Creativity Hallucination and Subsequent Punishment

Some raw unpolished thoughts on the article Secrets of the Creative Brain by Nancy C. Andreasen, subtitled A leading neuroscientist who has spent decades studying creativity shares her research on where genius comes from, whether it is dependent on high IQ—and why it is so often accompanied by mental illness.

Andreasen writes: I’ve been struck by how many of these people refer to their most creative ideas as “obvious.” Since these ideas are almost always the opposite of obvious to other people, creative luminaries can face doubt and resistance when advocating for them.

Powerful realization from that: much of my reality feels like hallucination because I’m the only one who sees it. When you go through life seeing things no one else does, and being mocked or pitied or shunned when you admit it, it’s no wonder we lose our emotional and mental balance.

I’ve never thought of that before. My reality is different from most people’s, and I’ve never internalized the idea that much of what I see as simple, normal, obvious, is invisible to everyone around me. It’s like being the only one to see the strange man in the hallway or whatever; I’m having a hard time verbalizing it. Thinking about the psychotic episodes in TV shows and movies where a character looks crazy to others because they’re hallucinating.

That’s what it’s like: I feel like much of my reality is a hallucination because I’m the only one who sees it. Despite appearances I’m not arrogant enough to have started life thinking I was right and everyone else was wrong, so it must be me, right?

And I still push down my “seeing other ways” because when something is obvious to me but no one else, I still feel wrong because I was always taught I was wrong.

This has implications in my desire and ability to do it all myself, my lifelong habit of ignoring feedback that doesn’t make sense to me, of finally learning to trust my intuition instead of having to prove my instincts to the satisfaction of onlookers.

Lemon Juice: Not the Solution to Resistance

The Dunning-Kruger effect, in brief: those who know least about something have the most confidence, while those who are advanced in the same field feel the greatest doubt and indecision.

After decades of fighting Resistance, tricking myself (and, when I do it right, Resistance), finding tools, processes, and methods to make it irrelevant, I still face it. The past two years have been the single greatest bout of Resistance I’ve faced since I started writing.

The more aware I am of Resistance, the more doubt and indecision I feel about success.

Yet here I am, finding new ways to get the job done.

Are creatives who claim they face no Resistance the ones experiencing it most?

(I leave it to you to read the source of the lemon juice reference.)

Feedback Fraught with Fear, False Findings, Fruitlessness

I know well the desire to have approval, the boost we get from a genuine compliment.

I also know that asking others for feedback when what we really want is a pat on the head is fraught with peril, asking for trouble, bending over and begging to be kicked.

Some general thoughts and specific comments on feedback:

  • Feedback is a minefield. Proceed with extreme caution.
  • Know what level of feedback you seek. Rosanne Bane explains.
  • Do you really need someone else to tell you whether what you’re writing is what you should be writing? Veteran editor (and publisher of The War of Art) Shawn Coyne says “That’s a recipe for disaster.” Mick Torbay says to avoid the committee like leftover brussels sprouts:
  • I have found general feedback from readers and writers to be useless. USELESS.
  • Feedback from a professional editor is golden.
  • Answers to specific questions can be helpful if
    1. you know exactly what the question is, and
    2. the person you ask is eminently qualified to answer that question, and
    3. the person you ask will tell you the truth, and
    4. the answer actually matters, which should really come before ‘a’ above.

What I’m Doing About It

I’m writing my first scifi adventure. I’m going to share the first draft, ugly and stinking, with a reader who loves Asimov and Burroughs the way I do. All I’m going to ask her is, does this feel right? Does this feel like them?

If yes, good. If no, I’ll ponder whether that matters and whether I’ll do anything about it except perhaps adjust my marketing message. I highly doubt I’ll change my writing because of the feedback. So that’s marketing research, not writing feedback, isn’t it?

Don’t Wait to Be Picked

Marketing guru Seth Godin has been saying it for years: don’t wait to be picked. Pick yourself.

