Yesterday I wrote about the doldrums, when something I’m working on stops feeling effortless and breezy. Thinking about it more, I see an echo of Elizabeth Gilbert’s fantastic talk about creativity in the metaphor of the wind.
Sometimes, when I’m working on something, the wind is at my back. I’m being propelled forward, all I have to do to make progress is raise the sails. And other times, the wind is dead and I have to paddle with my hands to get anywhere at all. And the wind? I don’t control that. It just is, or isn’t. And if it isn’t, then I can still paddle.
Gilbert arrived at the origin of the word ‘genius’, as an external force, a demon that possessed someone rather than a quality of that person. To place some of the responsibility for being creative outside oneself — to say, I can do my best, but genius, you’ve gotta do your part too — is to help that terrified part of yourself that says, you’re not good enough. You don’t have it. Give up.
[…] Creative people across all genres, it seems, have this reputation for being enormously mentally unstable. […] Somehow we’ve completely internalized and accepted collectively this notion that creativity and suffering are somehow inherently linked and that artistry, in the end, will always ultimately lead to anguish. And the question that I want to ask everybody here today is are you guys all cool with that idea?
A little bit, taking this view—of creativity as something at least partially external—seems like absconding responsibility for figuring out how to be motivated. When sailing, though, you’re never really completely at the mercy of the wind. You can look ahead, and see where the wind is stronger and going in a better direction, and you can aim for that place. Which is not to say it’ll work out—the wind might change by the time you get there—but you can try.