Creativity is one of those things that many people seem to feel they lack, and I think often it’s because they expect to be hit by it, rather than believe it’s a thing that arises from a process they can follow. I discovered that becoming an author with a contract – and hence a deadline – was a very different experience to being an author who set his own agenda; suddenly I couldn’t sit and wait for my muse to show up. As luck would have it I stumbled across a quote from artist Chuck Close, which struck me right between the eyes just when I needed it:
Inspiration is for amateurs – the rest of us just show up and get to work. And the belief that things will grow out of the activity itself and that you will – through work – bump into other possibilities and kick open other doors that you would never have dreamt of if you were just sitting around looking for a great ‘art [idea].’
Inspiration is for amateurs…and I was now a professional, so I started to just show up. Every day I set myself a word count and I didn’t finish my day until I’d hit it. Sometimes I’d be 500 words in before I knew what I actually wanted to write, and have to scrap the lot and start again. And after a while that wasn’t failure, it was just a part of the process. A singer warming up doesn’t judge her practice notes a waste of time, so why should I?
So mind-set is very much a part of the process of creativity. To be prepared to fail allows you to experiment. To be prepared to fail allows you to innovate, which usually just means putting two existing ideas together to make something new – 10 years ago who thought we’d be listening to music on our phones? And being prepared to fail means everything you produce isn’t used to measure your overall success. 10,000 light bulbs had to fail before Edison discovered the one that didn’t. He succeeded, in each case, to find one more thing that wasn’t the answer, believing that the number of those had to be finite. So perseverance is another part of the mind-set of creativity.
Ross Perot, a one-time Presidential candidate once said, “Most people give up just when they’re about to achieve success. They quit on the one yard line. They give up at the last minute of the game one foot from a winning touchdown.” The single best predictor of success in life isn’t IQ, it’s grit, the ability to consistently keep going in the face of adversity. Which doesn’t sound at all like the creative process, does it? Until you listen to Michaelangelo, “If people knew how hard I worked to get my mastery, it wouldn’t seem so wonderful at all.”