Editor’s note: I recorded this as a podcast for Productive Flourishing long after I originally published this post. I hope you enjoy it, and if you’d like to hear more episodes of the podcast, you’ll find them in the show’s archives.
Creatives have a talent that perhaps exceeds our ability to create: the ability to convince ourselves that the props we’ve set up to keep us from creating are real. There’s always organizing, list-making, office-cleaning, chores, research, or toenail clipping to be done.
I often wonder if that’s why so many creative people resort to meta-doing so quickly – after all, we can always come up with creative ideas, lists, dreams, and next actions. That’s one part of what we do that we love. Ideas are fun. Doing something with those ideas and sharing them with others – well, not so much sometimes.
While we’re meta-doing, we’re in a comfortable space. No one is evaluating our work, that demon of a critic that we envision is at bay, and we can continue to tell ourselves that we’re doing something productive. We’re planning or organizing or clearing our head or whatever.
In other words, we’re crafting a believable fiction for ourselves that puts layers of obstacles between us and the creative work we do. And since the story has to be believed only by the creator, we can remain in our safe zone.
But I’m Researching!
The way I see this tendency manifest itself the most in creatives is with “research.” We read other writers’ work, we look at other painters’ paintings, other coders’ code, other peoples’ business ideas – and we do some more research. We collect research that discusses the research of others. And then we label the research, categorize it, file it, and put it in the other piles of research that we have – which, by the way, we need to come up with a better way of filing that research, and we need to see what that old research has to do with the new stuff, and… and… and.
It’s a prop, folks. Yes, part of the creative process requires that we research whatever we’re thinking about, but if you find yourself nodding your head at what I’m saying, you know that there’s a point at which you have enough information to do something and there’s a point at which you’re using “research” as a way to get around creating. No amount of information or inspiration is going to solve the problem – for the problem has nothing to do with information.
You are a creator, not a researcher. What you may not realize is that research, at a certain point, gives that scared part of you even more reason to be scared. Those “experts” and their “massive amount of work” dwarf your abilities and contributions – what’s the point of your trying? Yet another lie you tell yourself and believe nonetheless.
Just Start Creating!
If I’ve called you out, you’re no doubt thinking, “Oh crap – what now? Where do I start?”
Pick a topic or idea – it doesn’t matter which one – and start doing something with it. If you’re a writer, commit to picking a topic and write 300 words about it. If you’re a designer, commit to free-handing the frame of the idea in your head. If you’re a painter, start the broad strokes on the canvas. If you’re a coder, define a problem or function and code the solution.
Whatever you do, create something in the real world today, right now, for an hour. Even better, give yourself two hours to get some real progress on it. Make it crappy, but make it. You don’t have to keep it, love it, or share it, and you can undo anything that you’ve done. But you can’t undo or get back the time you’ve spent creating fictions for yourself.
Now go and create something. You’ll feel better.