Breathe.

So, I was going to do a post on the importance of taking breaks when doing creative work, but then I saw that The Oatmeal had already done a comic about it last fucking week.

His is better. It has robot drawings.

Go read it here:

Creativity Is Like Breathing.

And take a deep breath.

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10 Things I’ve Learned In A Decade Of Creative Work

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This wine is for medicinal purposes after realizing how long I’ve been writing.

Writing Tuesday’s post made me do some math, and the result of that was: it has been almost ten years since I completed my first manuscript.

The actual decade mark will come sometime early next year, but it’s close enough. I remember it quite well, because in the spring of 2006 I was finishing up my master’s thesis and wondering how I would fill a year before going into PhD work.

Eight months later I burned all my PhD applications and watched the ashes flutter away in the January wind.

Since then I have not had a ‘real’ job. I’ve worked temporary part-time stuff, but nothing that you can tell people when they turn to you at a party and ask the dreaded question: “And what do you do?” I’ve been writing.

Here are some things I’ve learned in the last almost-decade:

1. There is no validation. Do not expect the easy win. In some ways, doing this is worse than a day job, because at least there someone can tell you if you’re doing it right. Artists are all pitching words or images or songs into the void and hoping something comes back. It is not for the faint of heart.

2. This is a long con. Be prepared for the long haul. This road runs into the desert, and there’s no proof it ever comes out again. Take water and sunscreen and a machete, because you’re going to be out there a while.

3. People don’t get it. Maybe art is something they don’t understand or something they wish they had done or something they feel is morally wrong, but, man, a lot of people do not fucking get it. Tell them you’re an artist and if you’re lucky you’ll get a blank stare. If you’re not…

4. It makes some people angry. On the upside, these people usually act like complete assholes, so you can safely ignore them while they flail around with their judgmental snark and passive-aggressive comments. It’s about them, not you.

5. Even work you love can be hard. There will be days when you want to punch yourself in the brain to make all the words fall out.

6. If it takes more than it gives, then you’re probably in the wrong job. All jobs take, and creative jobs are no exception. The only difference is what they take. In my case, writing has taken my time, my mental energy, my personal financial security, my independence, my other ambitions. It gives me joy, entertainment, freedom, and purpose. If you’re not getting more than you’re sacrificing, according to your own idiosyncratic math, then you’re doing the wrong thing. Actually, I guess that applies to all jobs.

7. You’ll work harder at this than any other job you’ve ever had. A couple of years back I had to put myself on a regular schedule, because I was spending almost eighty hours a week working on writing and was on the verge of burning out altogether. Even now, I work about fifty. That includes writing, outlining, editing, researching markets, sending out submissions…there’s a lot of unseen work that goes into producing art. And you usually don’t get paid for it. Be prepared for that.

8. It makes you a different person. Not a better person, note. Just different. I am not the same person I would have been if I had gone on to do my PhD. Or gone into teaching. Or done anything else. I look at the world in different ways. Sometimes they’re good ways. Sometimes I’m mining personal tragedy for story fodder.

9. You’ll want to quit. At least once. More likely thousands of times. Sometimes all in one day.

10. There is no rush like creation. When everything’s clicking over just right and all your hard work is coming together, you’ll fly. And you’ll never want to come back down.

Delightfully Tacky, Yet Unrefined: How Your Good Taste Is Killing Your Creativity

And here’s where I’ll put the lasers.

How familiar does this sound: you start writing. You work hard, but your stuff just isn’t coming out the way you want. It doesn’t have that…special something that all the works you love, the ones that changed your life, have. Hell, it doesn’t even have that passable something of the works that you read to kill time. It’s bad. Real bad. Or, worse, boring.

You know what you like. You know what’s good. And the words have been there for fucking centuries. Not like someone came along and made a whole new vocabulary, unless you’re counting words like ‘twerk’ and ‘vajazzled’, and really, who does?

So you think: I should probably give up.

A lot of people do.

Welcome to Suckage Lane. This road becomes the final resting place for many a creative endeavour. You can see their bones scattered along the lane as you slog along. And, hey, a lot of those bones look awfully fucking familiar.

The problem, though, is not the road.

The problem is you.

Or, more accurately, your good taste.

Too much awareness of what is ‘good’ kills creativity. You know what’s good, so you think you should only be making that, whatever that is. Otherwise, what’s the point?

But “good” is something to strive for, not something you need to achieve right out of the gate or give up. Because before you can make something good, you have to be willing to fuck up. You have to be willing to do something epically bad. So fucking bad that it never sees the light of day. Otherwise, your perception of good will smother your infant creativity right in the crib.

You ever see kids doing something for the first time? They’re not concerned with good taste. More rockets, more glitter, more tentacles, more unicorns…kids will try anything to see if it works. That’s why they’re little fountains of creativity that we need to harvest for their sweet, sweet brain juice learn from.

Try some stuff. Story not working out? Be willing to try anything. Introduce a city-wide outbreak of Sudden Poop Explosion Disease. Make the main character a cyborg with a pet lemur. More stripper assassins. Something.

You might still fail. But at least you’ll go down swinging. And you never know: maybe that ridiculous, insane, utterly tasteless thing…was just what you needed to keep going.

And if it’s not, you still thought big. You went outside your comfort zone and tried some new shit. You braved Suckage Lane, and, instead of turning back, armoured yourself in the bones of your past projects.

Creativity is a weird little plant that grows its best in fucking bizarre soil. So if you’re dedicated to only making things that are ‘good’…you’ll end up only making things that are boring.