When I was an undergrad I had this English professor whose expertise was on Shakespeare and he used to say that if he could go back in time and tell Shakespeare one thing, it would have been that Shakespeare should have written less. Because his opinion was that Shakespeare was super prolific, but there were just a number of plays that were kind of meh, and some that were just plain bad. And so, well, Shakespeare would have been a better author if he’d never done those.
At the time, it seemed a reasonable thing to say. Well, maybe it wasn’t, but I was a college student and I basically figured my professors knew a lot more than I do. Looking back on this as a creative person now, I think this guy was an idiot. And he’s the kind of idiot people often are who have never written anything themselves and have no idea how the creative process really works.
Creativity isn’t about editing carefully. It’s not about getting your punctuation and grammar right. It’s not about figuring out who your audience is or what’s selling right now. It’s not about doing your best work so that someone gives you a good grade. It’s not about reviews and it’s not about sales numbers and it’s not about awards. It’s most definitely not about thinking about the future of “Literachur” and professors teaching your lesser works in the future.
Creativity is about unleashing the possibilities. It’s about everything is allowed in this space. It’s give me whatever you’ve got, good or bad, let’s throw it in here and see if it works. Creativity is writing even when you think it’s probably bad, and letting go of the judgment while you’re in the moment because how you are feeling when you are writing is not necessarily indicative of how good the writing is.
Creativity is taking risks. It’s trying out different ways to solve a problem, even if your experience is that none of those solutions is going to work. Because sometimes you have to go through all of the failures to get to the success. Your brain needs the time or the process or something. And creativity is letting yourself have time to think things over, to be lazy, to try out other kinds of art that aren’t yours for inspiration, to go on a walk, take a shower, or sit on the toilet for a while because normal life and lack of pressure to write, write, write right now, something good because it HAS TO BE GOOD.
I think if this professor actually went back in time and whispered into Shakespeare’s ear that there were a few of his plays he should just give up on, what he’d really end up doing would be to make a Shakespeare who also didn’t write some of his masterpieces because he lacked the confidence to try them. Or maybe we’d live in a world where Shakespeare never wrote anything at all because he was never sure if they would be good enough for the future.
Don’t let your own fear of not being good enough keep you from being the author you are meant to be. You don’t know what you are capable of. You may never know it. Shakespeare didn’t know he was going to be considered the best author in the English language, possibly the best writer in the history of the world. If he’d known that, it might well have crushed him. Just focus on unleashing the creativity, following where it leads, and letting it not be perfect to begin with. Let yourself write Troilus and Cressida. Write something you don’t know how to write that is destined to be bad. Being bad is, in my opinion, a way station on the way to being good.
But also remember that writing isn’t just about the product. It’s also a process. It’s not just about selling books. It’s also about learning who you are and becoming a better person. Writing is a kind of meditation. It is a gaze inside yourself. It has value in itself, and not just as a result that brings you money. The more you think of it that way, the more you will be happy with your writing, and the more you will connect with your creativity.