Only a few days ago I wrote a blog post that, for me, tried to address the question “What makes you write?” Today, I want to look at the other side and ask “What makes you not write?”
This morning I watched a video I found on Facebook which was being pitched under the headline “How Society Kills Our Creativity – In a Breathtaking Award-Winning Short Film.” The film, by Madrid-based animators Daniel Martinez Lara and Rafa Cano Mendez, is a seven minute short about a father and son and how their lives are impacted due to a perpetuating societal cycle that crushes the fun out of you.
I don’t think the video is perfect. The father’s humorlessness seems a little overdone, as does school’s merciless hammering out out of all the childrens’ rough edges. But yeah, I’m aware it’s done that way for effect and I think the broader point is well-made: most everything in the average day encourages you not to write and, more broadly, stifles creativity.
For me, I have a job that is very demanding of my time. In high school and college, sometimes I could get lost in my head, daydream, really invest time in my thoughts and let them develop and get excited to express them on the page (I was a blast). Today, those feelings are few and far between. For me, I usually get up, get ready for work and work until seven, try to work out and eat dinner, and then by the time I get home it is usually 8:00 or 8:30. Frankly a lot of times after a day like that, the last thing I want to do is write. Usually I’m game just to turn on the TV and burn through an episode of something on Netflix. By that time it’s generaly 9:00 or 9:30 and I’m looking at a grand total of an hour or hour and a half to get the reading and writing I want to do done for the day. This doesn’t even account for doing any of the other things you need to do in life, so you can kind of see how given that schedule, for years I’ve been on standby.
But blaming work is too easy, and if I’m honest with myself I stopped writing a long time before the work picked up. This is because I also am extremely suceptible to falling down the Facebook / Internet rabbit hole. Or wandering onto Youtube. Or wandering into Netflix. Or maybe picking up a videogame.
And as I get older it only gets worse. Because the hype for new experiences are equally competing with the allure of revisiting old ones. Rewatching old television shows to relive the stories. Rereading books, replaying games. There are whole industries focused on capitalizing on our nostalgia for recapturing old experiences. And all of that takes time.
For me, the core problem–the problem that is not really addressed in the video and, frankly, would be very hard to express visually–is not so much that people are trained to do mind-numbing paperwork or told not to draw pictures. It’s that people are trained to consume rather than to create. And one of the side-effects of having so much “free” content in the internet-age is that we are now doubly, tripply, quintuply pressured by advertisers that want not only our money, but our time. Now more than ever, if you approach the day without a plan it is all too easy to get swept up and carried along for the ride, and suddenly it’s time for bed and you don’t know where it went. And the hell of it is, I don’t have a family. I don’t have a child. I suspect in ten years I’ll be jealous of all the free time I didn’t know I had.
In addition to that, yes, when people are encouraged to create they are encouraged to create something practical. Because the very bedrock of our society is all about mobilizing production in a way that is practical and meets the wants and needs of others, not necessarily your soul. Because parents are balls of stress with a thousand problems and responsiblities and while they want their children to be successful, most really prioritize safety. Because of this children are taught to color within the lines. They are taught to play it safe, because their parents are humans too, and they are afraid of their children having a hard life. And these parents know, perhaps consciously perhaps not, that on average fully investing yourself in the creative arts has never been a safe financial decision.
So the end sum of these things are people who learn to keep their wits about them in the here and now, who don’t keep their heads in the clouds, who solve practical problems, and who forget what it’s like to create. It’s the very problem that triggered me to start writing about writing, and to start writing again.
The truth is you don’t need me to tell you what makes you not write. It is nothing new that the way of things encourages conformity, practicality, and in my opinion discourages the sorts of daydreaming and reflection that put people in the mood to create. What is new are the ever growing distractions that keep you even farther from that creative headspace.
It’s a daily struggle. You have to really want it, and you have to put that long-term goal ahead of the short-term pleasure you’ll get from re-watching season 3 of Buffy. So what can do? Listen to music. Read great works. Surround yourself with creative thinkers, either in real life or on your morning commute. And keep writing.
And know I’m right there with you.