When you’re creating something, it’s normal to feel insecure. You’re putting your emotions into the work, and that makes you vulnerable. This vulnerability can be useful, as it often pushes you to create smarter/better. You don’t want to blast something out to the public that kind of sucks, so you refine your final product until you’re proud to slap your byline in front of it. This is a good thing, otherwise we’d have a lot of half-watched TV series and half-read books because they never got to the point where they were worth consuming.
But self-editing can quickly go from being productive to being verbally abusive to your creative identity. I’ve definitely been known to be a tad nasty to my poor, creative self. Instead of just saying what I want to say, knowing that I can go back later and edit as needed, I’ll find myself critiquing every thought that my fingers are about to type before I even let myself punch the keys. Eventually I’m left staring at a blank screen, wondering how anyone ever gets around to creating anything. I think about the greats who have written before me, and wonder why I’m so inept compared to them. Then I remember that they’ve all spent plenty of time staring at blank screens, or revising work that they thought sucked to get to something that they were proud of.
Recently a Twitter friend recommended a book to me that’s shifted the way I see my own creative process. It’s called Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon. As the title suggests, the crux of the book is about how there really are no original ideas anymore. It’s all about using what inspires your work, and combining these thoughts in a way that is fresh and relevant to your own audience. You’re remixing old ideas into something new and beautiful.
Kleon also gives some great tips if you find yourself in a creative rut. Whether you depend on your creativity to pay your rent or you just need it as a release from the cubicle city you head to Monday-Friday, this stuff matters. After reading the book, I’ve backed off on emotionally abusing my creative self. I don’t compare myself to this writer or that writer and wonder why I’m not them. I let myself say what I want to say, knowing that there’s a delete button for a reason.
It’s an awesome book and a short read. I’d definitely recommend it. After I tore through it in a day, I also bought Kleon’s Steal Like An Artist journal, which has offbeat exercises you can do daily to spark creativity. If you’re looking to feel inspired or just want to know how to stop being such a jerk to your creative self so that you can more effectively do your thing, definitely check it out.