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 ...
You're Waiting For Inspiration
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.
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 ...
You Don't Know How To Measure Time
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.
You're Worried About Having Your Stuff Stolen
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:
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.
You Believe In Writer's Block
Have you ever had writer's block? Congratulations! You don't have to be a creative person anymore! Go get a real job in accounting. Never stress about whether or not your ideas are hackneyed and played out. Be attentive to your romantic partner and kind to your children.
When someone asked Cracked Editor Robert Evans about "writer's block" at a panel we did together, his reply was, "Writers like coming up with terms, so we invented a whole new one for 'procrastination,' even though we didn't need to." And it's true: Writing is the only task where people think putting off doing it is an essential, even noble, part of the process. Nobody has ever died because their doctor had surgeon's block. Adolescents aren't starving to death in the halls of their school because the cafeteria team has cafeteria team's block. Imagine complaining to your boss about burger flipper's block. You get the idea.
"Sorry, guys, I have 'pretend you aren't all asshole' block."
This is the heart of the issue: That novel, screenplay, concept album, or series of butt-art inside you? You don't have to make it. No one's forcing you. Nobody even wants you to make it. So you don't have to come up with excuses anymore. Just give up, because this isn't the type of work you're cut out for.
Bus Stabber Jim is going to have adventures. He's too powerful a force to be contained by mere laziness. He will break free and terrorize the world, stabbing people in the backs of busses across the world. His adventures could've been yours. You could've controlled him. Harnessed him. Wielded him for your own purposes, whatever they are. But instead you made excuses, and someone else took charge of the bus stabbing, and the world's a worse place for it.
Don't be ashamed. It's not your fault that you suck. It's fine. Accept that you don't care enough to ever make anything cool. You're just a useless dolt. There. Doesn't that feel better?
You're Taking Too Much Advice
The Internet has roughly 10 times as many people giving advice as it does people who are actually making things. For example, me. Hello. Also for example, every comment below this article.
But this advice doesn't make sense without any context, so until you've actually tried making something, it's all gibberish. How far are you into your project? Is it your first one? Then stop reading right now and go finish it. None of this advice makes any sense until you have an experience to hold it up against. You have no idea if I'm completely full of shit or not until you've done something that you're proud of and you want to improve upon. You can't even begin to comprehend what, or who, I am.
For all you know, I'm this.
Bus Stabber Jim is out there, in an alley. He's smoking a cigarette, stroking the blade of his knife, and chatting up a dame. The sickly streetlights cascade a filthy glow over both of them. The bus is approaching, and Jim's gonna lead this poor, innocent woman on board, and then what's going to happen? Will he stab her, and continue his streak of senseless violence? Or will his intended victim fight back, knocking the knife from his hands and wrestling him to the floor of the bus to pummel his face bloody with her kitten heels? Will the ruckus cause Hawkeye Steve to lose his focus on the road, and send the 336 Bus tumbling down a cliff, into a ravine full of rabid, overgrown sugar gliders? Will the driver, the stabber, and the damsel then be forced to work together to escape this dark fate? Or will nothing happen at all, ever, and will all your ideas -- some of which are even better than this Bus Stabber Jim nonsense -- come to nothing? Will all this and more be lost, like tears in the rain, or pee in a vat of Bud Light?
Spoilers: It's the second one, because you're wasting your life dicking around on the Internet instead of making something cool. God, you make me sick.
Need an extra kick to get out there and make art stuff? Read 5 Tips For Punching Writer's Block In The Face, and then go out there and work! Still here? Fine, here's one more: 5 Writing Exercises That Will Make You More Creative. Now go write!
Also follow us on Facebook, because if you're going to procrastinate, let's procrastinate together.