I hate the creative process.
A few days ago my wife asked for my help with a graphic design project. Attempting to be the best husband I could, I happily obliged. I grabbed my MacBook, opened photoshop, and got straight to work.
Ten minutes into the process she did something no creative wants. She snuck behind me and peeked at the design. Immediately feeling her presence, I switched to a blank alternative desktop. Why?
The creative process is awkward.
I wish I could’ve shown you the state of the design when she came. I had various images thrown together, text with different fonts, colors that didn’t match, and an awful layout. It was a mess. And I didn’t want her to see the mess.
Instead, I wanted time. Alone time to figure out what the design needed to be. Then once I finished, I could show her the final, impressive, succinct product and earn mad husband points.
I realized two things that day. First, we don’t like showing our behind-the-scenes. There’s a level of shame that comes with a first draft or a work in progress. Why? Because we think we’re the only ones who struggle with what’s unfinished.
The second thing I learned…
Edgar Allan Poe said it this way many years ago, “Most writers—poets in especial—prefer having it understood that they compose by a species of fine frenzy—an ecstatic intuition—and would positively shudder at letting the public take a peep behind the scenes.”
What was he saying? The process never matches the product, but we like people thinking it does.
When I think of the best writers, I like to think they sit down, enter a euphoric state, put their hands on the keyboard and spit out perfect prose. But in fact, good writing looks like J.G. Ballard’s first draft of “Crash“.
The reality is, the better you are, the more it looks like this. Pros are the people who are willing to take everything they create to the cutting board.
When I think of the best preachers, I like to think their sermons come to them in a four hour session where God downloads His very own words. But it actually takes hours of praying, reading, thinking, walking, organizing, questioning, starting over, walking some more, and finally banging your head against the table before repeating the process. That is what it really looks like. That is what it’s supposed to look like.
And it’s the best preachers who embrace the mess. Who brainstorm 50 titles before picking the best one. Who have ten pages of notes before cutting it down to one.
What am I trying to say? You’re normal. Your messy first drafts are normal. Your bad initial designs are normal.
As creatives, the goal is to embrace the messy, often private, process so the final public product seems effortless.
So if you’ve ever doubted your creativity or felt inadequate because your process looks different. Remember, creativity is chaotic.
IDEAS FOR ACTION
- Whatever your creative endeavor, embrace the mess.