Any truly creative act will come with a lot of pain and blood.
“If you want to talk about pain, try giving birth.”
I can’t remember who said that to me more than 20 years ago. Might have been a girlfriend, or an ex-wife, or just some random person. You can bet, though, that whoever said it was female.
For obvious reasons, I’ve never experienced the giving-birth thing. I never will. If it does happen, the folks at Weekly World News will definitely want to talk to me. So I don’t know diddly about giving birth, and have no authority on the subject. Next question …?
Here’s the thing, though. Any creative act, if it really is creative, is going to come with a lot of pain. Lots of screaming. Convulsive stuff. Pass the wonder drugs, please? It’s a lot like, well, like what they tell me about giving birth.
Little, if any, of this pain is physical. I may feel fine and nobody may know all the wrenching stuff that’s going on inside. Maybe that’s why so many gifted people succumb to drugs and strong drink, usually of the depressant variety. Stephen King wrote Cujo while blasted on Schlitz and couldn’t remember any of it. “I like that book,” he wrote later. “I wish I could remember the good parts as I put them down on the page.” Jazz innovator Charlie Parker shot heroin, and many of my favorite authors and artists fought many a
bottle battle with themselves. Even that cool band you heard at the club last night probably spent at least one of their breaks in a “safety meeting,” where one of those left-handed cigarettes gets passed around.
But there are a lot of parallels between the creative act and giving birth. The idea grows inside you for a period of time. You rejoice as you feel it move. You wonder how it’ll look on the ultrasound. You sweat a lot, bleed a lot, try to keep your breathing under control. You’re amazed to see the final product. And even though the rest of the world thinks it’s butt-ugly (I looked like an alien in my minutes-after-birth photo and thankfully it was in black and white) it’s still the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen. And if someone says your baby looks like a lizard or alien, you’ll dispute that with everything you have.
I didn’t want to write this
Heavy confession time: Every time I stand at my terminal to write this blog, I wonder what I’m doing. There are quite a few excellent online sources that will tell you the same things I say. Very accomplished people are writing about this very concept of being creative and dangerous.
OK, so who am I to declare myself an authority … of anything? Shoot, I have enough challenges conducting my own life. Sometimes it’s even a struggle for me to shave without needing a transfusion afterward, so what am I doing writing this blog?
That’s my daily pain. But either because I’m too goofy to know when I’m out of my league or too old to give a rip, I soldier on regardless.
Or more likely, it’s because I realize none of this is about me anyway.
- Do I worry about whether you like my words or ideas? Of course.
- Do I feel out of sorts when I check my page analytics and see I’m far far far away from 100,000 page views? Daily.
- Do I hear the whispering that I really don’t know what I’m writing about? All the time.
- Do I obsess after posting an entry because maybe I used the wrong phrase or the wrong emphasis, thereby alienating half my readership? All day.
- Do I worry about steering you wrong? No …
Because again, even though I relate my own unique misgivings, fears and challenges, this isn’t about me anyway. Really.
In my recently published ebook (Finding Your Passion: Where Creativity Meets Danger) I had a ton of BS bouncing around in my head every step of the way. In my heart I knew the writing sucked wind. I knew the concepts needed a whole lot of work. I was absolutely sure the graphics were horrible, the typography awful, the download all scrambled and the entire subject matter beaten to death.
Those murmuring voices within grew so loud I had to crank up the stereo to drown them out.
It took several tries to hit the upload button on Amazon. At some point my coordination went bye-bye, my vision fuzzed over, and my Chrome web browser started acting all stupid.
All through it I kept asking myself, what am I doing?
Now, see, if all this was about me, I’d be in a pantload of trouble.
Chances are, none of this would have been done.
Too much pain involved.
I’d rather bob for French fries.
I’d rather gargle razor blades.
Working a nice safe boring job at an injection molding machine (done that; it’s a wonder I stayed awake through it) sounds preferable.
But a funny thing: I recently got an email from a woman in Tennessee who wants to start a group for folks who are struggling to find their own passions and strengths, and she’s using this little 32-page nothing of an ebook as the group’s first textbook. Now, I sure didn’t anticipate this when I wrote the first draft, but it turns out that’s why I wrote and published it anyway. For the group in Tennessee. For anybody else who might derive some benefit from it.
That’s why I write this blog, too. If someone’s encouraged enough to start creating, I did my job.
Uniqueness is what sets things apart
Getting back to my misgivings: Sure, there are a lot of blogs touching on this same subject matter. There are a few people online who tell this story, but better. I’m thinking of Jeff Goins, Michael Hyatt, Steven Pressfield, Dan Miller and a bunch of others.
So there’s nothing unique about what you’re reading here.
Or maybe there is.
Jeff Goins writes about the joy and pain of creation in Jeff Goins’ voice. Steven Pressfield tells his story in Steven Pressfield’s voice. And so on. And all of these people I mentioned realize that, even with their own unique voices, it’s not about them anyway.
Me? I’ll tell my story. The one about the guy who lived a creative life, got sidetracked, tried to deny his gifts only to have them come back and whop him across the head with a 2×4. My voice? A beta reader nailed it when she pointed out my love of rich imagery and my tendency to make the reader uncomfortable.
That’s the unique stuff I have to offer. The sum of my experience, my voice. Much of this was forged by … again … by pain.
But you know what? If you’re reading this, you probably know about experience and voice and pain.
Probably have your own, in good measure, shaken, stirred, all that. Your own personal mix.
And that personal mix is what the world needs to hear.