What is art? What is novel? What is creativity?
Usually, when I come up with a neat idea for something new, I talk myself out of doing it. There is a little voice of ‘reason’ in my head that guide me through the thought process.
It starts with an idea, (bing) the lightbulb in my mind clicks on.
Then the nerd chorus in my head jumps in, “That would be so cool!”
Then the lawyer kicks in, “That’s really just derived from this other idea, so you’d have an intellectual property issue and would get sued.”
Then my politician kicks in, “Everything is really just derived creation. All new ideas come from variations on a theme.”
Then my critic kicks in, “That’s really not creative. It wouldn’t benefit anyone. No one would (read it/buy it/like it/engage with it). You really shouldn’t bother.”
Slowly my beautiful, bright lightbulb begins to fade, word by word. My enthusiasm drains as my lightbulb dims and my excitement withers and disappears.
By the time I’m done with this mental board meeting I’m usually pretty tired. And I’m usually ready to just move on. Once again, no actions have been performed. No creation has happened. Nothing comes out of this but me spinning my wheels…
The voices in my head are all right. They are also all wrong. Or maybe a better way of saying it is, that they are right, after a fashion, but that I also need to start ignoring them. I need to just create, because creation brings life, joy and wonder. It doesn’t really matter in the end if you are doing something never seen before, or if you are doing something that 100 people have already created in the past. You bring something entirely unique to your creation, you.
The other day I was preparing some carrots and dates for my daughter for a snack. I had a few out for her that she was already eating, and as I started looking at the carrots left on the cutting board, an idea popped in my head. I could make a train out of carrots and dates. So I started carving up the carrots into axels and cutting a steamer box. I made a little cable with an upright carrot stump, for the driver and used date circles for the wheels. My daughter was delighted! She said in an excited voice, “Mommy, Daddy made me a car!” Okay, I was a little deflated that she didn’t think it resembled a train, but just a little. I had actually had fun creating something for my daughter and she had responded with delight.
There are a couple key points I took away from this:
1) Share your art
Your creation is yours till you share it. When you share it the interpretation grows. It may become something you never thought it was. The act of sharing enhances the value, so don’t keep your creativity to yourself, it is selfish to not share.
2) Expect delight from your 5 year old audience
Okay, not everyone will react to your creation like a 5 year old getting a car made of carrots. But there is an audience out there for your creation. An audience that will react like a 5 year old getting a carrot car. Find that audience and dazzle them.
I’ve come to the conclusion that creativity acts like a muscle, if you use it the creativity muscle will strengthen. Practice your creativity. Come up with ideas. Execute those ideas. Share those ideas. Follow through.
If your idea seems derivative or already done, do it anyhow. Practice doing the same thing as other people have already done. It’s okay to rehash the past. It’s okay to reinvent the wheel. Build the same mousetrap. Maybe the world won’t beat a path to your door. But your life will blossom and your creativity will strengthen.
Any time something becomes hugely popular people criticize it as derivative. I’ve often found it interesting that Harry Potter, one of the best selling book series of all time, is criticized as being derivative. It has been viewed, by some, as a rehash of classic fantasy literature from the past 100 years and deriving from ancient mythology. But at the end of the day, fans don’t care. People love Harry Potter, myself included. Its classic themes enable the story to be compelling and engaging. At the end of the day J.K. Rowling has had a huge impact on the world and her creativity has benefited many millions of people. She wasn’t concerned with using derivative ideas or where her sources of inspiration came from. She focused her energy on executing her creation and wrote her story.
Write your story. Build your wheel. Share your idea. Create.