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July 8, 2020

The pain of not making: Fighting creative inertia

The 2 seasons of Important Things with Demetri Martin aired in 2009-2010. They really capture the essence of his early comedic style, full of puns, paradoxes, and graphs.

His graphs are brilliant. They have a unique way of illustrating facts that we never quantify, like the association between memory and the senses.

As a direct result of Martin’s influence, I will often express things in graph form for myself. I’d like to share one with you.

It hurts both ways

If you are a creative person, you’ll know what I mean when I talk about:

  • breaking a streak in your practice
  • getting pulled away, and having a hard time going back to your practice
  • feeling uninspired and a bit stuck

I’m sure you can name a few more situations.

It usually feels terrible, and it doesn’t get better over time. I’d even say that it gets worse, and we are tempted to avoid the pain.

The alternative is making, creating. But that can be painful too. So what are we supposed to do?

Two kinds of pain

These two choices can be described as two kinds of pain: the pain of making and not making.

I believe that one hurts more than another. I also think that it’s helpful. Let me share a shitty graph:

 

In the beginning (right after we broke a streak, for example), the pain of making is higher than the pain of not making. So as predictable humans, we prefer not making.

Except these two kinds of pain do not evolve the same way. I am not 100% sure one is linear, while the other is exponential, but this is how they feel.

Even though your slopes may vary, there is a time when these two pains intersect—a tipping point. Any time before this point is a time of resistance, but as soon as the pain of not making is higher than the pain of making, we enter a time of action.

Awareness

So what does this mean? I believe that by bringing mindful awareness to the pain of not making, the slope gets steeper. In other words, we leave resistance faster. And as creative people, this is where we’d rather be.

As Fran Lebowitz said:

All the time I’m not writing, I feel like a criminal. It’s horrible to feel felonious every second of the day. It’s much more relaxing to actually write.

Thomas Deneuville lives in Upstate NY with his wife and two sons, where he writes about creativity, draws, codes, and plays the bagpipe.

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