Although I have made my living for over thirty years as a songwriter and musician, I must admit that I have a somewhat conflicted relationship with creativity. There are several reasons for this, and also several reasons why creativity will - in spite of everything - always have an important place in my career and life. I thought that by confessing that creativity is complicated even for this full-time creative, I might shed some light on why as adults we’re often resistant to creativity and why we should strive to incorporate it into our lives regardless.
Creativity messes things up
Let me start by saying I truly love order. I can be described - only somewhat tongue in cheek - as the kind of person who wakes up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom and makes the bed. For me, creating order is not only soothing but also my way of establishing focus in my work and life. One of the problems I’ve found with creativity is that it’s messy. The act of creation involves trial and error (lots of error), tension, vulnerability and no small amount of discomfort. And for a guy - true story - whose kindergarten teacher told my mother that I didn’t want to finger-paint because I didn’t want to get my hands dirty, this is a serious challenge. And yet I’m still drawn to creativity. The way that I reconcile this is by looking at creativity as messing things up so I can then put them back together again but better.
Creativity is scary
Even though I’ve been writing songs for over three decades, I still feel a slight tremor of fear every single time I sit down to write. So I can only imagine what it must feel like for someone who doesn’t explore their own creativity with any regularity. However, leaving your comfort zone is supposed to be scary. What I mean by this is that the fear that you feel when confronting creativity is exactly what you need to break out of your old, familiar routine. Also, I’ve found not only with myself but even with business teams that when I take them through my songwriting workshops, the fear is temporary. Once you’re absorbed in the creative process, everything else falls by the wayside in service of your creative effort.
Creativity takes effort
And, speaking of effort, it’s not an easy thing to begin a creative project of any kind. Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in his book “Finding Flow” refers to the effort it takes to begin any creative endeavor as “activation energy.” The difference between flopping down in front of the television and actively engaging in a creative exercise is significant and often enough to discourage even the most intrepid creatives. However, like getting past your fear, once you’ve exerted the effort, the rewards far outweigh what it took to get started.
So, let’s talk about those rewards…
Creativity adds meaning to life
A life built on maintaining the status quo and avoiding challenges may seem appealing at first glance but, in reality, will be almost unspeakably dull and unsatisfying. I’m not suggesting that everyone needs to become a painter or dancer in order to have a meaningful life but the act of having a hobby, telling a story or raising a child (one of nature’s original creative endeavors) adds meaning and texture to our lives. We need creativity to become the fullest expression of ourselves.
Creativity fuels productivity
Productivity - that coveted skill that all businesses require - is based on having something to “produce.” So, without the creative act there’s really nothing to be productive about. In my experience, I’m always much more motivated to be productive when I’ve created something I’m proud of that I want to share with the world whether it’s a new song, workshop or book. In the end, productivity is in service of creativity. It can be helpful to remember that productivity for its own sake is an empty exercise.
Creativity leaves a legacy
I’ve written about this before but it’s important to repeat that creativity isn’t the domain of a select few “anointed” ones but, rather, something that we are all born with. All of us are responsible for adding our unique creativity to the collective whole. Our reward for this is that we leave a little bit of ourselves behind. This means that a part of us will continue even after we’re gone. Whether it’s a made-up story for your child or a song people sing, your creativity will outlast you and that is a powerful reason to brave the discomfort and fear that are only temporary.
Cliff Goldmacher is a GRAMMY-recognized, #1 hit songwriter, music producer and author with recording studios in Nashville, TN and Middle River, MD. Through his studios, Cliff provides songwriters outside of Nashville with virtual, live access to Nashville’s best session musicians and studio vocalists for their songwriting demos. Find out more. You can also download Cliff’s FREE tip sheet “A Dozen Quick Fixes To Instantly Improve Your Songs.”