Thursday, April 4, 2013

Playful Waste and Bringing Down the Stakes

This post was in part inspired by and written for my fellow blogger and long distance friend at thetoughestcookies when he asked me earlier this week about how to overcome anxieties about starting a larger writing project.

It's been a long time since I've blogged. And to be completely honest with you dear readers, I've been afraid (and also busy). I'm really proud of my previous post and have been chipping away at a monster of an essay about why I prefer the term "consent positive" rather than "sex positive".

Being between these two ideologically heavy hitting pieces of writing has left me in something of a stall. Instinctively I allowed the last thing I had written set the standard for the seriousness and heft of what must come next.

This set the stage for a series of thoughts about my writing not being "good enough". Regardless of how (in)consistent my posts here seem, writing for me is a constant. I write anywhere from 15 minutes to 4 hours every day. It's not as if I haven't been generating content. I've just reflexively cast it all as writing that is "not up to par" with what I usually post here.

Today, I say fuck that shit. Starting with figuring out where this reflex comes from.

I recognize that the reason I want to maintain an illusion of polished and tightly packaged writing on my blog comes from the way our culture loves to erase the important role of process in any sort of creative activity. The way we're taught to think of work that is genius or “inspired” is to judge it by the inverse amount of effort it appears the genius/creator put into that product. I'm not saying that the "it just came to me" moments of creative lightning don't happen. They do (and more likely to if we engage in regular process). What I am saying is that the narrative of spontaneity and ease in the creation of genius creative work is falsely held up as the primary story of powerful creative works. And I am tired of it.

There's a multitude of articles (especially in the era of social media) that really pinpoint how the phenomena of overnight success is a pretty inaccurate representation of the amount of work time and energy that a person, organization, or group has put into their creative products. I would argue that the concept of overnight success itself serves to erase the important process work that happened before and probably still happens after someone's work is packaged, polished, and (hopefully) recognized.

Creativity isn't magic. It's showing up time after time (in my case day after day). Sometimes if we're lucky it FEELS like magic and we're "on it" or really "in the game" and running with that lightning. But those moment have less to do with recognition then they do with our creative practices matching whatever our brain waves are doing that day (which we have some but certainly not complete control over).

And so in that spirit (and to remind myself that it's okay vital) I want to talk a little bit about a thing I like to call wasteful play.

I used to tutor writing in college. I am very familiar with the terror so seemingly inevitable that creeps in when too much focus is put too soon onto what might be the final shape of creative products.

The fruits of our creative process are not completely under our conscious control. Some ideas need to lie fallow or exist outside of the shadow of high stakes and possible conventions of a final product. Any person engaged in a creative process (which CAN be anyone) should sometimes just play with ideas rather then work towards an end product. Don't ask your ideas too quickly about who they are and what they might be. The sprouting collaboration between your conscious and unconscious creative minds might not be ready to speak only in the language of known variables.

Accept the fact that playful waste will happen. In fact come to expect it. Learn that there will almost always be work you do and stuff you create that will be left behind. That doesn't mean these works don't have value or don't have potential to be used for something awesome in the future just that their work is not contributing to the final shape this particular creative product at hand.

Accepting this playful waste not only stops the paralysis of "what if it's/I'm not good enough" because of course some of it WON'T be (part of the final product). It also offers you really useful information about the kind of thoughts that are related to the idea you're currently working on but might need their own separate structure. Accepting playful waste gives you a place to store mini ideas that could spark and/or be mixed into future projects. This can give you a good sense of how the creative projects you're working on are related to each other, if ever you decide to arrange them in a series.

It also organizes your process into spaces where you can be either messy or clean with your ideas. Having the freedom to create playful waste lets you be sloppy. It gives you a place to go through sloppy executions of ideas so when the time comes to bring a sharper focus to the shape of your creative product your messier ideas don't muddy the idea you are working to make cleaner and clearer.

Accepting the occurrence of playful waste also helps contribute to more concisely focused creative products in other ways. If your well of creative runoff is always available to you and possibly brimming with hints about what you might want to do for future projects you no longer run as high a risk of trying to stuff too many of your ideas into a single piece.

The hardest part of accepting wasteful play and really letting yourself be messy is that it requires a constant process of unlearning the lessons of product focused, genius rewarding society. But I promise, everyone's process is messy in some way or other.

So go make a mess. I will if you will.

See you in the muck,