Monday, June 17, 2019

The Most Helpful Insight About Creativity

I've been gradually sussing out the rules of engagement for creativity (tough to verbalize, since that stuff's inherently native to the intuitive, non-verbal side of the brain). Among the 76 postings (as of now) labeled "Creativity" there are some especially interesting ones (several are listed in the left margin <---). But one insight beat all the others. As usual, it was a total "duh" once you heard it.

My posting "Why Hacks Think They're Geniuses" didn't just explain the mindset of drek purveyors (as well as the merely uninspired). It explains what holds them back, and why they'd never heed a call for greater commitment: they believe they're already very deeply committed. As I wrote:
It's super hard to write a lousy book, compose a lousy symphony, direct a lousy film, or paint a lousy mural. It takes 10 years of instrumental training plus another decade of improvisation experience to even begin to call oneself a jazz musician - far longer than med school! - so it's little wonder that every unexceptional player considers himself some sort of genius.

Every purveyor of crap feels - with good reason! - like they've made the Big Sacrifice. They've suffered for their art, every one of them. That's why uninspired hacks nod along in weary agreement when you discuss "commitment". Just getting to square one, assembling and presenting something with some minimal degree of competence, is inhumanly difficult. They all believe they've done the thing because they've done the thing!
I wrote a few weeks ago about how
Human beings compress extremes. We regress toward means. In plain language, we narrow our perspective, which means we "clip" the ends of the scale, mentally compressing extremes into a nondescript paste.
This is an example of that. Authoring a shitty book takes a year off your life, turns your hair grey, and gives you ulcers, so one would assume that writing a great one requires just a little more of that. But no. "Shitty", "adequate", and "great" are not neighbors. Greatness is a quadrillion times more demanding; a separate realm above and beyond the excruciating rigors of producing any old book.

As I wrote in my tribute to Mamma Grimaldi's spectacular lasagna:
Extremes can be strange. You'd expect them to be like lesser instances, only more so. But sometimes they're a whole other thing; a different world.
This accounts for why most lasagnas, most books, most movies, most music, most art, most creative things generally are so sucky. Crappy purveyors, already working hard, couldn't conceive of trying a quadrillion times harder than is strictly necessary. But this is what people mean when they talk about creating "with love": doing vastly more than is needed while being crushed nearly to death. It requires a stout-heartedness ordinarily only available to ardent lovers. Most people stop well short of that point...hence suckage.

Continuing my quoting from "Why Hacks Think They're Geniuses":
Here's what I'd say to such people: Remember how hard it was just to generate and organize that material and have it be coherent? Well, what if some impossible-to-please tyrant loomed constantly over your shoulder, screaming at you to demolish perfectly adequate chunks and rework them for a result that's far better than it needs to be; far better than audiences will likely even notice, much less appreciate?

What if that belligerent asshole required you to treat every trivial decision like a matter of life or death?

What if every facile choice and easy cliché stabbed at him like a dagger to the heart?

What if, amid the overall death march, he compelled you to weigh yourself down further with seemingly unnecessary extra compulsions and requirements?

What if he demanded ceaseless self-questioning, leaving you perpetually unsure whether you've committed the sin of settling for "good enough" rather than riding the curve of diminishing results all the way to brilliance (100,000 times harder...when it's already so, so hard)?

What if you needed to spend time soothing collaborators who might otherwise feel smothered by the intensity of the demands he compels you to satisfy?

And what if you could never, ever evade this person, because it was you?
I await my X Prize for having at long last derived Sturgeon's Law.

As I once recalled:
I used to teach jazz improvisation workshops around Europe. Among my clever exercises and useful bits of advice, the thing that most helped students was a simple, exasperated and brutal observation:

You guys are sitting there, slumped in your chairs, mopey and dead-eyed. You're honking out jazzy notes like it's the latest dreary task in your daily grind, along with vacuuming the living room or tying your shoes. You're not working hard and you're not particularly trying...even though you absolutely need to, because you're not good yet.

Now, consider me. I'm a professional. I'm good. In fact, I'd sound good even if I sat back like a mope, treating this like some dreary task. Yet I don't. Look at me here, trying phenomenally hard. I'm sweating bullets and considering every note as if my life depended on it. Why are you working and caring so much less than I am? Does it make even the slightest bit of sense?!?

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