The creative person wakes in the morning, pours a cup of coffee, and sits down the the typewriter. Then they begin to type out Don Quixote or Wuthering Heights or whatever while bathing in a warm glow of ecstatic exuberance and complete love for their work. They feel great and they know they are great and all obstacles are met with full confidence and powerful enthusiasm.
At least, that’s what it might seem like to the outside observer or struggling amateur.
I suppose it’s possible that some people’s creative process is all good feels and roses, but I bet that is the exception rather than the rule.
Here’s the reality for me: 95% of my effort can be described as extended periods of cringe as I turn out one embarrassing idea after another. It’s mountain after mountain of crap. Somewhere in the crap there are diamonds, but even when you find the occasional diamond, it’s covered in crap and you’re covered in crap and everything smells like crap. The creative process is a visit to my own personal sh*tsville to see if I can somehow find the will to dig around in all the feces to find something worth keeping.
The creative process is struggle. It’s not like an engineering problem where you have access to tools like logic and laws of physics and chemistry and then put them together using procedural thinking in a systematic approach. Being creative means you just sit there with a blank page and keep puking until something good comes up.
It’s Not Just Bad. It’s Your Bad.
It’s not just that most of the work is bad. That’s easy. Cranking out crap is easy. The hard part is sitting there watching yourself create all this crap that is cringey as hell and knowing that it’s YOU that are making this crap. It’s like being Sigourney Weaver in alien and you’ve got to have this gross alien monster born out of you.
It’s Not Just You
I think a lot of creative people hide this terribleness. All the cringey awfulness that fell to the cutting room floor is swept away when no one is looking. They don’t want people to know that they have produced such valueless and cringey stuff. So they just focus the public’s attention on the work that works.
The problem is that when everyone does that it gives the impression that all work is born perfect. And that’s intimidating. Then no one wants to talk about their cringy crap, which in turn keeps other people from talking about theirs and you get into a vicious circle where everyone’s hiding their cringy crap.
This vicious circle can be devastating to beginners and dreamers. No one told them it was going to be this hard. So when it does get hard and the work turns out terrible thing after terrible thing, they might beat themselves up, fill themselves with doubt, or just quit. Humans strangely – and unfortunately – put more value on “natural talent” than “earned talent”. The lazy prodigy is worth more than a million monkeys on typewriters who managed to crank out Shakespeare.
I would love there to be a blog or podcast or show where famous people drag their cringey crap out into the open to show the world. To inspire others to push through the cringe and more humanize the creative process.
Embrace The Cringe (Or Don’t)
Don’t worry about cringing. Push through it. Understand and accept it’s going to be crap. If someone whose judgment sees it and doesn’t like it it doesn’t matter because you have accepted that a lot of it is crap. You need hope and optimism and a belief that it will be better at the end and this is the process. That you will find the diamonds. Focus on what you are learning. Accept it as a process.
On the other hand, if you don’t like the idea of living in a permanent state of cringe and don’t care about the learning or enjoy the struggle, maybe it’s not for you. If you only want to enjoy the end goal, maybe you are meant to be a consumer of the creative work not a creator of it. There’s nothing wrong with that. Try some other work or craft until you find one where the cringe factor is dwarfed by your enjoyment of the struggle.