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Inspiring Creativity

How We Convince Ourselves Not to Create

Creativity is Your Birthright

By Dave Storer | Updated September 1, 2018

All the previous issues regarding how others try to stop us from creating only affect us if we let them. Your identity — who you are and what you do — resides inside you; it doesn't come from anyone or anywhere else. It is like the creative process itself. So you might say, if you can't look to someone else to do your creating for you, then why should you look to others for permission to create?

The most important permission you can give yourself when it comes to creativity is the permission not only to try, but also the permission to fail. One failure, as we've seen, does not and should not convince you that your creative dreams and goals must be given up. Failure is a very big part of every successful person's life. Remember that Edison tried thousands of different alloys as filaments for a workable light bulb before he came up with one that actually did work. Think of it — he didn't let thousands of failures stop him.

Yes, it can be quite challenging to continue to see yourself as a creative person if no one else is willing to see you in that way, but this simply comes down to a chicken and egg situation — most people in our culture will not let you easily claim a creator's identity. They will push against you and demand "proof" of your creative talent. When that happens, many of us give up simply because we get tired of having to push back against this sort of pressure. We end up feeling like impostors: "I say I'm an artist, but no one seems to be buying it. It must all be a sham. I'm not sure I can keep this up."

In these situations, the best philosophy to live by is "fake it 'til you make it." That's true whenever you enter into any kind of new identity. It happens when you graduate and start your first "real" job, it happens when you change overnight from a worker to a boss; it happens when you get married or when you have your first child. These are times when you just have to grow into your role before the identity involved seems completely real to you, let alone those around you.

When I say "fake it 'til you make it," what I should more accurately say is, "even though your chosen creative identity feels unreal somehow, if you keep doing it — keep working at your art with all of your heart and muscle — sooner than you think, you will be perfectly comfortable with that identity and so will most everyone you know." The identity comes from the doing of it.

Similarly, many of us worry that we aren't passionate enough to be "real" artists or writers, etc, but again, this is chicken/egg thinking. Your passion for a creative activity may be dampened by the internal and external resistance that keeps you from the actual creating. I promise you that the more deeply and often you get into your art, the more passionate about it you'll become. The equation is not:


The true equation is:


Finally, let me discuss the issue of "talent." Clearly, there is such a thing as talent in every art form. I have no doubt that some artists have more raw talent (genetic "giftedness") than the rest of us, but I think the idea of talent, or the lack thereof, is one of the easiest excuses people use to avoid the hard work necessary to achieve their creative dreams.

Most of us couldn't become concert pianists no matter how hard we tried, but on the other hand, how many of us try that hard? How can you be so sure you're not "gifted" enough to achieve your creative goals? A fair number of successful artists, musicians, and writers downplay how very hard they've worked to get where they are, and if they do this, it may be just to enhance their image as "naturals."

But "talent" is nothing more than a predisposition to do something well. At best, it's a head start, at worst it becomes a curse of impatience, arrogance, and over-confidence. Remember the fable of the Tortoise and the Hare! It applies here precisely. Some successful artists promote their own genius myth because it sounds a lot better than, "I just worked my butt off." And it keeps the rest of us from realizing we could do it too, if we truly dedicate ourselves to the art forms we love, and put in the necessary time and effort.

Another problem is that we're often afraid to reveal our true selves — our deepest dreams and wishes — afraid to put them out there in public where a stranger's rejection or ridicule can chop off our dream as quickly as a guillotine blade slicing through a neck bone. So we seek creative permission in order to feel safe in our creating, safe from rejection and ridicule, but the hard truth is that we're never completely safe when we're creating something new. We may try to hedge our bets various ways, but whenever we create, we are going out on a limb. In fact, we're launching off into the unknown without any guarantee of success whatsoever.

Even experienced, long-successful, wildly celebrated novelists still write the occasional clunker. You never know for sure what the result will be. The best you can hope for is that with time, experience, and artistic growth, you'll improve your ratio of good works to bad. So if you think that some expert's approval of you as an artist somehow guarantees the success of your next project, you're wrong.

The long and short of it is, don't give anyone sovereignty over your own true creative needs and interests. The creative process is everyone's birthright; artistic skills are everyone's to acquire and develop and, most important, as we create, we heal psychic wounds, forge deep connections, and create meaningful wholes, for ourselves and whomever we touch with our work. Being creative is truly "soul food."

Next: Practical Suggestions for Giving Yourself Permission

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