Learn your craft. Know what a good story is, and isn’t. Do your best work, at least, best for now.

Don’t wait for someone else to tell you whether or not you’re good, whether or not to publish, whether or not your story matters.

Once your brain has enough information to get the basics done, it’s your heart’s turn to run with the story and scatter it to the four winds. And hopefully, more than four fans.

Entropy is Our Natural State

When you plant flowers, you get flowers.

When you plant weeds, you get weeds.

When you plant nothing, you get . . .

weeds.

In the absence of effort, weeds naturally grow.

Have you forgotten that everything is running down or growing weeds?

When you get frustrated that writing doesn’t come easy, that what’s in your mind doesn’t end up on the page, are you remembering that being less comes naturally, being more is very hard work?

Rudeness is easy. Manners take effort.

Fat and disease are easy. Health is hard work.

A friendless life will happen all on its own. Close long-lasting relationships can be the most difficult things we create.

Next time you feel the growing frustration at how your art is so much harder than you want it to be, you’re so much less than you wished, others aren’t doing their part, and everything is against you, remember entropy.

And remember that our purpose is to reverse it, to plant flowers and pull weeds, to create love and art and stamp out loneliness and pointless emotional pain.

As the good G. Matthew Sumner sang, when the world is running down you make the best of what’s still around.

That can be you, “the best.”

Fight entropy. Create art.

A Myth and a Puzzlement

I’ve often heard creative folks claim that producing art quickly or in bulk leads to lower quality.

It’s not true.

Creativity is like a muscle. Use it more, make it stronger.

Yes, muscles get tired. When’s the last time you spent so much time in creative pursuits that you were in any danger of creative burnout?

I just spent February writing 25 songs besides working on my novel and writing here and at my personal blog. Being more creative leads to being more creative. I’ll be physically exhausted long before I’m creatively exhausted.

Quality? Sure, some of the songs I wrote aren’t keepers. That’s the nature of the beast: not every song is. But when I write 14 songs in a month, 3 or 4 are excellent. When I write 25 songs in a month, 7 or 8 are excellent. Not only more excellence, but a slightly higher percentage.

I believe that if I wrote 100 songs next February, I’d create 20 or more that were as good as anything I’ve ever written.

Are You Not a Writer?

The first thing writers tell me when I say “blog weekly, two or three times if you can” is “I don’t know what to write about.”

You’re a writer, aren’t you? If the goal is to get people to part with their money for your writing, how about showing them, often, what you’re capable of?

Wrote a nonfiction book? Blog about all the stuff that didn’t make it into the book, about everything you’ve learned since it was finished.

Fiction author? Easy: make up new fiction. No, I didn’t say write a batch of deathless prose every day. Just write.

Blogging regularly is not that hard—you’re a writer.

This Story is Beneath You

A confused fan searches for one of my books
Almost two years ago I started my 6th novel. Plotting and planning, then writing like mad. Research, plot adjustments, pondering, and more writing like mad.

Somewhere along the way, it crashed.

More precisely, I crashed.

Flashback to Success

On November 11th of 2011 I released 6 books simultaneously. (11/11/11, get it?) In the previous 6 months I’d written (or compiled) 4 books and co-authored 2 more, all books about business philosophy and process.

I switched to fiction. Finally followed up my first Irish adventure novel with a second, then started another series, and a third.

It was like driving a Lamborghini steamroller.

Then, I got some professional advice.

… more … “This Story is Beneath You”

The 21st Century Creative: a podcast worth making time for

For the 3rd Monday in a row I’m taking more than an hour to listen to a podcast. I generally have little patience for podcasts; most have a very low signal-to-noise ratio. The 21st Century Creative, hosted by Mark McGuinness of Lateral Action, is all signal, no noise.

His first two guests were Scott Belsky of Behance and 99U, and Steven Pressfield, who doesn’t do interviews anymore—except when he does.

