In the course of my career, I’ve published thousands of articles, and written even more as a copywriter.
When I first got started over 7 years ago, one of my biggest fears was that my well would “run dry,” so to say. I was concerned that I would burn out eventually, that I couldn’t keep producing at such a high volume. I imagined a doomsday scenario where I opened my email composer and couldn’t come up with a pitch, couldn’t formulate even just one more headline, let alone something compelling and interesting and relevant.
As time has gone on, I’ve learned a really important lesson about creativity, and the human brain.
Creativity is not a well that runs dry. It’s a muscle that strengthens with use. The more you do it, the easier it gets — not the other way around.
It is far easier for me now to come up with pitches, it takes a fraction of the time it used to.
It is far more effortless for me now to wake up and write articles, there’s almost no buffer time between when I sit down and when I feel ready to begin.
There are an infinite number of things to talk about, and an infinite number of ways to talk about them. When you think about it like this, you see creativity more as a field of endless potential, as opposed to a grab-bag after which will run out once all the good ideas have been used up.
You begin to crave what you repeatedly do. You don’t just feel more comfortable, you start to want it. By the end of a vacation, I’m excited to get back to my laptop. On Sunday night, I go to bed and can’t wait to wake up in the morning and get started on the story ideas in my tabs. I am almost always emailing myself possible headlines, topics, and Instagram posts.
Getting over the hurdle
It wasn’t always this way.
In fact, at the beginning, it was hard to wake up and produce every day.
I probably thought I couldn’t do it in the future because it felt so difficult to do then.
That’s because I wasn’t over “the hurdle,” as I call it, or the creative person’s biggest barrier that they first have to break through in order to become prolific.
This barrier is constructed of seeing their work through other people’s eyes and trying to adjust accordingly, but the problem (in the case of writing) is mostly that they’re just trying to create in a way that’s too different from the way they naturally think or speak. Do you get speaker’s block? Of course not. You get “writer’s block” because you’re trying to create something without knowing what you want to say, or you’re trying to say it in a way that’s too unnatural.
Do you know why creative people find it hard to create? It’s because they’re not being authentic to themselves. They’re trying to mimic someone else’s career, do something that’s elevated and impressive, something that is anything other than what’s actually in their heart and mind.
We avoid this because it requires vulnerability.
It requires us to put ourselves out there.
But once we do it for a while, we find that when our intentions are good, people are often much more supportive and encouraging than you imagine they’ll be. Then once you deal with a hater or two here and there, you’re freed of the fear that someone will dislike what you do. Of course someone will dislike it. You have to do it anyway.
Years ago, my worst fear was that someone would disapprove. Now, I expect it. Now, I think it’s a sign of writing disruptive, interesting, compelling work that gets deep to the core of what’s happening in our psyche. I also think it’s the natural byproduct of something getting popular. Overall, I think it’s less of a judgment against me and more a sign that I’m getting somewhere.
Creativity strengthens only when you’re actually being creative, not when you’re in “editing” mode, or “copying” mode.
There is a caveat to this argument, however, which is that your creative muscles aren’t going to strengthen if you aren’t actually being creative.
If you are spending your time just trying to riff off of someone else’s work, mirror or emulate something you admire or love, you’re standing in another person’s shadow and wondering why you’re not shining bright. In a more literal way, you’re not engaging the parts of your brain that you actually need to be.
Creativity is what we create when we think we’re alone. It’s when we write what we need to read, and make what we need to have in our lives. That’s also the greatest secret to success, because what’s moving to us will often be moving to others; what’s appealing to us will often be appealing to others. When we try to intentionally create for consumption, we miss the mark because we neglect the human element, which we can only find within ourselves.
When we’re creating from an authentic place, it gets easier and easier over time. More importantly, it gets better over time.
So if you’re someone who is afraid of “giving it your all,” writing a masterpiece and then running out of ideas, embarking on a big project and fearing what might or might not be next, relax.
When you get yourself used to writing at length, you’ll start to do it automatically. When you get yourself used to creating every day, it will become second nature.
You don’t need to hold back. You need to give it everything you’ve got right here and right now.
It will only make you better and better.