The Rules of Creation

1. Don’t do anything you don’t want to do.

Desire is the fuel of creativity. Fear is its nemesis.

The only reason you do things you don’t want to do is fear.

Fear stifles your mind. Anxiety stunts your ability to make connections. Connections are the core of creativity. You can’t connect what you can’t see. When you’re afraid, your vision is limited. All you see is what you are afraid of. Your energy becomes desperate, manic, as you scan obsessively for escapes and solutions. This is what fear does to you.

Fear cannot create. It can only resist. It cannot lead to connection. It can only separate and defend. When you do things you don’t want to do, you are motivated by fear: fear of others, fear of poverty, fear of disapproval, fear of being forgotten. Without fear, you’d never operate from anything but desire. Desire, by the way, is another way to say love.

2. You have to see before you can create.

No, you don’t have to see the final product; in fact, you never can. There’s a blindness to creating. That’s what makes it both surprising and upsetting.

You, the creator, have a vision and you pursue it. Your creation itself remains a mystery, however, even to you. Despite your faithfulness to the vision, what you create will emerge not as your vision, but as itself. How the creation differs from the vision can bring you joy or pain.

You can’t see what you’re creating, but you can see the materials. You have to see the materials first: the colors, the images, the words and the feelings, the characters, the shapes. You have to see the elements, speak their language, so you can get them to work their individual magic. When you see the elements, you can bring them together. You can connect them. And that is the spark of creation.

3. The idea must come from the true self.

The ego always works from fear. If you follow the first rule, faithfully and honestly, you will always work from the true self. But the ego is tricky. It will get you hyped up, excited over the possibility of making a splash or getting attention. You will believe that this excitement is the same as desire. It isn’t. It will fuel you only so long. You will start a project and then hate it. This is a sign that it is not from your true self.

How do you know if an idea is from the true self before you start creating?

You put yourself in an imaginary vacuum.

If you would get no response, receive no acclaim, go without feedback, would you still create? Would you still create this piece, this project, still pursue this particular vision? If the appeal goes away when you are in the vacuum, the idea is from the ego. If, instead, you find that the vision becomes even clearer, it is your true self speaking.

4. Creation is really transformation.

You don’t call things into being out of thin air; you do something even more amazing. You take raw materials, tangible and intangible, and transform them. You see the potential of something that is; you see the potential it has to be something else, to be part of something else.

It’s far more difficult to transform out of raw material than it is to create out of thin air.

Think of how easy it is to sit and imagine something: without the limits of physicality, you can create effortlessly. If you had the ability to bring your mind-creations instantaneously into the world, the only skill you’d need would be idea generation. But creation isn’t like that. It’s more visceral, more intense, much more difficult. You must take your idea, apply it to the raw materials which are yours, and transform them into something close to your vision.

5. Your raw materials are your boundaries.

Creativity loves boundaries. You may not love boundaries when you’re creating. They make you sweat and struggle. The words won’t come. The shapes won’t align. The colors won’t cooperate. It’s always something with the raw materials.

But boundaries make your creative ability stronger. Boundaries force you to find more connections. You think the most important part of creating is having the idea. That’s not true. The important part is the conflict that will inevitably happen: the conflict between your ideas and the limitations of your raw materials. The most important part is how you handle that conflict.

6. You can’t go backwards.

If you think you’ve lost skill, or vision, or the ability to come up with ideas, you’re wrong. You haven’t. You can’t go backwards. Ever. No matter what.

It’s not up to you. This is a pattern of creation: a cycle of birth, growth, death, rest, and then, regeneration. Birth again. A new creative birth. It’s always forward movement.

There’s a place, however, that feels like going backwards. You’ve been there before, and you’ll be there begin. It’s not creative death; that’s actually a relief. It’s the period right before the point of death. That period, in which you’re ceasing to grow but you haven’t yet reached the point of letting go, is full of pain. It feels like waste and wandering. It is the desert for 40 years. It is when you question yourself and hate everything you’ve done. It won’t last.

You are creating, and you are being created. Let the cycle continue as it will, and try not to believe the feelings before death. You can’t go backwards.

7. Nothing is wasted.

With each creative rebirth, you bring into being a new version of your self. It is filled with and powered by all the skill, experience, and knowledge you have accumulated along the way. Every failure, every attempt, every moment you’re ashamed of has something to teach you. So does every victory. It has all taught you. You may not be aware of the lesson yet. That’s okay. It won’t go away.

Moments drop into you without you knowing it. They rest there until you need them. Some circumstance or idea or struggle in the creative process calls them forth. Then it seems like magic – this intuition, this knowingness, this genius – but it is a seed that has been growing all the time. Every experience carries a seed. Sometimes, many seeds. None are lost. None are wasted.

8. You’re never not creating.

You can’t stop creating. Even the most physical forms of creation are, at the core, internal struggles and challenges and triumphs. The creating you do may be powered by your hands, feet, body, voice; the skills you use, however, are all mental before they are physical. You must see in your mind how to jump before you jump, hear in your mind how a note sounds before you can sing it.

Because the heart of all creative skill is internal, your creative work never stops. Even in sleep, you are processing, analyzing, connecting. You do some of your best work while you are sleeping.

This ongoing process of creation is amazing, but it can cause frustration if you quit creating in the daylight. That is, if you’re dreaming, thinking, sleeping, observing, letting those unconscious and semi-conscious states of creation continue, but you’re not carrying out the active process of creation, you are blocking the flow. The result is internal pressure, anxiety, anger, and lots of other unpleasantness. You can’t stop creating, but if you don’t actively participate in it, you’ll wish you could.

9. You can only see your next move.

This is not to say that creation is extemporaneous. Some creators like to wing it. Some like to plan. Both ways work. But creation itself is fluid, and as we take one step forward we influence, effect, and thus, change, the array of possibilities for the step after. Your plan is relevant only if it is flexible, because reality will flex. You are the one flexing it.

Creating makes some of us uncomfortable, very uncomfortable, even terrified, because of the uncertainty in it. It isn’t predictable. It is immersive. To be surrounded by something that’s unpredictable scares us. That’s why creativity engenders resistance, and that’s why resisting the resistance – pushing past it, through it, and on to the next step – is the only way to keep creating.

10. Everything is a partnership.

Originality is not the hallmark of creation. That idea probably came from an art critic, not an artist. Every active creator knows that originality is pointless to pursue. The idea of originality is the quicksand of the creative landscape. It will suck you in and you will be lost forever to real creativity. You will be swallowed whole by a malevolent force that is the opposite of creativity.

Creativity is connection. Connection requires more than one. You and another, and another, and another. You’ll always be borrowing, building upon, and using other people’s work. There’s no problem with that, unless you refuse to acknowledge the debt you owe to other creators. That’s foolish, because to ignore the contributions of others is to deny that you have made any connections at all. And to deny connection is to deny creativity.

We’re all in this together. We see ourselves as individuals, and we are. In fact, these identities we have are essential. The separation we experience as finite individual beings is what enables us to observe, connect, and create uniquely. But we are also connected.

Creation is a group project, whether we recognize it as such or not. My work contributes to your work, and your ideas make mine better. Everyone can create. Everyone is creating. Our cumulative efforts build us a world. If we don’t like the world we have, it’s up to us to apply the rules of creation and make the next version better.

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