Getting to Work or Waiting for Creativity?

Black Haired Guy thinks about what is more important: creativity or determination and hard work?

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Sometimes you hold a certain set of beliefs about the world and upon inspection realize that they’re contradictory.  Both views sound good enough to be taken as fact but together they don’t make any sense. I’ve recent ran into a set of these contradictions upon thinking about goals, success, and “getting somewhere” in regards to long-term dreams. I want to be a writer, a blogger, or something along those lines. As you can guess these take a certain about of blatant creativity as well as dedication to keep working on goals and remain determined. On one hand I believe in the “sacredness” of creativity and how you simply can’t force it. In the strictest sense if you have no ideas for a story or a song (or whatever artwork you do) and you sit down and try to “force it” I think it will turn out to be shit. Like if I forced myself to write a blog post without having any inspiration behind it it will be shit. Take this for an example. I’ve been thinking of this topic for a week or two and I’m not “forcing it.” My other mantra is something about hard work being required to get somewhere, and not just hard work but that determined focus on goals and an insatiable appetite for working towards them. Trying to do anything means getting shit on over and over again and this requires some determination to keep going despite the shit. Taken separately they sound pretty good and I can give examples for both. But taken together? “You can’t force creativity but you need to fucking keep going and remain determined.” What?

That leads to some really shitty times where you’re sitting down wanting to write a story or a blog but not being inspired to write. You end up sitting there and staring at the computer or paper and just getting angry. According to my first mantra if you’re in this state you shouldn’t sit down and try to write some uninspired bullshit because it will suck. Obviously if you have an idea then you need to work on it but what the hell do you do if you aren’t inspired? Force yourself to write shit?

I think what started me thinking about this was some Stephen King quote about writer’s block being bullshit, or was it Jerry Seinfeld? Fuck. I’ll try to find it now…

Fun fact: it’s both. Seinfeld said in a Reddit Ask Me Anything thread that “Writer’s block is a phony, made up, BS excuse for not doing your work.” and Stephen King said that “Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.” They meant that, yes, there will be times where things don’t come easy with art where you aren’t inspired but that it is no excuse: the second mantra of hard work and determination is more important that being inspired. They use the term “writer’s block” but we know what that means; it means not being inspired. Confronted with that information from actual successful people who are considered experts I’m inclined to nearly abandon the first mantra of creativity not being able to be forced. I suppose I still think of it that way, but you can’t just sit around and wait to be inspired. Perhaps by working on something you will get your mind active and thinking of ways to be creative. Either way it seems the “hard work” part is more important and must outweigh sitting around waiting to be inspired.

Have a blockquote too. I never get to use them.

Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.

-Stephen King

BIG GOALS and tiny details

Big Goals are made up of tiny, individual struggles. They can wear you out, and how to perhaps manage the struggle.

Goals are really easy. Think of the “big goals” and the crap you tell yourself when you’re a kid that you’ll do as adult. Become a doctor. Go to college. Travel to Europe or Asia. Have a family and a few kids. Start a business. Or, crazily enough, perhaps start a personal blog. I mean they’re easy because they’re basically straightforward goals. You just have to make progress towards the goal. But the strange and really crummy part is there is little to no glory chasing your dreams on a day-by-day basis. These dreams and goals that are wonderfully glorious in and of themselves are really made up of a bunch of tiny and mundane things that are where the actual work and struggle exists. Big dreams are easy, but they’re made up of hundreds and thousands of tiny, boring, and mundane struggles which is where things can become difficult.

 

A Blog Example

As I’ve stated in my last post, this site, theblackhairedguy, has been rather derelict for the past half year as I’ve started a new blog over at EverythingSucks. And as stated, that blog has more of a vision than this one does; theblackhairedguy was always meant as an introductory experiment where I actually learned what the hell I was trying to. Having sort of accomplished that, I wanted to move on to a blog with a vision and try to be very professional about how I went about it. I had a well-defined goal finally.

