Nine months. That’s how long it takes to give birth to a baby. Writing a book can take much longer. The commitment to have a child has obvious correlations with creativity; they both bring something new into the world. Additionally, children and art are two ways we find fulfillment in life. However, human life and a creative project should not share the same level of seriousness.
In Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic (Amazon), she references a Truman Capote quote: “Finishing a book is just like you took a child out in the backyard and shot it.”
She then cautions us not to mistake our creative work for a baby. Associating creativity, career, or a personal purist with a living being will cloud our judgments.
As they say, you become too close to it. When you’re too close to your creative work, you don’t know what to change—or worse—you wouldn’t want to change anything. You probably heard the phrase: kill your darlings. This famous quote reminds us that in order to improve our work, we’ll need to cut out the parts we love the most.
If your work is as precious to you as your newborn, you won’t see all the imperfections. You nurture it and nurture it, but it doesn’t get better, and you wouldn’t create anything new because you spend all your time focused on polishing your one gem. You’d be reluctant to build, mold, and transform your work because it’s comforting the way it is, and there’s an expectation to love it unconditionally.
Have you ever seen a mother look at her ugly baby? She doesn’t think it’s ugly. She loves the child and genuinely believes that the hideous thing will grow to be a movie star or a supermodel. If you were to go up to the mother and criticize her infant, she would most likely bite your face off.
If you compare your creative work to your baby, you may not be able to see all her flaws. If you can’t see the problems, you can’t help. When called upon, you won’t be able to cut 30 percent of your work. When someone criticizes or corrects your child, you’d reject their words or go into a guilty, shameful spiral. Imagine someone telling you that your kid needs a facelift before they are willing to buy her.
Parents want to protect their babies; it’s instinctual. And while your creative work needs some nurturing, you may also coddle it for too long. Your reluctance to send it out will hinder your growth as a writer, and your work will never improve. But the reality remains. If you treat your work like a human, you can end up sheltering it in your drawers or on your hard drive for 18 years or more. By that time, you would have missed out on a lot of opportunities.
We give our blood, sweat, and tears to our creative work. We put everything we had into it. We sacrificed and endured to create a piece of art the same way we would for a son or daughter. Describing our work as our baby gives it a deeper meaning. In a way, it sounds endearing. You cast a soft light on your creation. You’ve put a lot of care into it, and that’s how you want to market it. This baby is handmade with love, not manufactured.
But on the backend, it causes too much emotional connection to the piece. Like a helicopter parent, this can end up doing more harm to the child than good.
Elizabeth Gilbert tells us to consider ourselves the baby to the creative work instead. We are not the ones who need to give birth and raise our creativity; it’s the creativity that gives life to us. It’s the creative act that teaches us, helps us grow, and shows us how to live. Each project we work on and complete becomes a snapshot of that moment. We become what we’ve made. We are not giving birth to our creative work; our creative work is giving birth to us—over and over again. As we look back, we see a trail from where we’ve come.
This way of thinking eliminates the pressure of a parent and offers us a chance to explore our childhood desires and express ourselves. We can be curious again. We should treat every project as a lesson, a continuum. It took that piece to get me here and it’ll take this piece to get me there.
Your creative work is not your baby. Your creative work doesn’t need to grow up to be a doctor, lawyer, or engineer. It doesn’t need to take care of you when you’re old. If you kill it, you won’t go to jail. Nobody will even notice. So lose that pressure. Finish your book, take it to the backyard, and enjoy the outdoors together. Nobody needs to shoot anything.
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