As a high school honor student and English major, my instructors required students to turn in drafts and notes with our term papers as part of our grade.
The purpose, I believe, was to prevent plagiarism. Before the development of anti-plagiarism software, this was a way for instructors to ensure that the paper was original by having documentation of the student’s writing process.
Some of my peers didn’t plagiarize, but they did take shortcuts. They wrote their papers the night before it was due and managed to turn in a stack of drafts and notes.
How they pulled this off, I don’t know. I don’t think it was out of laziness. Like me, they were high performers with schedules full of the things that high performers do, and in this one area they chose to cut corners.
Maybe you don’t blame them. Maybe you think that this process is insanely tedious. Maybe you would have done the very same thing.
Because I am a writer, I did not find loopholes. I did the work. All of it.
I wrote about 3–5 drafts per term paper, starting the writing process weeks out before the deadline. I broke the process down in chunks of tasks.
My peers did less work, took the shortcuts, and in some cases got better grades than I did, yet they missed out on this process.
Writing English papers isn’t “creative”, but this process taught me valuable lessons about how to be creative.
I learned how to walk away from the project and come back to it with fresh eyes.
I learned how to get to the heart of the matter with clarity, precision, economy, and candor.
I learned about the shitty first draft and the evolution of an idea.
While I was putting in my 10,000 hours, this process immersed me in a deep study of my craft.
I learned how to edit my own work, arriving ever closer to expressing an idea in its purest form.
No Perfect Conditions
If you didn’t learn how to be creative, it’s easy to blame external conditions.
A parent told you that you weren’t creative and to enter a profession that “makes money”.
You were trapped in the gray prison of the American public school system that taught you to memorize facts and take tests.
Or, you always feel blocked, so you tell yourself, “I am not creative.”
Creativity can be taught, but only if you have the courage to learn.
I did not have the problem of a discouraging parent, the American public school system, or a lack of confidence.
I am creative, and I had a mother who was an artist, thrived in the America public school system, and always held an unshakeable truth that I am a writer.
Sounds like the ideal conditions, right?
You would think that, but I also have my own obstacles, like a mental illness that seems to push me one step back for every two steps forward I take.
Through it all, I have the Butt in Chair Discipline required for prolific wordage.
There are always obstacles. There will always be obstacles: impediments on your time, creating a human being, the grind, your depression or fibromyalgia or ADHD; or buying a house and then replacing the roof and then going through a divorce…and then, and then, and then.
Your negative parents, creative blocks, and shitty gray prison of an American public school system are just one of a goddamn many obstacles between you and being creative.
These are all the normal conditions of being a creative. They do not define you.
This work will do everything possible to break you. Life will give you resistance from all sides.
All obstacles can be overcome.
You cannot survive by taking shortcuts. You learn to be creative when you walk on the hot coals and crawl through the broken glass and you do the work anyway.
You can blame your parents, your teachers, and the bully who lived on your street. But at some point, it comes down to whether you’re willing to do the dirty work.
My peers took shortcuts because they decided that learning the process was not worth their time. They chose other priorities. It worked in the short-term but not in the long term. They robbed themselves of an experience.
You can learn to be creative if you respect the process, don’t take shortcuts, and crawl through the mud.
Creative work is euphoric and invigorating. It will also scrape out your insides and make you doubt the meaning of your existence.
All those years as an honor student in high school and later college, I found time to write. I wrote in the wee hours of the morning, during my free periods, and on 30-minute breaks of a part-time job.
I have to fight for that time. It is never convenient and it always comes at a cost.
Find a way, not an excuse.
Photo Credit: by Joel Filipe on Unsplash
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