Or: Why I’ve decided to keep giving creative advice despite having no respectable credits to my name, next to no money, and no idea what I’m doing.
I hate giving creative advice. I got plenty to say, but I can’t say I feel qualified. How should knowing my approach or my philosophy help you when I have, as mentioned above, next to nothing to show for it? “I Worked Publishing Mill Style Ghostwriting Erotica for Three Years, And You Can Too!” Who wants that? Nobody.
So, for the longest time instead of giving advice (or blogging, or really talking about what I do) I’d respond to people at a loss for what to do with their creative lives by linking to advice/process notes/stories of hardship and struggle from creators I admire. Usually, this was met with appreciation. Sometimes (pretty often, really) I got a response that baffled me.
The response could be generalized, “I don’t want advice from this person, they’ve already made it.” Which seemed… stupid to me. At the time. Why wouldn’t you want to hear the perspective of someone who’s already made this work? There’s a reason appeal to authority is such a tempting trap in debate and advertising; experience and proven success are impressive and kind of scram-damble our brainmeats into believing and wanting stuff. If this guy made it, surely he has something of merit to say about it, am I right?
“So, what?” I started asking. “You want advice from some schlub with no credits?”
And they’d normally throw their hands up at me, exclaim that they didn’t know, and change the subject. Pretty fair, considering what I realize now, which is that I was being a thick-headed jackhole who couldn’t see what they really wanted through my Goggles of Jackholery. Also, getting scram-dambled by the appeal of authority.
How did I come to this conclusion? Chemistry class.
Let’s sidetrack for a second: Way back in undergrad, back when I was somehow simultaneously majoring in software engineering and trying with all my heart to convince myself I wasn’t a nerd anymore, I had to take a chemistry class. An engineer’s chemistry class, which was differentiated from the general education chemistry class by:
-Being held in the hurricane-ravaged (but well-equipped!) engineering sciences building.
-Being hard as goddamn fuck because it assumed that anyone taking it was not only on an engineering track but considering a chemical engineering track.
I still have journals from those days, and it turns out that one day after spending a four hour lab session slowly succumbing to hypothermia under our tarp roof, I made note of our professor’s advice about understanding the course material. I paraphrased it thusly:
“Unless it’s a matter of life and death, go to other students for help before you come to me. As far as understanding these concepts, they’re a lot closer to the epiphany you need than I am. They can show you how to get there, whereas I’ve been there for years and only half-remember the way.”
This professor trusted deeply in the value of study groups and communication between students. He trusted us, he believed that we had the tools to teach each other and not just sit in lectures. How profound is that? How rare is that sentiment? It’s so rare that I needed to write it down, but it’s so counter to how we’re taught to view learning that I still effectively disregarded it for years.
It makes sense. I remember reading writing and general creative advice from much older, much more established people during those same undergrad years and being like, “Whubbajuh? Huh? Where am I supposed to start? You’re saying start here but I’m not even here yet.” IT wasn’t until I started talking to people, talking to people on my level or just a little further up, that I could dig my fingers into concepts and start clawing my way upward.
It’s more than that, though. It’s more than the cold progression toward understanding, toward some lofty final goal that (spoilers) doesn’t exist anyways. More than that, more importantly than that, the need to communicate with other creators and not just with lofty Established Divinities is the need for connection and validation.
There’s a veil around the life of a creator, one woven from shame and insecurity and pinned in place by expectations from people who see (or would prefer to see) the process as one that is essentially magical. That’s not fair. It robs us of perspective, it throws a harsh and artificial light on our perceived failures.
Creation isn’t easy. The road to completing even one project is longer and more difficult than the final product could ever communicate to an observer. We shut ourselves up until it’s done and we never talk about all the times it nearly died, about all the times we started over, about the string of dead-end jobs we picked up to support it, about the strange games we played with ourselves to drum up motivation when reserves ran out.
Maybe we have a collective obligation to do the opposite. Maybe creation can be beautiful and amazing and magical even when people know that it’s hard, that it’s work, that you stumble and struggle for years before you make headway. Maybe we can make trying hard cool, or at least acceptable.
If you’re reading this and you’re an amateur – you only need to feel like one, really – consider sharing. Share your epiphanies, share your process. Share your hardships as they happen. Broadcast all the hard work you put in so that others doing the same don’t have to feel alone. Don’t hide away just because you haven’t made magic happen. Don’t declare, “I have done this! Behold!” Maybe declare tenacity and solidarity.
“Look at me! I also struggle! I’ve struggled for years to get where I am, but I’m not where I was! I’m gonna keep it up and get somewhere else, and so are you!”
Or something like that.