Recently I had a conversation with a good friend of mine, Mark Robinette. He’s a musician with astonishing talent. I collaborate with him professionally from time to time and am always blown away (and intimidated to be honest) by his talent. He asked me, “Craig, what do you have coming up?” I told him about a couple of projects I was working on, one, a musical project, the other, a novel. He praised me on finding the time to get it all done. He’s a smart guy who can play circles around me on any instrument I have learned to play so I don’t take his compliments lightly.
The problem was, he caught me at a creatively depressed moment. I will tell you what I told him. But I risk sounding like a bleeding artist. I’m sorry for that but I think it’s important to understand the reality of the creative mindset. Perhaps if you are the creative type, you will understand. I create because I am compelled to create. There is nothing more to it. During times of my life when I have moved along at a creative flat-line, I have battled depression. So for me it is create or be depressed. I know, cliché. I get it. But here’s the other end and it is just as bleak.
I don’t care who you are or what you create, as an artist, you require the approval of others. You might say, “I create what I like on my own timeline and I don’t care what others think.” That can be largely true. But you have to admit, as do I, that validation is a necessary part of the picture. The truth is, in this world of digital overstimulation where everyone has access to everything they could ever want at any given time, there is no room for you as a creative person. At best, someone might catch a glimpse of what you do and say, “that’s kinda neat,” and move on to a funny cat video or watch some kid get nailed in the junk by a skateboard.
This can overwhelm you and even swamp your creative output. I’ll be honest, lately, I have allowed this to get to me and it has affected my desire to put out new projects. The market is thin out there and the competition is stiff, so it becomes important to manage your expectations as a creative person. After cooling my heels for a beat and clogging my ears against the internal voices that shout arbitrary deadlines for arbitrary projects, I have come to a conclusion. I truly don’t care what the audience thinks. I have decided that I will not pursue the big book deal. I will not try to hit the charts with my music. When it comes to my own time in the studio and at the computer writing, I am beholden to no man or woman.
This is not to say that I don’t appreciate when fans pick up my work and read or listen. I gush with appreciation and am always elated and a bit surprised when people like my stuff. But I have to create what I would enjoy reading or putting on my ipod. If I decide to sell out in my own mind and write and compose for the market, I’m worried that my muse might flip me off, pack his bags, and leave me forever.
Now, about that necessary validation: I’m not quite sure how to hammer that voice out of my head. I guess I will have to live with it. Maybe the solution is to toss my finished projects into a trunk where nobody else will see them. Heaven knows I have a huge trunk of odds and ends already. I’m not prepared to go that far. However, I am prepared to ratchet back my marketing efforts in trade for less approbation. My plan is to release as I create and not worry so much about what happens outside of my creative realm. After all, it’s hard to compete with those cat videos. Heck, I even have a cat and I think she’s pretty darn cute.
As for my friend, Mark Robinette, he just smiled after I filled his ear with all of this. When I finished ranting, he simply said, “Craig, why don’t you just send me everything. It makes me smile.” Honestly, when I strip it all down, making someone smile is good enough.