And I found that, duh, the primary goal of “Making a Successful Blog” really had a bunch of other smaller goals that make it up. You might even call them “Intermediate Goals” because even if they are more specific than “Make a Blog,” they still are rather general. My point here is that you can’t just “go out and make a blog” anymore than you can just “go out and get a doctorate in quantum electrodynamics” (well you can but it will probably be shit). Here’s a quick list off the top of my head regarding some intermediate goals to making a blog:

  1. Find a good blog name
  2. Find a good domain name
  3. Format the blog properly
  4. Find a decent logo or banner to represent yourself
  5. Write good posts
  6. Make a Facebook page
  7. Market the Blog
  8. ….
  9. Blog is Successful!

What you’ll probably realize is that these steps are still too general to pick away at and that they still become complicated as you try to chip away at these smaller goals. Take step number 4, “get a logo.” It sounds easy but once you get at it, you realize that you now need to account for image sizes: Facebook has a square profile so the logo must be square for that page, and the WordPress banners dimensions vary based on what design you go with, so immediate the simple “logo” step is complicated by image dimensions, formatting, and the like. Facebook also has differing image dimensions for cover photos for mobile and desktop. How do blog post banners format when you share them in Facebook? How do you make sure you can keep the same colors? Does the program you use use hex code colors? What the hell even is hex codes? If it doesn’t, can you convert to RGB colors to keep things the same? Does the banner and logo even look nice? Even if it’s formatted properly you can’t have it look like shit. Here’s a list of all the crap I ran into when designing logos and banners for EverythingSucks:

  1. Have your sister make a logo because she’s better at design than you are
  2. Discover Facebook cover photo dimensions and proper formatting
  3. Ask sister to make new banners and logos in the correct dimensions
  4. Sister is kind of a slacker and doesn’t follow through
  5. Ask sister what program she used to make the images (Phonto)
  6. Attempt to reverse-engineer original banners to create my own
  7. Take image ratios and find proper pixel dimensions
  8. Use online program to find colors in hex code
  9. Discover Phonto doesn’t do hex code colors
  10. Convert hex code into RGB colors by using some website
  11. Finally succeed in making banners, logos, and cover images that are up to par!

Obviously that was really complicated and a pain in the ass. That’s my point though: these intermediate goals are filled with some total bullshit that you’d rather not worry about. What started as a general goal of having a blog somehow led me down the path of converting hex color codes into RGB and downloading Phonto onto my Samsung phone. It was challenging too and I thought about giving up a bunch of times. When I started off on the blog creating journey, I wouldn’t even think that I’d spend days trying to reverse engineer a perfect logo and become frustrated with how little blogging I was doing in trying to make a blog. But a decent logo and banners are still really important and I had to pick away at it.

 

Getting Bogged Down and Managing It

What you can probably guess can and will happen is that you’ll sort of get lost in the woods on these tiny small steps. Making a logo is a pretty important aspect of having a blog and a brand, so you want it to look nice. But if you get too carried away at it you’ll never make any progress! There’s a perfect balance to be found between the small mundane goals and your primary goal: you can’t half-ass the tiny goals and have a successful primary goal but you also need to know when to move on with the smaller crap. Think of a road trip: you have to focus on your destination and not get bogged down visiting shitty tourist traps along the way. But that’s a shitty analogy anyways so whatever.

I take inspiration from Elon Musk here I suppose. In case you don’t know who he his, he’s the CEO of SpaceX, Tesla Motors and did some stuff with PayPal way back in the day. Here I’m going to talk about his vision for Tesla Motors. You can imagine how difficult it is starting and running a successful car company, but he made a “master plan” of sorts with regards to Tesla Motors. The link is to the “part two” master plan, but details the first one. If you don’t want to use the link, it says:

  1. Create a low volume car, which would necessarily be expensive
  2. Use that money to develop a medium volume car at a lower price
  3. Use that money to create an affordable, high volume car
  4. And…
  5. Provide solar power. No kidding, this has literally been on our website for 10 years.

