On creativity

I, with the help of some of my friends, generate a good deal of creative stuff. Some of it is sprinkled across a handful of websites (linked in the sidebar, so I won’t repeat them), some of it can be found elsewhere. My friends say to me quite often that I am the driving force behind our group – the one who gets things done.

We all come up with ideas. That’s the easy part. In a single lunchtime we often come up with a dozen or more ideas for things we could do. It’s an aphorism I’ve seen repeated several times in various contexts that “ideas are easy, execution is hard” – I saw it again the other day in an acquaintance’s blog. It really is true. Not to take any credit away from my friends – several of them also put in a lot of hard work behind the scenes to make our collective ideas come to fruition. I believe they just see me as the spur to get them going. :-)

Because as clichéd as it can sound, it really is true. Ideas are a dime a dozen. It’s doing something with them that is the hard work that few people can manage.

We have a sort of rolling conversation in our group about xkcd. There is some professional envy there, of course, since our own webcomics are nowhere near as popular, and it would be cool if they were. But that aside, we do have a genuine respect for Randall Munroe and what he does. it’s very easy for critics to say, “Huh, stick figures and geeky reference gags, anyone could do that.” But the point is anyone didn’t do it – Munroe did. He got off his butt and actually made the comics and made a website to put them on. And he’s continued making them – he didn’t quit after 3 weeks because it was taking too much time or effort.

There are a lot of failed creative ventures out there, where people had a cool idea and tried to do something with it, and gave up after a while because it was too much work. And there are even more where people had a cool idea and simply never got around to doing anything at all with it.

My determination is to actually put in enough effort to see an idea to fruition every now and then. Some of our ideas are non-starters, and some we put some effort into and then more or less abandon. But we keep trying, and some of the ideas do manage to reach a point where we can sit back and say, “Yes, we’ve done this idea.” Or even, “Yes, this idea is now up and running, and we are happy to dedicate some of our effort into maintaining it into the future.”

Someone once asked Harlan Ellison where he got his ideas from. He flippantly replied from a mail order business in Poughkeepsie. If he’d bothered to answer seriously, the real answer is that everyone has ideas. What people don’t have is the drive to do something with them. And because most people don’t do anything with their ideas, they end up thinking they don’t have any good ideas. That’s just wrong. If you have an idea for a story, or a blog, or a piece of artwork, or whatever, invest some time into making it happen. Get someone to goad you into it, if need be. It is hard work, but if you put that work in, you might get somewhere, as opposed to merely ending up envious of other people’s work and saying you could have done the same.

I didn’t intend this post to end on an accusatory downer. I’m sure some of you have put effort into creating something, or even started and then realised just how much work is required to bring an idea to fruition. You should be proud that you’ve achieved something which few others even bother to do. The external success of creative endeavours is determined by whims and the way the wind blows. But the internal success is determined by you and your hard work. Just because your stuff doesn’t become as popular as xkcd doesn’t mean it’s crap. Go! Create! And be proud of the effort you’ve put in. The hard work is what counts, not the success.


3 Responses to “On creativity”

  1. Mr Teufel says:

    Speaking of realising brilliant ideas, I just found your Archive Binge site, and have pimped it on RPGnet. I think it’s a fabulous idea.

  2. Glen says:

    “Huh, stick figures and geeky reference gags, anyone could do that.”

    Well, I’d believe many people could do it once, given sufficient time.

    But to actually do it a bunch of times, as good as he does it, on a schedule? That’s really *hard*.

    Same thing with the stuff you do. Yes, “anyone” could do a comic with lego and miniatures, or a comic with screenshots from Star Wars, or any of the other things you do. Or at least many people could. Once. Given sufficient time. But to do that stuff one a very regular basis and make it still worth reading? That’s really really hard. I have no time for people that say “anyone could do it” but don’t actually do it. Show me, I’m all eyes!

    To do it at all is pretty amazing. To do it well, over and over… I don’t think it’s easy to understand what that involves unless you try to do it.

    I’ve drawn a few stick figure comics myself. Doing the occasional one isn’t so bad (particularly if, you know, there’s not a million people out there expecting you to be funny). The mere fact that I can only do a few a year to the mediocre requirements of my own satisfaction makes it very clear to me that it’s no doddle to do on a regular basis.

    The underlying ideas are relatively easy. Execution is hard. That’s why there’s not a hundred thousand Randalls out there. Or a hundred thousand DMMs, for that matter.

  3. Glen says:

    Actually, I might just add something about my PhD, which did involve a fair bit of work over a fair period of time (during some occasionally quite difficult health issues).

    Lots of people when they find out I have a PhD say “oh you must be really smart”, but I’ve observed a *lot* of people doing PhDs, successful and not. The ones that fell by the wayside weren’t actually less smart in general than the ones that got there. Many of the successful ones weren’t geniuses – lots were medium-smart people who just worked hard, and kept coming back for more.

    The ones who hit obstacle after obstacle and worked hard to find a way around every one. Some of those obstacles are to do with the subject of the PhD but in many cases they were just life obstacles. Some of the students were dealing with absolutely incredible problems in their lives – one had a spouse with late stage Parkinsons, one had cancer, one gave birth a couple of times – all kinds of big issues. From my own point of view, getting there was more about doggedness than brilliance.

    I’ve since supervised a few students through research theses at various levels. Some of them have been smarter than me, some have been less smart. Most have completed very good work. The biggest factor to successful completion is simply putting the time and effort in on a consistent basis over the required period of time.

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