August 3, 2016

The One and Only Unbreakable Creative Rule

"You gotta do the work." - Chuck Cannon - Songwriter

For the most part, the “rules” of creativity are more like guidelines than strict rules that cannot be broken. Indeed, one will never be at a loss to find exceptions to the rule of rules. History is strewn with creative masterpieces that have ignored conventional and contemporary forms to rise to new creative heights and, in some cases, altogether establish new creative forms and standards. Picasso’s Guernica, Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, James Joyce’s Ulysses, Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue, Dylan’s “Like A Rolling Stone” and Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, all of these and more have bent or broken the accepted rules of their time and established new rules and forms of creative expression. However, notwithstanding these iconoclastic creations, knowledge of the rules and competence in their execution are important, even essential, especially if you aspire to a professional creative life where your craft meets the rules of commerce.

Notwithstanding this caveat, virtually every single rule of creativity can, at one time or another, be ignored, bent, stretched, even altogether broken and still achieve worthwhile results. A common bit of wisdom in this regard states, however, that you first have to know the rules before you can break them. If you have broken or ignored the rules before and created something of aesthetic, even commercial, value, do not be lulled into a false sense of complacency. Doing so, could lead you into a trap that any or all rules could be broken, all of the time and still find reward.

Some will argue that there are no rules in creativity. In an absolute sense, I disagree. I do agree that an artist should never get hung up or blocked from expression by so called “rules,” but even the most iconoclastic creative expression is aware of the underlying creative principles that are in play, even as they bend, twist, manipulate or altogether ignore them. Furthermore, if you are aspiring to commercial success as an artist, there are certainly rules that creative artists may have to conform to in order to achieve mainstream appeal.  However, notwithstanding rules that may govern creativity and commerce, there is one inviolable creative rule that can never be broken.

You have to do the work!

There is no way around this rule. None of the aforementioned creative masterpieces were spontaneously manifested. It took work, hard work, from the artists themselves to bring into physical expression. No one did the work for them. No one could. Without their hard work, the world would be a lesser version of itself.

You have to do the work! The first time I heard this statement was in a songwriting workshop facilitated by Nashville songwriter Chuck Cannon, who is a brilliant songwriter and one of the most effective teachers of songwriting I have experienced. It was a eureka moment for me, reminding me that there is no substitute for the work possible. You either create, or you don’t. You either work, or you procrastinate. There really is no middle ground of refuge.

You have to do the work! If you break this rule, you pass a death sentence on your inner artist, on your creative life, and in my estimation, on the spiritual development of your soul itself. In effect, your own life is a lesser version of what it could be if you do not do the work.

You have to do the work! This inviolate rule cannot be overstated or repeated enough times. The propensity for creatives to procrastinate themselves into paralysis is relentless. Be advised, this “rule” is no mere guideline like the others that can be bent, twisted, ignored or shattered. In truth, this “rule” is a creative principle, a spiritual law. It stands attentively right alongside the principle of cause and effect. Without employing the principle, nothing is produced.

If you do not do the work, you will not even create bad art, much less amazing art that has the potential to become popular and generate the kind of money that could afford you the kind of professional, sustained career that both amateur and professional creatives covet. Do not misunderstand me, I am not advocating that commercial aspirations should be the only creative and artistic goal. Quite the contrary, I believe that creative expression for its own sake is vital to a life well-lived and self appreciated. However, I am illuminating the truth that without doing the work nothing is possible. Nothing!

There is no substitute for doing the work.

A word to the wise, be aware that there are many activities that look like the work, but are in truth distractions from the work. Many of these activities can be beneficial to your overall creative, and even professional, life as a developing artist. For example, attending a creative workshop with a professional facilitator can deliver benefits and is not necessarily deleterious to your creative development. However, be very clear with yourself. Attending a creative workshop does not and can never be a substitute for the work itself. If you don’t take action on what you learned there by doing the work later, then you may as well have spent the money on a cruise.

Do not allow the busy-ness and business activities of your life to serve as impediments or barriers to actually making the time and sitting down with your instruments of creativity and creating. Whether putting a song to paper the old fashioned way, or even the digital way; or writing the next chapter in your book or scene in your screenplay; or chiseling a little more marble away from the block, or flinging a little more paint on the canvas. You have to do the work!

Without action, nothing gets created…ever!

Whatever suits your process and serves your creative output is part of the work. However, the operative word in this statement is output.

Do not talk about creating something. Create something!

Do not talk about what you have created in the past. Create something new!

Revise an old song, write a haiku or a short poem, paint over an old painting, or even conceive a recipe and cook up a brand new dish. All of these and more are acceptable, provided you do your best to do the work and create something new every single day.

You might not write a song as good as the one you wrote yesterday, or five years ago. Your newest painting today may not excite you like the one you sold last month. The new screenplay may not feel as inspired as the one that almost became a movie last year. However, if you sit down every single day and tend to the task at hand and take the next step in the creative process, you will be daily pledging your allegiance to the one and only unbreakable creative rule: Do the work!

If you do, you will ultimately learn that the work itself is the reward. Everything else is a bonus.

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