Eschewing the rush rush syndrome everyone thinks is appropriate these days, Mark takes his time, 60 to 90 minutes. Each guest ends the show with an artistic challenge; participate and you can win nifty useful books (and, not incidentally, grow artistically and personally.)

Make time for the 21st Century Creative podcast. Your art deserves it.

Morgan the Musician and Shannon the Chef

After years of music school and uncountable hours of practice Morgan makes a decent living playing jazz guitar in clubs and coffee shops and as a session musician at a local recording studio.

Following a similar path, Shannon studied under a chef who was a family friend and has worked for the past six years in various upscale restaurants.

Morgan, the musician, has always loved to cook. Guests at Morgan’s special dinners have always said “You should open a restaurant!” Morgan just smiles.

Shannon, the chef, took piano lessons as a child and a few years ago, started practicing in earnest. Guests at Shannon’s living room concerts say “You should play down at the coffee shop!” Shannon never took it seriously—before now.

One of Morgan’s friends was hosting a special dinner party for out of town business guests and begged Morgan to cater it. “Nothing fancy, do what you always do, but please, feed my guests!” Though Morgan initially refused payment, the friend insisted.

Without even asking, a friend of Shannon’s booked a gig at a local coffee shop. Based on some recordings the friend had made at a living room concert, they were glad to pay a small fee for the performance.

Since Morgan and Shannon share a network of friends, each is aware of the other’s vocation—and their avocation.

When Shannon was invited to a dinner party hosted by Morgan the musician, Shannon expressed genuine appreciation for the food, for the flavors and presentation. It never entered Shannon’s head to expect a professional presentation at the level Shannon was capable of. Morgan was, after all, a hobbyist, and amateur simply having fun with friends.

After one of Shannon’s living room concerts, Morgan asked about some of Shannon’s original songs, and expressed genuine appreciation for the arrangement of a cover tune Shannon had performed. Morgan wouldn’t dream of critiquing Shannon’s fingering on the fretboard or choice of material. Shannon is, after all, just having fun, an amateur. Music is Shannon’s hobby, that’s all.

Now, though, things are different. Morgan, a musician, is being paid to cook. Shannon, a chef, is making money with music.

Would you expect them to have different expectations of each other’s hobbies now?

Folks who hire Morgan to cater a dinner are delighted with not only the food, but the price. They couldn’t afford Shannon’s highly professional service anyway, so they’re just glad they can get something they like at a price they can afford.

The coffee shops where Shannon makes a few bucks, the living room concerts that pay in generous tips, are glad to have lively music played by someone who loves what they do, who does it well enough for their guests at a price that allows them to have live music instead of prerecorded.

If these clients are happy to pay Morgan and Shannon for what were once only hobbies, should the other be miffed that “Shannon’s guitar playing isn’t studio-ready” or “Morgan’s cooking would never make it in a fine restaurant”?

At what point does it become a professional artist’s right to set expectations for another artist?

When a hobby morphs into a side business does an artist owe patrons the same quality as leaders in their field?

Is an artist obligated to be excellent, world-class, top of their game, before they’re allowed to exchange their art for money?

Or is that between the artist and those who are exchanging their money for that art?

Some Really Bad Writing Advice

I wish I had a nickel for every time I’ve read this sentence:

Swimming lesson. Not.The best way to learn writing is to write.

It comes mostly from pantsers who don’t want to learn story structure, who think it’s a straightjacket for producing formulaic pablum and they want no part of it.

When my middle daughter graduated from high school she wanted to write songs. We got her a small keyboard and I offered to give her lessons.

“No, that’s okay. I know what I’m doing.”

She was echoing what I’ve heard dozens of songwriters say: “Learning music theory will destroy my spontaneous creativity.”

Really? So you’re saying that me and Mozart and Dylan and Donald Fagen are drudges? I’m not the genius those three are, but I write better songs because I learned music theory, not in spite of it. Listen to Donald Fagen talk about composing the Steely Dan song Peg:

… more … “Some Really Bad Writing Advice”