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creativity and the need for output

One of the most difficult things about starting a new endeavor is having the confidence to start. To learn something new is to see an optimistic future version of yourself. If you want to learn how to paint, you have to be able to see yourself as a painter. If you want to learn to speak a foreign language, you have to see yourself conversing with other people in that language. This sort of vision is necessary in order to undertake a new challenge that has an unknown future.

After this first step, the next thing that is important is a willingness to try the new skill. You have to put on the beginner cap and be willing to expose your ignorance, and potentially look foolish. If you’re learning to sketch, you have to be willing to draw elementary looking pictures for a long time. This is extremely difficult for the normal adult mind. As adults, we want to look like we have it all together, like we’re professionals who only know how to do things well. It takes a lot of guts to put yourself out there, and be willing to try new things even if you think you’ll look stupid.

An artist does not become creative by thinking about their craft alone. An artist must embrace the fact that they might miss the mark sometimes. Every piece of art they make wont be a grand magnum opus, and that’s ok.

There’s a strange sense of fear involved in a new artistic endeavor. I’ve found myself always thinking, “What if other people hate what I make? What if they laugh at me? What if they see the fraud that I sometimes feel like I am?” It’s hard to take bold and courageous new steps being wracked with this kind of insecurity. Children don’t have this sort of fear, why is it only present in teenagers and adults? The inner editor can say some pretty nasty things to you. It can take your inner drive to be creative and stomp on it with steel-toed boots.

What’s helped me is to focus on unrestrained output. It’s why I’ve entered National Novel Writing Month in Novemeber. It’s a writing contest that doesn’t pit people against each other, but pits everyone against themselves. Your goal is to write an entire 50,000 word novel in 30 days. That’s approximately 175 pages in normal sized print. How do you write an entire novel in only 30 days? You focus on output and throw caution to the wind and just write. You throw away your inner editor and keep going, fast. Everyone who completes the 50,000 word count is a winner. It’s not about someone being better than someone else. I despise competitions that try to establish a pecking order. They teach you to be afraid of losing, instead of creating just for the sake of creating.

It’s hard to explain why this competition gets me so excited. I’m terrified about the prospect of having to write ~1,700 words per day for 30 days. There’s no room for an inner critic when you have to write that much. And yet, the sooner I can truly internalize that this is the only way to succeed in this competition, the sooner pure creative joy can be found. It’s not output just for the sake of being productive, or cranking out more stuff, but it embraces the idea that if you want to be more creative you have to actually do a lot of creating. Uncensored, unedited creating.

To create is in all of our bones. It’s the nature we’ve been given that we need. It’s not about money, or fame, or profit - but the hunger that must be fed.



about the author

Blake Smith is a Principal Software Engineer and leads the Infrastructure group at at Sprout Social.

Blake Smith

create. code. learn.