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The Problem with “Feeling Creative”
Merlin Mann | Jan 2 2009
If your mall's bookstores look anything like mine (and it's probably safe to assume that they do), you'll find numerous sections devoted to helping writers, painters, musicians, and other aspiring artists to become successful in one way or another. There are books chock full of tips on finding an agent, on painting like the masters, and on composing and selling a hit song.
There are also dozens of books on "creativity" itself. Guides that are meant to help you access and unlock the artist within and to see the world in more creative ways. How to "be" creative, how to generate ideas, and how to learn to think "laterally."
Creative work only seems like a magic trick to people who don't understand that it's ultimately still work.
Bad for Business
But, let's be honest. This is a tough idea to sell to folks with "real jobs" who are just looking for a diverting bit of creative tourism or who find themselves yearning for a nostalgic amble past a mostly-abandoned adolescent arts hobby. People who want to learn how to feel creative. To feel successful. To feel like an artist. Not that there's anything wrong with that.
My sense, though, is that for most people who repeatedly do (and sell) creative work, this all seems a bit like wanting to feel like a world-class athlete. Because "feeling creative" produces great work in approximately the same way that "feeling like a doctor" makes you a gifted thoracic surgeon.
Let's Talk About My Feelings
The athlete got good not by reading reviews of headbands, but by waking up early, lacing shoes in the dark, and hitting the track to train hard. While the surgeon got good not by watching reruns of Trapper John, M.D., but by slogging through medical school, residencies, and hundreds of hours of face time with patients, colleagues, and mentors. "Feeling" had nothing to do with it.
But is it fair to compare creative work with physical and mental achievement? Having strong legs and support from a young age helped the athlete, and any aspiring doctor who couldn't pass 10th grade Biology is likely headed for a career outside the surgical theater. But, what about artistic "gifts?" And "talent?"
The Labored Metaphor About Mineral Mining
Even (or especially) for people with a notional gift for their chosen field, talent — like luck, rich parents, and unmined gold — is just a raw material. It's not the one-bit switch that determines artistic success. And, any "talent" one theoretically possesses is likely to stay stuck under a layer of river rock unless and until its claim-holder learns to repeatedly pan, sluice, or dredge it into something that can be refined, polished, and, in most cases, vended. Fancy ladies buy gold jewelry; not drawings of mining equipment.
Still, unlike metaphorical mining, it's rare for any artist who "strikes it rich" once to simply stop working. That's not how the temperament operates. You slake a thirst for creating by finishing projects, then finding new ones. Again and again.
It's this ability to create a long-lived career in creative fields that's gotten me wondering about design patterns. And, it's also apparently the topic I'll be standing in front of a bunch of people, trying to figure out, next Friday at my Macworld PULSE session. Oh, yeah. That's right. I'm doing a presentation in seven days, aren't I? Hm.
Right. Macworld Presentation. Check.
Anyhoo, I'm working on the talk right now (and for poor Paul Kent's sake, let's agree that it's "mostly done"). I expect I'll report back soon as the talk develops (or, for poor Paul Kent's sake, as it "gets one final bit of polish"). I haven't decided whether the whole thing is just a terrible idea to begin with, but I guess we'll find out in a few days.
Here's what the proposal looked like late last summer:
Wow. That's pretty ambitious for a 20-minute talk about a topic I don't really understand, isn't it?
All Downhill from Here
Well. If you're going to Macworld, do stop by and say hi. I'll be at PULSE and in a few other places that I'll announce soon, but I should be pretty easy to spot. I look like this and am easy to recognize as the middle-aged man with the amazingly polished presentation about design patterns. And a giant tote bag full of unintentional irony. As usual.
Yep. Pretty much just dotting i's and crossing t's at this point, Paul.
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