes our best ideas, but these ideas can only rise to the surface after time invested digging, elbow-deep in the dirt and the disaster of the climb.
It is a journey in and of itself to sift through the bad ideas, the first takes, the illegible drafts and the failed executions. And why do we do it? Why do we spend hours and days crafting, doing and making only to come out on the other side with less than we started? For only one single strand of words, a fraction of a sentence that denotes more meaning than the thousands of others we have scratched off, the many pages we have left behind? For a single sketch that defines our next direction in design?
The answer, simplified and reduced down to the granule of truth that I cling to, is because it is only through this process that we are able to uncover what we have been searching for all along. We’re looking for the moment of truth that allows us to figuratively slap our foreheads in realization and say, “That’s who/what/where it was.” It is Rainer Maria Rilke’s admonition to “Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” and what David Foster Wallace reminds us in his essay Some Remarks on Kafka’s Funniness: “That our endless and impossible journey toward home is in fact our home ... That, finally, the door opens… and it opens outward – we’ve been inside what we wanted all along.” To arrive at the realization that we are already where we’ve been going, that the circle continues, that the journey to there is here.
Helen Williams is the Community Love Director at Holstee. She is passionate about cooking and writing which pair well together on her vegetarian food blog, green girl eats. She's strives, every day, to be less sorry.