Hey, it’s me Mark!
I am a writer.
I want to be a writer.
I am working on becoming a better writer.
I’d like to be a writer someday.
I wish I was a writer.
Maybe at some point, I’ll put my thoughts down in a blog and it won’t make people cringe while they read it.
Creating Stuff Is Hard
When I sit down to write something, a post, a letter, an email, a shopping list, a very loud voice inside of me perks up and says, “Oh good, the dummy is going to bother people with his idiocy.” And I have pretty good self-esteem in general. Ten years ago, before I was this awesome, writing was impossible. I’d get paralyzed immediately.
It’s hard to create something.
Which makes sense.
The first rule of thermodynamics is “matter cannot be created or destroyed.” And while you aren’t creating matter, you’re creating an idea.
The amazing thing is that we create things every day. They might be small things, like a note in your son’s lunchbox, or large things, like a presentation for the board of directors, but you create them. You get it done. Good job!
But how hard was it?
Did you stay up all night sweating it out? Did you spend all week popping Tums and trying not to throw up? Did you avoid your boss’s office conspicuously, timing your bathroom trips? Did you weep openly over your son’s PB&J, cursing your lack of culinary skill and maternal instinct?
Sure. We’ve all been there.
This is a fact of being creative.
When a woman becomes pregnant, she must labor to bring that child into the world. Though the child is formed at the moment of conception, they develop over those nine months. They grow. They mature. They gain hands, and feet, and ears, and fingers, and cute little button noses. But before they can go any further, there is a moment of truth. Both mother and child must endure the pain of labor.
So it is for ideas: through pain comes fruition.
Creating Stuff Isn’t Hard
Or does this need to be the way?
Everything I’ve just written may have struck a chord. It may have rung true. It may have felt right.
But I think this is only because we’ve been told it a million times before. And as Aldous Huxley told us, something only needs to be repeated 10,000 times before we will always hold it to be a truth.
So try to wrap your mind around this: creating doesn’t need to be hard.
In fact, creating shouldn’t be hard.
Ew. That was hard to say. That one made my internal critic pretty upset. He wasn’t thrilled with me telling you guys that. Probably because it’s the truth, and he tends to be a liar.
Creating stuff is easy.
Creating stuff is easy.
I mean, come on, little kids do it. How hard can it be? They do it in their free time! They do it to relax! They do it to have fun! How can something we do to have fun be hard? It can’t. No, don’t think about it. Don’t point out the hard things we do to have fun. Just go along with me. Nothing we do for fun is hard.
Okay. So. Right.
The Thing That Screws Us Up
If nothing we do for fun is hard, and we know that it is hard to create things, then this means that we must not be creating things to have fun.
That’s the problem.
Creating stuff is fun. But somehow, we’ve approached it in such a way that we’ve made it not fun.
We’ve made creating things into work.
Work sucks. It’s not fun. Just ask anyone.
Shoe-Horning the Post into Improv
Improv is fun. It is play. It is creating something. But it’s not hard! It’s fun!
Huh? How did we do that?
The reason improv is able to make creating fun is because we improvisers have cheated. We don’t think of it as creating. In improv, were abandon the hope of creating something from nothing, since we know that Newton has already shown us that we can’t do this. So what do we do instead?
To me, ideas are already out there, floating in the ether, drifting aimlessly through the void waiting for some brave person to happen upon them. You see, ideas are real. They exist already. How could they not? They wander the world, waiting for someone to snatch them.
In her amazing TED talk, Elizabeth Gilbert describes meeting Ruth Stone:
I had this encounter recently where I met the extraordinary American poet Ruth Stone, who’s now in her 90s, but she’s been a poet her entire life and she told me that when she was growing up in rural Virginia, she would be out working in the fields, and she said she would feel and hear a poem coming at her from over the landscape. And she said it was like a thunderous train of air. And it would come barreling down at her over the landscape. And she felt it coming, because it would shake the earth under her feet. She knew that she had only one thing to do at that point, and that was to, in her words, “run like hell.” And she would run like hell to the house and she would be getting chased by this poem,and the whole deal was that she had to get to a piece of paper and a pencil fast enough so that when it thundered through her, she could collect it and grab it on the page. And other times she wouldn’t be fast enough, so she’d be running and running and running, and she wouldn’t get to the house and the poem would barrel through her and she would miss it and she said it would continue on across the landscape, looking, as she put it “for another poet.” And then there were these times — this is the piece I never forgot — she said that there were moments where she would almost miss it, right? So, she’s running to the house and she’s looking for the paper and the poem passes through her, and she grabs a pencil just as it’s going through her, and then she said, it was like she would reach out with her other hand and she would catch it. She would catch the poem by its tail, and she would pull it backwards into her body as she was transcribing on the page. And in these instances, the poem would come up on the page perfect and intact but backwards, from the last word to the first.
Years ago, I lived by myself and was still struggling to write. I wanted to, but the ideas just weren’t coming. But the strangest thing was that as soon as I went to bed, lying there waiting for sleep to come, this was when the ideas finally would show up. And I would get so frustrated! “Why now?” I’d wonder. “Why do they only come when it’s inconvenient for me to get up and write them down?”
But I figured it out. It was for two reasons:
- At night, most of the people in your area are already asleep. So there are fewer people pulling ideas out of the air, which leaves a dense cloud of ideas laying like a blanket of fog over us. When you stay up late, you up your chances of snaring an idea.
- At night, as you lay down to sleep, your mind quiets, and you listen. During the day, all the noise of your life drowns out those of hopeful ideas.
We don’t have to come up with great ideas. We don’t create. We just transcribe. It’s our job to listen. Listen to our muses. This might sound antiquated. We’re not ancient Greeks after all. But it’s true. Trust me on this.
Improv retrains own mind in a two-fold way. We learn to listen. And we learn to trust that ideas already exist.
Then we explore.
So if we improvise more, we’ll get more comfortable playing with each other, and most importantly, playing with ideas.