Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Let Your Why Drive

What you’re creating isn’t as important as why you’re creating it.

That’s what drives prolificacy.

And the secret is, once you identify the running imperative that drives your creative behavior, the nobility behind your work and the posture with which you approach your art, the what will make a habit of present itself.

When I started preproduction on my first documentary, my videographer asked about the vision for the film. Having never worked in that medium before, I decided to let my why drive the process. And so, I wrote my creative vision for the movie, not only as a personal exercise, but also as a directorial rubric for the team’s behaviors at all phases of the creative process.

Here’s the email:

Here’s what am I trying to do with this movie.

I have a bunch of songs and stories and sermons and scenes. They’re all meaningful to me and I want to share them with the world through the medium of a movie. I don’t know what it is, I don’t care what it is. All I know is why I want it to exist, and that’s because I’m a person who expresses and communicates and shares his feelings and ideas in a prolific way with the world, and since I’ve never tried doing so through this particular medium, I’m taking initiative and finding a new way to do what I do.

I have a passion to mass communicate, to beguile people with words and images and ideas and stories and music that transfix and compel, and I want to use every possible form of media to circulate my views, extend my sentiments and make my thoughts and feelings and expressions accessible to as many people as possible. Even if that means inventing new methods of communicating.

I don’t care about making money or making a name for myself, I don’t care about being right or good or accurate, I just want to have this visual archive of these things that are important to me.

That was my why.

And over the course of the project, in those moments when I was feeling overwhelmed or tired or sick or not in the mood to do any kind of creating, I read that email to remind myself why I do what I do. Sometimes I even read it aloud.

Because the reality is, nobody has time for anything anymore. That’s the first trick to time management, assuming there’s never a good time to do anything. Meaning, it’s not about finding time, it’s not even about making time; it’s about stealing it. Grabbing tiny moments from the crowded day and making a meal out of them.

The trick is, if there’s an activity we need to discipline ourselves to do, whether it’s writing or painting or coding or whatever other creative obligations our life demands of us, it’s not really a question of making the time to do it. The secret is creating a rich context of meaning around the activity so it becomes existentially painful not to do it.

You have to trick your own brain.

Take exercise, for example. Dragging your butt out of bed to go to the gym is no easy task. But it becomes significantly easier when you change your understanding of what the gym means to you.

If you reframed the gym as more than just a smelly room to sweat and pump iron, but a center of belonging and a neighborhood community where you connect with people who have overlapping value system, you might be more likely go. If you reframed the gym as a place where you work out your emotions, purge your stress and return to center, the necessary training to handle the demands of life, you might be more likely to go.

This reframing won’t create any more time in your day to do something, but considering the depth of meaning you now associate with the gym, why would you ever want to miss another day?

What you’re creating isn’t as important as why you’re creating it.

And so, being prolific isn’t the goal. It’s the personalized system of practices and routines and disciplines and commitments that enable you to achieve your goal.

That’s the why.

It’s not just about spawning, it’s about stretching. Stepping outside of what’s comfortable, constantly creating something new, living larger than your labels, that’s how you grow as a person. But if you never make anything, you never find out who you are.

It’s not just about executing, it’s about elevating. Running up the score on your resume doesn’t matter if you’re not getting better, smarter, stronger and sharper with every new thing you create. But if the work never improves, you’re just running in place.

It’s not just about purging, it’s about providing. When you die, plan to leave behind a body of work, not just a body. Until then, each artistic milestone you pass is another piece of your legacy. But if you do it right, it will live forever.

It’s not just about content, it’s about commitment. The guts to stay in the game, show up every day and ship no matter what, will earn respect for the work and, more importantly, for the backbone behind it. But if you lack continuity, the content won’t matter.

It’s not just about money, it’s about mandate. Most artists do what they do because they’re ugly when they don’t. It’s central to who they are. It’s their spiritual imperative to make art. But if they don’t create, they don’t feel alive.

It’s not just about entertainment, it’s about expression. The purpose of art isn’t just to please people, it’s to project ideas and feelings. To share a sense of life and an index of human values. But with only a few pieces of work, you can’t express the whole picture.

As a creator, as you continue to ship more and more great work, never forget that giving birth to your creative brainchildren is only the beginning.

It’s not about being prolific, it’s about what prolificacy enables you to do.