When I begun down this road I had a vision of the creative life. I saw it as a noble struggle, as a virtuous fight against the Resistance, as a mission to take whatever debris Fortune throws in my path and transform it into something beautiful. Essentially, I equated the creative life with war and saw each day as a solitary struggle. Me against myself. Me against the emptiness. Me against whatever and whoever dared to obstruct my path.
I don’t see it like that anymore.
The origins of this perception shift are twofold. First, a book called Infinite Games by James Carse. The essential distinction in the book is that there are two types of games: finite games, in which you play to win, and infinite games, in which you play to keep playing. From that, I compressed the following maxim:
Playing with boundaries is more fun, and more rewarding, than playing within them.
The second part of the shift from creativity-as-war to creativity-as-play arose from Keith Johnstone’s Impro. I don’t know what the main thing I took from that book is, but if I had to guess, it would be something about effortlessness. Johnstone makes the point that creativity is not something you force. It’s something that is natural and effortless and obvious. Creative is something you become when you give up all pretension and affectation and stop censoring your own thoughts.
What both these books have in common is the focus on play, on fun, on joyfulness. Everything about my understanding of creativity and work opposed that conception. I was serious and stony-faced and conducted myself like I was the carrier of some extraordinary burden. Pah! How mistaken I was. Now I see the error of my ways. And the most concrete manifestation of this change is how I think about and try to write.
Before, I would exhort. I would talk at, rather than with. I’d use words like “must” and “should”. I’d attempt to tell myself—and consequently, anyone who read my work—what to do and why. Now, I try not to. Now, rather than giving a lecture I try to engage in a dialogue. I try not to preach, like I’ve seen The Truth and have to share it with anyone and everyone. Instead I try to engage the world around me, and the people in it, in a dialogue.
I’ve realised that “being creative” (whatever that means) is not about winning battles, but having conversations. Asking questions, giving answers, sharing stories and listening to them, pausing to reflect and actively synthesising experiences. It is less an imposition of my will on the world, and more an interaction with everything and everyone around me. It is a back-and-forth that persists as long as I continue to hold up my end of the contract. It’s a never-ending dance with the real, the unreal, and whatever exists in the dark chasm that separates them.