The perils of creativity

This morning, I watched writer Elizabeth Gilbert’s TED talk on creativity and how we humans regard it (in a quite unhealthy way, she thinks). Please watch her talk first before reading the rest of the post – if you are a writer or any kind of creative, you will enjoy it.

A rambling Sunday morning post follows.


Being a “creative”
I have always known that I was a creative. When I was very young, I used to write and draw little “books” on bond paper, staple them together, and read them to my imaginary friends. I wrote poems and submitted them to local papers and magazines; as I grew older, I wrote essays and speeches and liked the challenge of taking an idea and spinning it my way. I wrote television scripts for no reason and swapped them with my friends in school. I always had a journal with me and wrote in it every day. I wrote and wrote and wrote – all the while oblivious of it. I swore never to become a writer (like my father), and yet I kept writing things, creating things. Creating something out of nothing made me happy – it still does.

Just before I saw Gilbert’s talk, I was downstairs reading the Sunday papers and saw two people I knew in the paper – Raya Martin, whose films are part of the official selection in Cannes (lucky bastard), and Chino Singson, guitarist of the Itchyworms (their band photo was in the paper). I sat there having breakfast and wondering if fame was equal to success, and if I should be as successful as the other people I know. Lord knows game development is never in the papers. But I realized very quickly that I liked it this way – it must be hard to have everything you do scrutinized by the public like that. It is fun to create things and do what you love and still live incognito.

The best we can do
Gilbert’s talk mentioned the downside to creative success – how she worried her bestseller Eat, Pray, Love was already her best work and she could never top it. Recently, I have been dealing with similar self-doubt (though nowhere near that magnitude – I have no freakishly successful bestseller!). For a year now, I have been sitting on an offer to direct a music video for Ang Bandang Shirley, one of my favorite local bands ever. I’ve been excited to do it (I get to direct “Patintero”, my favorite song of theirs) and for a year I’ve made it a creative exercise, mentally playing with different concepts and always ALMOST deciding on one. And then I almost always quit.

The self-doubt comes from the fact that I have only directed one music video in my life – it’s called Dream Systems, for the Purplechickens. And before I talk about THAT, here’s the video:

Dream Systems was one of those epic experiences that you only get to do once in your life. (Live shoot in front of a green screen, 3D world, printed out each frame, hand-painted in watercolor, two years to make – you get the idea.) We got some praise for it – won an award, got played in Cannes and Melbourne, and more importantly, some people really liked it – but it wasn’t a huge success by any external measure. By my internal measure, though, I love it. I love the damn thing, I really, really do.Β I think it is the best thing I have ever done. Even if nobody else thinks so, on the rare times that I watch it again, I always think that it came out just right, that it’s exactly what I wanted to create for the song (which is epic in its own “Champagne Supernova” kind of way).

This is why, every time Owel of Ang Bandang Shirley reminds me about doing a music video for them, I am afraid and nervous. Because if I make another one, it has to be at least as good as Dream Systems, which IMO was already quite enough.

Paid to create
Thank goodness making videos is not my primary job. Since Dream Systems, I haven’t written or shot any short vid. My real job, game writing, is actually a spin-off of my love for film – I find games to be just as visual a medium, except the interactivity lets me create multiple visual stories instead of one. And as an indie game developer, we do not have this “well, I have made something famous, I will forever be judged by it” problem – we are always on the outside of success πŸ˜‰

I do suffer from another thing Gilbert mentioned: the “I showed up for work but nothing creative is coming out of me” problem. Because I am paid to be creative, sometimes I need to squeeze it out when there’s nothing from which to squeeze. I have actually resorted to different tricks in order to get that muse-slash-genius to come out – coffee, mind-mapping, talking to myself, pacing, a cold shower… Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. But that’s all part of the fun of it. I wouldn’t want to be 100% creative 100% of the time – that must be incredibly tiring!

As for Ang Bandang Shirley, last week I finally got the guts to pitch two ideas to Owel – but we are a bit lukewarm about them, so I am back to the drawing board. Maybe I shouldn’t do it. Maybe I will. Maybe I won’t. Who knows?


PS I purposely didn’t tackle Gilbert’s main point of separating genius from the person, because I am completely neutral about it. And please do not get me started on how creatives turn out to be alcoholic manic-depressives.

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5 thoughts on “The perils of creativity

  1. Thanks for sharing Gilbert’s talk; it was brilliant, and just what I needed to hear at this point in my life too.

    As for you “showing up to work”: I say go! When you’re ready, of course. You had your time of brilliance with Dream Systems because you made the choice to be there, to become part of the experience. I’m sure you’ll have that opportunity again with Ang Bandang Shirley, and with everything else you do, whether it’s for work or for your other creative interests. πŸ™‚

    And I’m sure you’ll know when the time is best for you to sally forth once more into the breach. Creativity may or may not be separated from the person, but as you control the “person” part of it all, you are still the best judge of when to engage yourself in the process.

  2. Interesting.
    Am glad I got to see the video.

    I didn’t think I’d last listening to 19 minutes of that, but I did. She was very nice to listen to and she made good points.

    I don’t think I can call myself a writer, because for me I don’t have original works in terms of stories. Poetry maybe. and for poetry once I make one that I feel that I’ve done something so great I want to do something just as good…but never get to that point. Or something like that. I like free-writing because I suck at decent rhyming.

    I also think I could have tried making music. I get those days when I thought of this tune on my own…and I try to remember it, but it fails. Having no decent musical history it’s no wonder I could never remember it.
    I also have that idea with stories. I get this idea…but by the time I have paper I fail to write it.

    Until this video I never thought of it as some sort of muse. I guess believing that would be I would believe in some sort of God, and at this time I would rather not associate my achievements or downfalls with a supernatural creature I am unsure actually exists.

    The reason why I didn’t really take the creative side of me into a profession was because of the problem a lot of writers have. The fact that they get paid to squeeze out every last drop of creativity out of them worries me that I’ll work myself out and what I thought was going to be fun just became something to make money for. I was also worried my creativity would be compromised with business. I just want to do it for fun, but now I’m wondering if maybe I should take the risk.

    …IN SUMMARY, that was an interesting thing to talk about and I’m glad I was able to listen to it. I guess the best way to get through that problem is to just do your job, and hope that you won’t go through some psychological problem some writers seem to go through.

    Sorry for the blab >_<

  3. moongirl says:

    Dante: Glad you liked it! And I’m still on the fence about “Patintero”. The truth was, storyboarding Dream Systems was the easiest thing in the world. Not so with this one. Maybe I’m whipping the genius too hard >:)

    Minaru: No, please, blab some more! πŸ™‚ I actually did think you were going to be a writer – though you will learn once you graduate that your first job may not necessarily be the right one, and you have all the choices in the world to find out which job you love the most. Keep writing, whether professionally or personally (this is why I blog!) – if you’re a creative you really can’t help it, anyway.

    And on creativity being compromised with business – well… it depends on what you’re doing, and where you work. The best jobs don’t feel like work – you enjoy them as much as you enjoy any part of your life. Just “follow your heart”. Yuck. πŸ˜‰

  4. Minaru says:

    Haha right now I don’t have any creativity to write, but one day I will once again.

    I’m scared to get a job really. It’s hard to get one in my department, especially when you know you’re not as capable as you could have been. I hope I can do what I can

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