By Brian Gehrlein
Forget inspiration. Try creative momentum...
I want to share some truths I’m learning about the power of creative momentum. Lin Manuel Miranda says about his writing process that he, "keeps writing and writing until the water is clear and you can find your own voice.” That implies the first things to come out of the Tony award winning creative powerhouse are rusty and essentially crap!
It takes time to pick up speed and get into a rhythm and to discover the heart beat of the thing you are working on. That’s creative momentum and it’s your new best friend.
The artist Chuck Close said, “inspiration is for amateurs—the rest of us just show up to work.”
I think about the jobs in this world that matter. I think about parents. My parents didn’t parent me when they felt like it. They didn’t wait around for “inspiration.” They just rolled up their sleeves and met the needs of their kids—as all parents do. Think about how different our world would be if people who provide essential services like plumbing sat around and waited for inspiration or motivation to come before they fixed your sink. We’d have a lot more clogged toilets and a lot of leaky pipes.
So why then this fog of mystery around the creative process and art? I've met a lot of individuals and had dozens of students that “can’t create” until they are bit by the inspiration bug. One of the nine Greek muses. A vision. A dream. Beware these people…they’re something but they’re not artists.
The older I get the less I believe in the actual powers of these forces. Sure it’s nice when it happens, and I imagine the muses will continue to do their little dance but I’ll never create anything if I’m just sitting around waiting for them to show up. Neither will you.
I now approach a book or a poem or a story the same way I approach the daunting task of a sink full of dirty dishes after a very messy spaghetti dinner. I can stand there and look at the dishes with their caked food particles that will take actual force to clean…but nothing happens until I choose to act. It’s very likely that if I wait around for hours staring at the dishes that inspiration may never come! So I walk toward the sink. I turn the faucet on. Hardest part done.
You might be thinking, um no Brian, turning on the faucet is like the easiest part! There is literal dried mozzarella cheese and calcified sauce cemented onto those ten plates! And look at the pots! True. But people climbed Everest using the same process you use to take out the trash…they took a step.
Something truly magical happens when we make a choice to turn that faucet on. We get moving. In motion, in kinetic energy, in the very process of engaging the task at hand, we start to gain momentum. This force is powerful and can be your best creative tool.
Newton’s first law of motion is that an object will remain at rest until acted upon by an outside force. We can wait for that mysterious external force outside our control, or we can make an internal choice and get moving.
It starts with choice. Then our hands move. Then our imagination bursts to life. Then our hearts pour out. And suddenly…we have more invested in what we’re doing than a hundred times the power of inspiration.
Make no mistake, there are obstacles to overcome the second you start moving. It’s never smooth sailing. It takes mental fortitude to continue the momentum and press through the Resistance.
In Steven Pressfield’s book, The War of Art, he proposes that any time we decide to create, the universe sends something called Resistance to thwart our efforts. Anti-muses. But when we make a choice to get our hands moving, we get out of our heads and in no time at all we see the progress of our labor. That progress is our ammo against Resistance. Progress is a great feeling! A feeling that usurps the debilitating voice in our heads that says, “you’re not _____ enough.”
I call this voice Steve. Steve is a little troll in my head that prevents me from turning that faucet on. When I’m really cooking he tells me to read back what I wrote because it’s crap.
Look Steve in the eye…and tell him to shut up.
Whatever you do…keep your momentum rolling.
But the dishes analogy can only go so far. Once they’re clean, they’re clean. But art is never done. Once you “finish” your art you enter into the next phase and have to start the process all over—revision. Reflection. Improvement. Critique. That leaves a lot of room for Steve to open his big mouth. But we already know what to do with the Steve’s of the world.
Only when we have gone through this again and again do we create something truly meaningful to ourselves and others. It’s the process of engaging and sweating and discovery and overcoming Resistance that makes art valuable to us. Nothing worth having comes easy.
So…what are you waiting for? Go write that book! Go compose that song that’s driving you nuts! Go do those dishes! The moment you start, you’ll be glad you did. Hold on for dear life until you feel like it’s done and do your best to ignore Steve. Then lather. Rinse. Repeat.