This company has been around for over ten years and step 3 in the plan, build an affordable high-volume car, has basically just been accomplished this week as the first Model 3 vehicles were delivered to customers. If you’re aware of the company, you might know that step 1 is the Tesla Roadster, and step 2 is the Model S. My point here is that he made a master plan with 3 (4 or 5?) steps that was his basic outline for the entire company for a decade. And while the plan hasn’t been smooth sailing at all points in time, you have to admire how well it has been followed with me able to name the exact vehicles that satisfied the steps! Now remember how terribly complicated it is to manage a company and admire the clarity of the plan…

I think this technique would work well in almost all areas with the only downside that I can see is if your “master plan” has flaws that aren’t realized yet. An example would be going to college for a career that would soon be in decline; it’s could be the most detailed and well-executed plan ever, but if you deliberately end up in a shitty field that’s you’re problem and not the plan’s fault. So the plan should be somewhat flexible and open to new ideas, but it should also be your guideline to follow when you start to get bogged down in the minutiae of daily bullshit challenges. Imagine if you’re going to college for the first time. It probably sounds really complicated when you get down to the details, but in reality all you have to do is find a school, apply, take classes, and pass the classes! Easy, right?! I’m just saying that when you’re trying to figure out how to schedule an entrance exam or figure out financial aid or finish a research paper, it sure would help to have a big, golden “GO TO COLLEGE AND FINISH A DEGREE” plastered on a wall in your room, or even mentally in your mind to keep your focus. That’s how it’s been with blogging, and apparently with every remotely complicated goal ever in life. Keep your focus and make it through the daily challenges!

Talent or Determination: Morrowind Style

Some people are good at certain things while others suck. To the frustration of the talented person, they usually are told something along the lines of, “Wow, you’re so talented! I wish I could (insert whatever skill) as good as you!”

practice-vs-talent
Poached with love from Facebook

This usually angers the artist because they believe they’re only as good as they are because of the hard work they’ve put into learning their craft. In their minds they can see how shitty they were initially and how slightly-not-as-shitty they are currently. It wasn’t talent, they think, it was hard work. These are the two major schools of thought on the topic of getting better at things: talent vs determination. I’m in the latter group, as I vaguely remember reading some scientific-esque studies on talent and whatever. But I don’t have any proper citations so it doesn’t really count. I need to practice my citation skills because I don’t have talent for it.

The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind was a game released by Bethesda Softworks in 2002. You might not be familiar with it, but it is one of my all-time favorite games. Bethesda is also to thank for Fallout 3 and 4, TES IV: Oblivion, and the wildly popular TES V: Skyrim. The latter two games, which you’ve certainly heard of, are about 50-75% as good as Morrowind; although they are similar, you have been missing out on a good thing. I can’t even quite explain why it’s amazing. Well, I could but it would take a few blog posts and I’m not ready for that yet. I might be looking through my nostalgia goggles, but it was the first game I’ve played that was open. It blew my mind that I could just wander around and how the game didn’t give you a clear cut goal. They sort of did, but not like most games do. The game also allowed you to ruin your play-through in the first few minutes by stealing shit in plain sight of the guards. There was no hand-holding whatsoever.

The skill system applied in the game isn’t really notable in any way. It is pretty typical of most RPG games, and this commonality applies in Oblivion and in Skyrim (if you played those, or any other, you’ll understand what I’m talking about). They have skills, and by using the skills you get better at them. There are a handful of skills (heavy armor, short blade, archery, lockpicking, etc) given by a number from 0-100. You never really start with anything at 0 (the default was 5?), but you get the idea. 0 meant you were terrible and a 100 meant you were amazing at the skill. The intermediate values were also what you’d expect them to be.

I’d like to imagine people have their own set of numbered skills. You can use your imagination and give yourself a skill level in various things. As for myself, I have like a 75 in Math, a 25 in Public Speaking, and a 10 in Gambling, or whatever. My Running skill is around 60 or 70. Who knows exactly. I know there are an infinite amount of skills, but it does help you realize how good (or bad) you are at some of the things you do. Putting a number onto something as complex as a skill helps you pinpoint and be honest with how proficient you are at something.

