Later this year, I’ll be releasing a short book I’m calling “Title Pending: Things I Think About When I Make Stuff.” Between now and then, I’m posting previews of the book here at this blog and elsewhere, like the Art House America blog or On Pop Theology. Below is another such preview. I’d love to hear your thoughts.
For a good five minutes I sat, staring at the email opened on my screen. My fingers resting crookedly on my keyboard, I wondered how to answer the question it posed:
“Would you be open to talking with my students about your creative process?”
I was open to the idea, but I sincerely did not know what I would say about creativity to a classroom of college students. Maybe, I thought, I could read a few passages from Ed Catmul’s “Creativity Inc.” and then facilitate a conversation around his stories and themes. Or perhaps I’d be better off with a few Seth Godin quotes since they’re always so rich. And as I was weighing these options, it struck me that I was mis-reading the question. I hadn’t been asked to provide my take on The Creative Process. I was being asked about my creative process. Lifting my hands from the touch-typing position and closing my laptop, I leaned back and focused on an empty space on the wall, mentally drawing up a list of things I had created or been part of creating…
I’ve written songs.
I’ve recorded albums and EPs.
I’ve written books and blogs
I’ve created and curated events.
I’ve designed and helped build web sites.
I’ve planted a church.
And in all of these, I knew there were patterns of thought and behavior I often returned to – I had a way I went about creating things. There were common moments of inspiration, common obstacles and common practices in my process, regardless of the particular thing I was creating. I even began to recognize that the breadth of my creative experience and the variety of my efforts might just mean I have a unique or even distinctive perspective to add to this conversation.
I opened up my computer again and started typing, “I would love to talk with your students about my creative process; especially if you can set them up to talk about theirs.”
A few months later, I sat on the edge of a desk in the front of a lecture hall, listening to the questions, struggles, insights and wisdom of a room full of students – each one a creator in his or her own way. I found myself sincerely inspired and hoping that each of them followed through with their creative scheme; not because each idea was perfectly original or highly marketable, but because the things they wanted to make (and their desire to make them) was clearly part of who they were. I wanted them to create because that’s who they are – they are creatures who create.
I don’t think you and I create because one of us is eventually going to make the piece that satiates the primal, human hunger all other art pieces had previously failed to satiate; Or because one of us is going to write the song that renders all other songwriting unnecessary for the remainder of history. I believe we create because doing so is a key part of who we are (individually, culturally and historically)- that creativity is a matter of human identity. Furthermore, while we may be born at a particular time and place, to this or that set of parents and socioeconomic circumstances, we will ultimately be remembered by what we make from what we are given. Just as a mother offers her child a gift in the life she’s made for them, the gift an artist passes on to his world is particular in its expression while being universal in its essence. You have your work to make in this world and I have mine.
So, who needs another book about creativity? I don’t know. But that’s not why I’m writing this one. I’m writing this one because doing so is part of who I am.