Why do I want to create?

Two times in the same week! I guess momentum is starting to pick up.

I thought a little bit more about this question of motivation. And I don’t even know if motivation is necessarily the right word either. I do brainstorm these ideas with my therapist and with friends. Why is it in the first place that I even want to do something creative?

At a certain point, you start to get too metaphysical when you question your motivation for doing everything. Any and all motivation is going to be some sort of combination of biology, psychology, and perhaps theology if you’re so inclined as well. I know that at somewhere deep down, I simply want to do something creative. And so even when I do approach writing projects, the ideas that I have for writing stories or something where the premise of the story is something exceedingly “novel,” if you’ll pardon the pun. Like I don’t want to write some generic Harlequin romance, or a Western based on a very strict, formulaic script. As much as I say the idea of being a “writer” is appealing, I don’t mean being a copywriter, or someone who produces potboilers to pay the rent. I think that’s an important distinction.

At a certain point you question whether you want to be a writer because you enjoy the creative process, or because you want to make money, and be famous, and be lauded for how smart and creative and special you really are. There’s no clear answer to that one. Obviously if I was making a boatload of money as a novelist, and I had complete domain over my schedule, I wouldn’t be doing the job that I’m doing right now. I wouldn’t be doing any other job at all. So is my desire to be creative, or is my desire to make money? They don’t necessarily have to be mutually exclusive goals, but there is some sort of an overlap between the two of them.

So why do I want to write? Is it some sense of self satisfaction about being able to look at something you created and have a sense of pride regarding it? Or is it some deep, psychological manifestation from childhood, the kind of thing that torments an artist their entire life, where I have to seek external validation in order to be satisfied with myself?

The more I dwell on this point, the more I think the answer is “maybe all of the above.” A very lawyerly answer, if there ever was one. But hear me out. I am writing this blog, which I don’t advertise to just about anyone, where I’m essentially dictating thoughts into Microsoft Word, and posting them online knowing full well that probably no one is ever going to reflect on, nor read these words. It’s essentially a very public diary. and I think if you’re the kind of person who writes a diary, to reflect on your thoughts in a private way without seeking external validation, at a certain point you must enjoy writing. Or at the very least, the act of writing provides some sort of catharsis where ideas are rumbling around in your head. Like being able to put pen to paper or word to processor become some sort of a spiritual digestif, calming some mild or grave torment that needs to come out through your mouth or through your hands and be expressed. And in that sort of a situation, the audience is really neither here nor there. Somebody may read your writings and your journals and your diaries one day, but that’s not the point. 

And I guess philosophically, this is exactly what I want. Or at least that’s what the story in my head tells me that I want. I want to create art for the intrinsic purpose of creating art for my benefit. That’s why my podcast is called “Who Cares if You Listen?”, because I want to reflect on the fact that it’s there for my benefit, and my sense of art and intrinsic value. I don’t think that’s egotistical; rather, it’s an acknowledgment that creating something is valuable in and of itself, and I don’t have to chase likes or eyeballs or money in order to justify the things that I’m doing.

Maybe that’s just a story that I tell myself because it sounds very noble and respectable. Maybe I do care a little bit about whether people read this or listen to my podcast. But then again here I am throwing pencils in the void for a second time in one week, after not touching this blog for almost a month. So that’s got to count for something.

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How to start moving again without a swift kick in the ass.

Well, it finally happened. It looks like I bottomed out on my creative endeavors.

I had a feeling that this would happen eventually. But it’s been well over a month since my last podcast episode, and probably two or three months (edit: only one!) since the last time I updated this blog. I know through years of therapy that I probably shouldn’t shame myself for doing that, as it’s not particularly helpful or fruitful. But still. There is certainly a part of me that feels as though I’m some sort of moral reprobate, or at least a garden variety failure.

But enough about wallowing in self flagellation and self pity. What do I do about it? There’s a lot of different schools of thought, and in the past I probably would have turned to self-help books about time management, arguing that a lack of free time is what is to blame for not making headway on my creative endeavors.

But nowadays, I don’t think that this is true at all. Honestly, even on days when I have ample amounts of free time, I have a neverending capacity to refresh email inboxes, check social media, and do a lot of sweet-eff-all when I could be writing, or doing other creative work. Twitter has been a recent time sink for me. No, if I was going to do self help work at this point, I’m really more interested in the science of motivation. I read a little bit of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s concept of “flow,” and that’s of course a very trendy and neat one to think about. But there are certainly rare fleeting moments where I get so lost in practicing the piano, that I lose track of time and I just truly absorb myself in the moment. It’s fleeting, almost like a dream state. And as soon as I draw myself consciously to notice that I’m in this flow state, it instantly disappears. It’s like how you can start lucid dreaming when you realize that you’re in a dream, but as soon as you realize you’re in that dream state, everything begins to crumble apart.

But flow isn’t the same as motivation. How do I get excited about my creative projects? How do I find the burning passion to set aside the easy creature comforts, and dig deep to the more long term, high end satisfying goals? And of course, how do I know what my goals actually are? Maybe I’m deluding myself by thinking that I want to improve my chess, compose music, and putting in a lot of hard work on my podcast. But if not those endeavors, then what? It’s certainly never been a career focus, and it certainly isn’t that now. But I’d like to think that my ambitions run higher then obsessing over social media, and spamming games on my phone. But even in the way I phrased that, I can’t help but notice a certain level of self shaming, and questioning my own self worth. And around and around in circles we go again.

I don’t know if anybody actually reads this blog, or if I’m just throwing pencils into a void. However, if anyone does read this or follow this, and has any suggestions on books about motivation, either from a scientific or philosophical standpoint (I don’t really care which) I would love to hear about them.