Saturday, December 29, 2007

Pondering a Solution to Creative Blocks

With a new year coming, a little reflection seems like the logical thing to do. And thanks to Lifehacker, I have a nice link all ready to kick off a topic: Jay Smooth of talks about "the little hater," that part of you and me that holds all of us back from our creative endeavors. It's a good video; y'all go take a look.

It's easy to recognize what Mr. Smooth is talking about. Back when I was studying Physics in college, computer programming was both a hobby and my creative outlet. To me, programming embodied both the logic and causality at the heart of science and the complete-freedom-within-constraints that is the hallmark of art. Physics certainly has a beauty about it; what study of Creation doesn't invoke admiration for the Creator? But that beauty wasn't my beauty, and I was never really going to understand it all. However, a computer is just a simple machine. They do only simple math. Programs are just sequences of instructions. In that, I found something I could understand. Something I could use to create. The bizarre synergy of technology, math, and creativity captured my imagination as nothing ever had before. And so what began as a hobby for me slowly evolved into the obvious choice for a career.

But there's a funny thing about careers: thy involve quite a lot of work. After a while my programming job overwhelmed what remained of my programming hobby. It's a common tale, one that I assume is shared to some extent by everyone who notices that they are growing older. While I am still fascinated by programming, still reading trade magazines and programming blogs, and still keeping up with the field as best I can, I find often I'm missing something. It isn't the job that changed, it's me. I am no longer as easily content creating ephemeral programs that do their work for a few days, months, years, or decades and then become obsolete and vanish into an archive somewhere, until entropy causes the storage media to decay beyond recovery. Somewhere along the path, I realized that I was that guy who still had a stack of punch cards that made up his first great program. (My "stack of punch cards" is actually a printout of C code, but I've got it all right, stashed in a trunk in my closet.) I was holding on to the memory of creating things, like a mother holds on to her child's kindergarten projects. And for the same reason: love.

Does it seem a little cheesy that I'm now going to write that the best way to beat the little haters is with love? Perhaps, but hang with me for a minute. I got into the programming business out of curiosity, but I stayed in it because I love it. Seriously. The problems I solve now are much bigger than any I solved back when it was just a hobby. And they can be both much more frustrating and much more fulfilling because of it. In fact, they are so big that I can't solve them alone any more. But that's good too, because it means I'm surrounded by people who, whether they realize it or not, love the art of programming just like I do. And since we are all different, we can learn from each other. And isn't that what life is all about? Not everyone gets to love their work, and it's a blessing that often gets hidden by the zillion stresses that come as part of the daily grind. But Mom never told me love was easy, she just said I would know it when it happened.

I've been talking about my job here because it's where I find frequent frustration and waning motivation most often. But whatever creative endeavor you find yourself blocked in, the philosophy is the same: we create out of love for the act of creation.* So when your little hater is yammering in your ear, remember the love. There are many techniques to beating stress, breaking through creative blocks, and finding motivation. None of them will work without first remembering that you love doing whatever it is you are trying to do. If you didn't, heck, you wouldn't be getting so worked up over it in the first place.

*There's perhaps a sermon in here along the lines of God is the Creator and God is Love so the act of a creator is an expression love. But I think I had best leave the sermons to those more eloquent than me. I'm being quite ham fisted enough as it is with this topic.

No comments: