Don’t Try, Do

“Don’t be ‘a writer’. Be writing.”
William Faulkner
Thanks to television, movies, and other outlets of mass culture, just about anything you can possibly think or do has become a trope. If you’re a writer, you’re taught culturally to be associated with the clichés that typically accompany writers in popular culture: solitude, chemical indulgence, overanalysis, etc. If you’re in love, every genuine expression of emotion can end up feeling like a cliché if you’ve seen too many romantic films. If you do something, you become labeled as a Doer Of That Thing, and ridiculously this sometimes prevents you from doing the thing itself! It’s so easy to get wrapped up in labels and conditional identities that you end up feeling like a category rather than a person. This is part of the 21st-century spectacle and unfortunately a natural side-effect of mass culture.

How do we avoid this? It’s pretty simple, actually: stop consuming and start producing. Instead of exclusively reading, looking at art, watching movies and listening to music, keep doing these things but also make stuff. Make art, learn an instrument, start writing your thoughts and experiences down, or recollecting memories in written form. No one is good at any of these things at first, but that’s another lie of mass culture: that you have to be good at something in order to do it. No; skill is acquired through practice and diligence, never through magical thinking and only rarely through genetics alone. If you want to do something, do it. Do not concern yourself with skill. As John Cage said, there is no win or fail, there is only ‘make’. So do it: make.

I play the drums. One of my favorite drummers is Brian Chippendale from the band Lightning Bolt. He’s also a visual artist. In an interview, he explained a positive theory of creativity more succinctly than I’ve ever heard it put before in an interview with The Believer:

“I try to drum each day. It’s therapeutic. I’ve been recording solo crap– literally crap– almost everyday Lightning Bolt’s not jamming. I’m addicted. I love it. Like any exercise, it ‘s so liberating if you do it hard. It just so happens to have a byproduct that’s more beautiful or emotive than jogging. Each day I also try to draw. It’s a similar expulsion of buildup: Milking the cows every morning. Checking the chickens’ eggs. Why should that be limited to a certain medium? Shit builds up inside you on multiple levels; if you don’t degrease the system it clogs. Drawing brings me back to reality by sending me past reality, a sort of out-of-body perspective. The drawings creep off the page; they have to, if you believe in liberation.”

Ever since reading these words from an artist I so admire, not just for his actual creative output but for his work ethic. Creative work is not done for the sake of accomplishing fame or fortune, but because the creative personality (which we all possess to varying degrees) requires a release of buildup. If you let too much stuff build up inside of you, it may manifest in frustrations or neuroses. If you find outlets through which to drain it, you will not only feel better and fuller as a human being; you will have produced a body of work! What a beautiful byproduct of emotion, to be able to create something from the emotional residue that accumulates inside of us over time.

“A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word to paper.”
E.B. White

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