5 Ways Creative Peoples' Brains Mess With Their Heads

Do you have an idea for a novel you want to write? A screenplay? Maybe a concept album, or a series of abstract drawings made by gluing crayons to your taint and scooting your naked butt across canvas? That's nice. It's good to have dreams. But I have some bad news for you, friend: You're never going to do it. You're going to die, sooner than you think, having never made your Big Creative Project. Sorry you had to find out this way.

But don't feel bad. It's not your fault that you're a lazy, useless dullard destined for failure and mockery. It's your brain's. It's all because of your stupid brain that ...

#5. You're Waiting For Inspiration

Sergey Nivens/iStock/Getty Images

You probably think that good ideas are like sports cars: You just bumble along, minding your own business, until a bright orange one whips around a corner and splatters into you, scattering your entrails across the road in the exact same way that your tearful mother will scatter flowers over your closed-casket funeral, which would make for a pretty great transition for your screenplay, if you ever got around to writing it.

Which you won't. Because you're waiting for inspiration, and inspiration is bullshit.

The reality is that art is work, and great writers know that. Franz Kafka wrote for a few hours every night. Maya Angelou wrote from 6:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. every day. At one point in 1979, Stephen King decided to get a vasectomy. Unfortunately, something about the surgery didn't really take, and a couple of days later while writing he started to furiously bleed from the area around his dick. But he refused to let his wife take him to the hospital until he finished the chapter he was working on. Because he had a schedule to keep.

eyegelb/iStock/Getty Images
In case you need a quick refresher, it's the lady-folk who are supposed to have periods.

Your idea (which for illustrative purposes will be called Bus Stabber Jim: The Dark Hero Of The Millennials) isn't going to find you -- you need to find it. Bus Stabber Jim is out there, hiding in the back of one of those buses, fingering his long, delicate switchblade. You can't just stumble around hoping to run into him; you need to learn the bus schedule. You need to track him down and hate-type him into submission, before he kills again.

Speaking of killing abstract concepts: If there's one abstract concept I could murder, it would be the idea of creative people who just sort of float through life, letting their own genius propel them. I've met a lot of people who think that's what being a writer/musician/whatever is like, and not a single one of them was making anything worthwhile. Making something cool is a job. Does your mechanic wait to feel "inspired" before he replaces your oil filter? If so, get a new mechanic, because it sounds like that guy sucks.

The reality is that the "inspiration" excuse is hiding a way bigger problem. Specifically, that ...

#4. You Don't Know How To Measure Time

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Oscar Wilde famously said that he spent all morning taking a comma out of his poem and all afternoon putting it back in. Like many famous quotes, it's total bullshit, but the sentiment is actually perfect, because time and creative work have a totally different relationship than most people think.

When I was first starting out as a freelancer, writing for a half dozen sites and a couple magazines that all paid me different rates, it was really tempting for me to try to figure out how much money I made per hour. I'd calculate how long I spent writing every day, how many articles I sold, do some quick division, and then end up with a number that was a) very depressing and b) totally useless. Because time spent developing a writing skill isn't just mindless office work that could be measured with a dollar value; it's more like leveling up in an RPG. You don't measure your progress in Fallout by how many radscorpions you've bludgeoned to death; you measure it in experience points. But even that doesn't really tell the whole story.


You also want to factor in the names of your weapons.

Creating a piece of legendary art at the level of quality that Bus Stabber Jim is destined for demands effort. You need to slave over a keyboard, coming up with a rich backstory. That means typing out tons of ideas until your brain feels like mush and then realizing that all your ideas are garbage and having to rework them the next day. But somehow, even though it doesn't always feel like it, progress is being made. Bus Stabber Jim can't just live on a bus forever. He's going to have to be driven out by some kind of inciting incident, like meeting a pretty girl or maybe a new bus driver who refuses to put up with all his stabbings. "Maybe you could stab like that back when Billy Tunnel-Vision drove the 336," the new bus driver says, "but I'm Hawkeye Steve, and ain't no stabbin' happenin' on my watch, no siree. You're just going to have to go elsewhere."

"But stabbin' people on buses is all I know!" Bus Stabber Jim cries. "This is really going to shake up my situation and send me on some kind of journey of self-discovery." And so on.

If you want Bus Stabber Jim's story to happen, you're going to have to set aside time to work on it every single day until you're dead. And you're not going to do that because you have other things to take care of. More important things. Fallout 4 is out, for example.

#3. You're Worried About Having Your Stuff Stolen

leolintang/iStock/Getty Images

If you make something, someone's going to rip you off. This phenomenon is best illustrated by this Nedroid comic, which people on Imgur often take credit for creating because they think this makes them in on the joke:

NedroidComics.Tumblr.Com

These people are evil, and the only appropriate punishment is to feed them, still alive, to a pack of razor-toothed piranha-scorpions, a creature of my own devising.

But if the thought of someone stealing your work scares you so much that you haven't bothered sharing or even making anything, then I have some good news: You're not cut out for this type of work. Congratulations! Enjoy all your career stability and never bothering yourself with this stupid shit ever again!

In Patton Oswalt's closed letter to himself about thievery, heckling, and rape jokes, he tells a story about a comedian who was blatantly stealing jokes from his friend and fellow comedian Blaine Capatch back in the early '90s. The thief used Capatch's jokes, his hard work, to earn a bunch of money and do feature sets, and eventually ended up on national television -- where he "flamed out, rather spectacularly."

Turns out the most valuable thing you gain from making something is the experience of making it. You can use that experience to make more, better things, and whether you're looking for a creative career or just the emotional fulfillment of making something awesome, you're further down the road now than you were then. The fucker who stole from you gains none of that. They're not developing any talent or moving toward any goal. It's the equivalent of spritzing yourself down with water and telling everyone you spent all day at the gym -- sure, people might be briefly impressed, but you're not getting any fucking stronger, so what's the point?

The point is, the thieves always lose, even when it looks like they've won. Because all they're doing is flaunting their own inadequacy, and it's clear to anyone who looks hard enough. But if you're so scared of them ripping you off that you don't make anything, then at least you can take comfort in the fact that you haven't lost. Because you aren't even playing.

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J.F. Sargent

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