Last week, I mentioned not-so-briefly that I believe the idea of tragedy producing great art is bullshit; great art is produced, despite the cynic's scoff, from fierce and deliberate optimism. And optimism, it turns out, can be learned. While I am by no means an expert on psychology, I am an inveterate and often annoying optimist myself, so I have a few thoughts on the subject. If you're looking to grow your positivity -- and therefore grow the power of your creativity -- here are a few ways to begin.
1. Turn off your inner editor. As the saying goes, you can edit a bad page, but you can't edit a blank one. Far too many brilliant books never come into existence for the simple reason that the author can't handle creating something shitty. But the truth is, any author worth their salt will tell you all first drafts are shitty. You have to get it out of your system and onto the page in order to actually make it better. And to do that you have to turn off your inner editor; that guy's mean, alright? Shut him up right now. He'll have plenty of work to do once you're actually editing, and that's when he'll be helpful. In the first draft he's got to take his place on the bench. Do whatever it takes, but turn off your inner editor.
2. Practice self-care. It is really difficult to be optimistic and determined about your writing if you are hungry, tired, sick, dehydrated, and/or suffering from any other form of not getting your basic needs met. Being nice to yourself is absolutely the first step towards being nice to your art. Don't put toxins into your body. Take warm baths and wear comfy clothes. Go for walks and move your limbs. Play with a puppy. Take a nap. These things seems pointless or insignificant when we're in the throes of creative fury, or (heaven forbid) we're encroaching uncomfortably close to a deadline. But putting off your emotional, physical, and mental health will not make your art better. It will just make you feel like crap.
3. Enjoy your own art. This one feels counter-intuitive, especially for my fellow ladies -- we're taught to be 'humble' and deflect all compliments, to insist no it's terrible and demurely wave away any praise. We're definitely not encouraged to actually relish our own work; that can feel practically obscene. Why is that? Confession time: I have to admit that I really love my own writing. Not all of it, of course, I've produced plenty of crap -- but the good stuff? Man, I LOVE the good stuff! And I seriously love any chance I get to hear that somebody else likes it, too. Compliments on my writing feel SO FRICKIN' GOOD; it is my secret, not-so-guilty obsession to read and reread the (good) comments or emails I get on a regular and compulsive basis. Because when I'm feeling discouraged or down on myself about my work, there's nothing better than opening that one email where a reader tells me a certain article I wrote made a difference in their life. I'll read it again, and again, and again -- it's delicious. Then, I reread that article and think to myself, "Heck yes, I am a damn fine writer!" I also love rereading my poems, even the ones my own teacher told me were crap (sorry, Mr. Hanson). I absolutely enjoy getting to know the characters I create. Of course, I don't always feel this way; there's plenty of time, like I said, where I'm convinced my work is awful. There's plenty of writing that I am happy to forget. But it has to be okay for us to also enjoy our work; if we don't, why on earth should we expect anyone else to? (PS: Don't make it weird and use this as an excuse to compare/bash other writers; you can love your own stuff without being arrogant.) You are a creator; take time to relish what you create.
4. Create with a spiritual practice. If you're a regular reader, you'll know it's no secret that I am a pretty enthusiastic Christian. My faith informs everything I write or create -- and, on my good days, I do my best to pray about my writing before, during, and after the process. I want it to be infused with Love. I sincerely encourage you to do the same; God loves your art, and if you let her in on it, she'll play with you and make art with you. This does NOT mean you are restricted to creating 'moral' art (whatever that means). Create what you feel in your gut. Create your fire! God's in that. What, you think God was trying to create 'moral' art when he crafted laughter? Orchids? Giraffes? Starlight? No. God's about creating with wild abandon, creating for the sake of creating, because there are deeper truths in that kind of creation than the religiosity of rules. God doesn't limit your art; God expands all the possibilities of art. Enjoy it. No matter your belief system, embrace and enjoy the essential spirituality of art.
5. Support other artists. Do you ever notice how the bullies in life tend to be hiding the most self-loathing insecurities? Insecurities breed bullies, but it also goes the other way around -- bullying breeds insecurity. When you base your self-worth off of putting others down, that's a fairly tenuous grip on your worth. It's a vicious cycle. But, thankfully, the cycle works both ways: If you make a practice of building others up, that encouragement is bound to seep into your own subconscious. Practice encouraging others in their art, and soon you'll find you're encouraged yourself. That inner editor might not stay so mean -- because you're training her to speak more kindly. Tell writers when you like there work. Support Kickstarters, even with a few bucks. Share and write positive reviews, go to the art opening, cheer loudly from the stands. There's always a place for constructive criticism, of course, and this won't negate that. But when you see an artist who's doing something great, tell them. Tell others. Support their work! You'll be building your own artistic community, and that will fuel an inner optimism that will push you much further than a snarky cynicism ever could.
Art is essentially optimistic. Cultivate that perspective, and you will cultivate your creativity.