The creative process as heroin
...and why I have a weakness for limericks
Table of contentsOn the subject of great makersFickle sensation junkiesYou're human, baby, get over it.
Nobody has ever asked me why I enjoy limericks. Not one person on one single occasion. So it is in flagrant disregard of this unanimously mute wall of disinterest that I bring to you my totally unsolicited musings on the limerick as a form, the thoughts it has provoked regarding the experience of making things and, if we're really lucky, some growth Let's hope that it's benign.
For those who are unfamiliar, forgive me for popping your ignorant bliss-bubble. A limerick is a poem consisting of five lines with an AABBAI know, it's almost ABBA, but sadly, no cigar. "The winner takes it all..." rhyme scheme. The commonest formula is to claim that so-and-so is from placey-place in the first line. The rest is usually an outpouring of filth. But it's easy enough to keep it clean and silly:
There once was a man in a gutter
Who found it most tricky to utter
His very own name
Which was really a shame
And caused him quite often to mutter
Feel free to bemoan the pointlessness of a verse like this. I don't expect anyone else to get much joy out of it. But the fact is, and this is where we're straying into nauseating confessional territory, I made it up in about 90 seconds. And it gave me joy. Not the pitiful result - what is he muttering? And why? It really makes no sense - but the creative process itself.
Now, we can't very well go around giving out A's for effort every time somebody points out that making something feels goodUsually by taking your fat, furry ego into your lap and giving it a good stroke until it purrs at a frequency that moves mountains and, finally, burps contentedly, all the while giving you a smirk that says, "What you gonna do about it?", but I do think it worth noting that the thing you make, the results of your labour, no matter how grandly sweaty or pathetically dry, is almost beside the point. You needn't produce a useful artifact that posterity will thank you for. You don't even need to make something you're particularly proud of. You just need to make it.
Why is it that those you admire greatly, those who have assembled dizzying towers of genius and make you feel like a gormless pissantI just looked this up. I've only hitherto known it as a perjorative term. Not too surprisingly, it's also a type of ant, so often disavow their creations, seeming not exultantly triumphant upon finishing their awesome monuments, but almost melancholic? Surely it was only a month ago that Derek Brainy-McHandsome looked ready to storm Olympus when he was in the midst of creation. But now that his revolutionary new garlic press is complete, and all that's left to do is to watch it ruthlessly dominate the kitchen gadget market, I doubt he could storm a cat flap.
Ask anyone who has made great things, and I mean truly great, about their creations, and I guarantee they will be itching to talk about the next instead. Listen to Rachmaninoff's 2nd and 3rd piano concertosThis is genuinely good advice for all seasons, not just a pithy way of making a point; they are phenomenal and you will be questioning the point of his attempting a fourth. Congratulate Da Vinci on The Last Supper and he'd probably have hushed you, immediately dragging you into a dark room where he's dissecting a corpse and having a grand old time.
The best example really, is any writer worth a damn. A completed book is old news; it's always about the next thing. And really, it's obvious why.
It's all about now. The present. No matter how wild a high you experienced while writing that doom metal album that one reviewer gleefully dubbed "The sludgiest sounds going around", your memories of those feelings are just farts in the wind. You will feel the inconvenience of your having to wait five minutes for a bus more keenly, purely because you are feeling it in that moment.
Oof, that's a bit bleak if you examine it with too powerful a microscope. Let's zoom out and propose to shallow, glib solutions, if they can be so called.
Stunning piece of advice that. Take it to heart.
If that doesn't do anything for you, it is worth considering two things. First, barring some rather extreme misfortunes, you will always be able to carry on making things. Once you have finished with one creationProbably deciding that, though it could be a lot better, you've been boring your friends with it for 3 years and you're starting to lose their goodwill so best call it quits and move on, you are not done creating, you are merely done with that project. Pick up a new one. Make something else. If you've exhausted your interest in one domain, dive into a new one. You don't even have the excuse of lacking imagination anymore because the internet will just take down its pants and show you the goods for free.
And second, you can easily have several projects on the go at once. In fact, I definitely recommend it. Don't just have one idea that you feel you must absolutely follow through on or else you'll simply weep all day for three years. Have several! When you feel unable to continue with one - you're blocked, you're tired or maybe life just got in the way - then plough on with another. And please, don't mistake this advice for a productivity tip. I'm not advising anyone on how to get things done.
Frankly, I think the value ascribed to finishing things is based on largely unexamined assumptions.
Rather, this is how I think we can carry on doing and making things:
- Don't expect a finished project to bring you joy. You'll more likely feel empty. Start the next one immediately.
- Have several on the go. If you have some enormous undertaking that's ongoing, I'd recommend trying to keep those ancillary projects small and silly. Like limericks, for example 😉
Have a quicky to keep you satisfied:
It's said St Nick lost it one day,
And drank whiskey when out in his sleigh.
The elves trying to stop him,
Were torn limb from limb,
When Santa felt he'd been betrayed.