There are two aspects to this basic skill system: your starting level and the fact that practicing the skills makes you better. I equate the first aspect, the starting value, with how talented a person is at something. Obviously, if you’re one of those people that are just good at drawing without practicing, you’ve started life with a higher Art skill, perhaps a 35 or 45. You’re sort of good just because you’re naturally good. Notice though that you probably aren’t the best at it, you just have a higher baseline. This is how Morrowind worked as the highest skill you could start with was around 45; you couldn’t just be a 95 in Destruction magic and smash your way through the game Voldemort style. You had to work at it.

The second aspect is key in the talent vs practice debate. You level up your skills by practicing and becoming better at them. It doesn’t matter if you’ve started at level 5 or 55 because hard work will get you a higher value. If the person with an Art skill of 5 works really hard despite initially sucking, they could eventually pass the 55 Art person in skill. This can really happen if the 55 person is lazy and doesn’t put effort into getting better. They cruise along through life on fairly good skill level, but do nothing to enhance it. They squander their gift. I bet we all know someone like this. Obviously with this view, hard work and determination is the most important aspect of gaining skill levels, although having a higher initial level (talent) helps you start off good and may give you an edge among others.

The real world analogies don’t seem to stop there. Some people are fairly good at a bunch of things but don’t really specialize in anything. I believe I’m one of those people. I’m decent at a bunch of things, but I don’t excel in any single thing, which is rather sad. This is because I can’t focus on a single skill long enough to notably level it up. I used to have like a 5 in Homebrewing, but through curiosity and hard work, I think I’m around a 35 now. I can’t become a brewmaster or start my own winery, but I can make a liquid that makes you become drunk. My Math skill is 75, but this isn’t really notable in the world. Most of my skills are this way as I stay interested long enough to get fairly good, but never really good. You have to pick a few skills and stay with them to make meaningful progress.

Some people aren’t good at anything. They just exist and suck at everything they do. These people start off with low initial values, and don’t do anything to get better. Maybe they lack motivation or willpower? Maybe they think the game (life) is just too hard and complain rather than get better at hardship? Others are shitty at everything, except the one skill that they are fantastic in. I’m sure Olympic athletes have other talents and interests, but these pale in comparison to their 99 or 100s in Freestyle Swimming, Gymnastics, Diving, or Curling. They are the best of the best, and they’ve done it by focusing on a single skill and working at it nonstop. This is how you Git Gud at things: you bust your ass at it.

git-gud

In the game, and with a very good real world analogy, there is also this idea of diminishing returns. It is easy to go from a 5 to a 10, but increasingly difficult to go from an 85 to a 90 even though they are the same “amount” of growth. You could suck at something, let’s say Gardening, and have a 5 in it. You could easily go buy a few gardening books from Amazon, spend a week or so reading them, and improve your skill to a 25 or a 35 with light to moderate effort. The basics of a skill seem to be easy to learn and easily picked up and early on you improve quickly. But once you’re the master gardener at level 90, there isn’t a whole lot you can do to get better.

The analogy isn’t perfect between the Morrowind skill system and real life. There are real limitations. An important one that comes to mind, especially in the case of physical skills, is that there are limitations that can hamper your ability. I’ll never be able to be an Olympic runner because I don’t have good genetics. It’s also harder to be a marine biologist if you live in the center of a desert. You can, but it’s harder. You could chalk it up to a certain “luck” factor if you’d like. The rate of which you learn a skill is also variable as some people pick things up quicker than others. Maybe you could call that talent or aptitude or something like that. I think talent naturally and in popular usage refers to someone being inherently decent at something and not that they learn the skill quickly.

People like to think skills and being good at something are nebulous things that are just dropped from the heavens in a form called talent and bestowed upon those lucky enough to receive them. They aren’t. Being good simply takes hard work. You might suck ass at something initially, and you might learn the skill slowly, but you’ll become better with practice. All it takes is practice, dedication, and hard work. Thanks to some random (and wonderful) video game called Morrowind, I finally learned it myself, although I’m not too good at following my own advice. Adopting an RPG-based idea of skills is an interesting, fun, and enlightening thought experiment which might lead to some motivation for some.