The power of not wanting creative success
Give up to get better
I have to admit something to y’all.
The best-performing articles I ever wrote were farted out in half an hour.
My TV pilot, currently in development, was a random idea I had while doing stream-of-consciousness writing.
My only viral short story was something I improvised into a microphone before bed and transcribed the next day—er’s and um’s and all.
On the other hand…
I worked on a novel for 7 years—still unpublished.
I got an article published in Better Humans that was a 20-minute read, and I worked on it for days—and got 50 reads.
I wrote a screenplay over one summer and did almost nothing else for 3 months—I can’t even get anyone to read it.
It’s tempting to learn the wrong lesson from this.
All that trying wasn’t wasted. It was training for the day when I would slip below myself and find something true under the surface.
It’s hard to accept that working on a novel for 7 years only gets you…life lessons. But I tend to undervalue those lessons. Without them, I wouldn’t be able to have what writing success I do have. They aren’t proof that I suck—they are proof that I won’t fucking quit.
The wrong lesson is this one: I shouldn’t have tried so hard. Creativity requires flow and zero discipline.
That’s not true. I find that creativity requires more discipline than almost anything else. It just tries to trick us by only being great the moment we forget to be disciplined.
It’s a sleight of hand by the universe. The brilliance is only able to manifest because it had to push through concrete.
There is no gaming the system.
Often, you’ll think your bad stuff is good, and your good stuff is bad. This seems to be a feature—not a bug. Or at least, it’s not something you can be done with.
That’s why I have to publish a lot of stuff—especially in the beginning. There isn’t a good way to tell what’s going to work. The only thing that helps is other people and their (sometimes dumb) opinions. Luckily, other people are on the internet, and so are we.
I publish the work I think is awesome—and often get crickets.
I publish the work I think sucks—and sometimes it blows up.
I try not to get mad. Creativity is tension, and trying to resolve that tension gets rid of creativity. I have to lean into the paradox!
Have y’all had the same experience? Reply to this email and let me know.
Here’s a little homework for this week:
Make sure to share work with someone—even if you don’t publish it. Share something creative with the eyes of another human being every day for a week (even if it’s just me—or your mom).
Next week, let me know how it went!