True creativity looks a lot like hard work

Thoughts-on-Creativity-2.png find that it is hard going and it just doesn’t flow, well, what did you expect? It is work; art is work.
— Ursula K. LeGuin

If there's anything I’m coming to terms with at the moment it's that my idea of creativity and the substance of creativity are really quite different. The difference is in the work. All. That. Work.

There's work to be done in the thinking. There’s no lounging about, hoping for some sort of inspiration to settle upon you. There is work to be done here. There is thinking work, conversation work, trying it out work, writing work, gathering your thoughts work, evaluation work. There are hard questions to be asked: why didn't I do this before, why haven't I thought of this, what if I tried this, am I really that invested in this thing, if I do it will it work out, what if it doesn't work out, what if I fail, what if I succeed? There is emotional investment. There is soul work. There is thinking work to be done.

Then there's the dreaming work. This isn’t necessarily easy. Dreaming means opening yourself up to to think bigger than you have in the past. It means allowing yourself the time and space to let hope in. It means making the tough decisions to put off immediate and demanding responsibilities, lifting some of the daily pressures to give yourself room to think about some of your more challenging questions. You need space for this. You need room to be allowed to dream. This may result in the work of facing some fresh challenges - like accepting a change of direction, following a possible new path, or letting old things go.  

So there's thinking and questioning and answering and dreaming. And then there is planning. You've got to have a plan! We all struggle with wanting to do too much, and we somehow believe we can fit it all in. The plan has to have a start and a finish - dates, structure, and accountability. And you've got to stick to the plan if you're going to make it work.  

I think the point I’m trying to make is this: true creativity really looks a lot like hard work.

Is it rewarding? Is it enjoyable? Is it invigorating? Is it life-giving? Does it feel like an achievement? Can you be proud of it? Will you look back and be glad you did it?


Will it be demanding? Will you want to quit? Will the process make you want to tear your hair out? Will it require every last resource you have?

Also, yes. It will be worth it, but make no mistake, it will be hard work.  

Art is not about thinking something up. It is the opposite – getting something down.
— Julia Cameron

Writing this, I'm reminded of the parable of the guy who wants to build something but doesn’t want to take a moment to count the cost before he begins. If he doesn't do the hard part first, later - as the parable goes - he may run out of money and become the laughing stock of his community. Everybody who passes the front door of his half-built house will stop, shake their heads and say, “You see, that's what happens when you don't think a thing through.”  

There’s something in me that doesn't want to count the cost. There's something in me that is energised by newness, excitement and starting, by ideas, research, connections, ideation, and flow. There’s something almost giddy-making about figuring things out and getting things off the ground. But there's something less fizzy and somewhat more sinister there too. Something that is not just about personality, wiring, boredom, or so called ‘creativity'. Somewhere things start to buckle. Perhaps its fear. Perhaps it's a lack of self-confidence. Perhaps it's a lack of resilience. A lack of self-belief. Whatever it is, I start buckling midway. Things are not good enough. I get bored. I turn my nose up at the element of routine needed to keep a thing going. I want out. It doesn't feel quite right. It didn't magically take off and now it's just too much effort to keep trying.

I think part of the problem is that we don’t often see real life, behind-the-scenes examples of what it means to make a proper go of something. We see the final concerts, the opening nights, and the dazzling exhibitions. We don't see the late nights and the bleary-eyed starts. We don’t see the self-doubt, the cash flow issues, and the mid-day meltdowns. I suppose the same can be said of marathons (which I’ve only watched and never participated in). You see those men and women, sweaty and exhausted, powering in to the finish of the ultra marathon. They're so spent that once they’ve crossed the finish line, they need help just to stay upright. In the midst of the pain, there is also glory. There is applause, there are crowds, and medals and all manner of sponsored things. Spectators are there to get a little emotional and to celebrate the finish. But where were those same spectators (and me!) at four-thirty every morning, when those runners stumbled out of their houses into all kinds of weather to put in the training miles? We were tucked up in bed, immune to the strain and the push of it all.

I need to do daily the things that are good, and solid, and meaningful and building so that at the end of the work there is something to offer that is valuable, that is worth while. Only by entering into the labour, is it possible to birth something new. There is no creativity without the work.