You’re wrong about the creative process

I started hating myself about 1:45 A.M.

Crammed in the corner of our Florida condo, I straightened my spine for the billionth time. It didn’t help.

Apparently, posture goes out the window after midnight.

My wife is breathing slowly on the bed — asleep, of course. We are both exhausted from a day on the beach. I am still in my swimming trunks, the net digging into places I don’t talk about online because I am a family friendly writer. In theory, people stop working when on vacation. My reality didn’t match that illusion.

I had an assignment. I had a video. I had a deadline. Beach time be damned.

They were going to pay $4,500 for 3 videos. $4,500! How was I supposed to say no? I had a book launch coming up in the fall. I had to pay for the cover, the formatting, the marketing, the everything. I needed the cash.

Right? Surely I did.

This isn’t a post about whether or not I should have taken the job.

This is a post about what it takes to complete creative work.

— — —

Here’s what you assume

One day you will be dreaming and the perfect idea will pop into your mind like bread jumping out of the toaster. Floating on a cloud carried by Calliope, you hover to your desk, whereupon your butt hits the chair and work begins. Approximately 3.4 hours later, you have completed your Opus.

What happens next?

You sell it, of course, and make enough money to carry you over to the next time the Muse plucks you off the couch to once again submit a vision of perfection to us mere mortals.

— — —

Here’s what really happens

You have an awesome idea. You work for 10 minutes. Then, the first roadblock:

“Hmmm,” you think. “I hadn’t considered ________ ”

(Of course you didn’t. The Muse delivers in slices, never a whole pie, the dirty flirt.)

If you push through that, you may find momentum. But about halfway through:

“This idea isn’t what I thought. Maybe the idea should go this direction instead?”

And then you have to make a decision. Decisions burn a lot of calories. Which explains the empty box of donuts.

You follow the new route, loving the direction it is headed.

Hours pass. Weeks. Maybe months.

You may be nearing completion at this point, but who knows? Your original vision is a laughable comparison to what now sits before you.

Finally, as one emerges through a field of branches, you ascend from the madness to see — you have finished!

At least, this is what it seems like. Until you look back over your work.

It’s God awful.

Who will fix this?

You. Only you. If you don’t remember anything else in this post, remember these two words:

Only you.

After all, who else would understand?

Chopping and hacking away, you find not the initial vision, not the one which reared its head halfway through, but something else entirely — a beautiful and new creation.

Full of hope and joy, you have something to be proud of. This, as they say, is what it’s all about.

And then.


Do you know what happens? Other People happen. Other People have questions. They circle like buzzards over a rotting deer, picking away at the guts:

“Have you thought about this?”

“Would it be better if _____”

“Why can’t it do this?”

You answer:

Yes. Probably. Because I didn’t think of that.

Okay, you think, let’s just ignore Other People. After all, creativity is about me and my ideas.


Other People give you money. Boss, Customer, Agent, Publisher, Producer, Gallery Owner. These are all Other People.

So you tweak again. You edit again. You try again. Because you want breakfast for tomorrow.

Eventually, you and Other People come to a point with which you are both pleased (or at least sick of working on it).

Relieved and ragged, you launch.

— — —

This process happens every time.

You can outgrow inexperience. You can outgrow obscurity. You can outgrow poverty. You can outgrow immaturity.

You cannot outgrow the process.

— — —

Why am I telling you any of this?

To remind you creative work is not for the faint of heart.

Take a moment today and embrace the weight of your commitment. If you want to make art because you think you’ll be in your own world, think again. If you’d like to create because you require consistent validation, this life is not for you. Go sit in the corner instead. We’ll put a blanket over you and bring you hot chocolate and tell you everything is going to be alright. We will take care of you and you’ll never have to try.

But if you are willing to fight the fight.

If you are willing to stand toe to toe with Other People,

If you believe, that blurry Thing in your head must be realized

If the pain of NOT creating is so great you can’t bear it.

If you can take the angst of creation,

the audacity of criticism,

and the agony of imperfection,

Then welcome home.

Let’s go to work.

Much love as always ❤

— Todd B

This article first appeared on Medium.