The Stupid Rules of Creativity

You get it. You’re creative, or at least you think you are. We all do. You’ve got whatever it is you do, it’s sort of like something somebody else does, but it’s yours. It’s different in the way you like, but similar to the way other people make it.

For me that’s a long list, but here goes:

  • Prince
  • Jimi Hendrix
  • Stephen King
  • Christopher Moore
  • Picasso
  • DaVinci
  • Richard Pryor
  • Jonathan Winters
  • Yousuf Karsh
  • Rolling Stones
  • I’ll stop now because really? Who cares.

It’s a stupid long list, and honestly there’s no real way to identify any commonality between any of those except they are immensely popular, lots of people like them (or hate them) and I can point to a list and say, “You know, like THAT.” when describing something I’m working on.

When I was recording my multi-plastic CD, “UNH!”, my co-producer/engineer Matthew Knights had some fantastic input. My songs were too long, (I’d heard that a lot), the potty words would turn people away so I wouldn’t get a record deal and fewer people would buy it, some of the songs were just too empty.

When people provide input, they’re telling you two things at the same time. “Here’s what I’m getting from this, and here’s what I think about that.” What do you do with that input? You have about twenty options. At the time, I felt I had just two: follow his suggestions, or ignore them completely.

Over time, I’ve found a third option. It’s hard to remember because when somebody criticizes your work, you want their approval, or you want to show them how they’re wrong. (okay, maybe not you, but ME).

There are long-established general rules surrounding creativity.

In writing, there’s The Elements Of Style. Every book I’ve read tells me to stop reading and go read that one, but it’s full of rules, and I can’t follow a book of rules, I get distracted and, I get lost, and forget what I was reading, and, clearly I’m not following it because this is a run-on sentence with a lot of commas, and “ands”, and grammar is my weak spot.

And I tend to ramble a lot.

When I hear criticisms that call out those flaws, I’ll listen.

I also put a ton of cuss words in my stories. A ton. And have characters do unexpected or illogical things. Or don’t have a tidy ending that resolves the story. And I get a lot of criticism on those flaws. I could tell the person, “hey some of that is intentional, it’s just like Stephen King’s story The Mist.” But that won’t improve my writing, and it won’t improve their criticism.

A creative person has to bear in mind that people will not always get it. Ask yourself, “are they not getting it because I didn’t sell it well enough? Or are they not getting it because it’s not the normal stuff they enjoy?”

And then ask, “am I willing to accept that? or do I want to please all of the people all of the time?” (or most of the people, most of the time?)

(because if I can please some of the people some of the time – I feel like that’s a good enough win.)

I’ve got three examples for you.

Let’s start with Hey Ya by OutKast (Andre 3000)

This song goes against the expectations of pop music, hip hop music, and mainstream rock music.

If I could interview Andre3000, I would ask him, “Did you get pushback when you presented this song to the label? How many people told you not to put this song on your album? What were your thoughts when/if you heard that it didn’t fit because it’s got 5 measures instead of the typical 4, you’ve got an acoustic guitar jangling, the entire thing screams of the mid seventies.

Or how bout THIS nugget?

Now, HOW on earth did he convince the suits to release this as a single? Why on earth didn’t he just listen to them when they explained “this song is career suicide.”

Who wrote that? How did they think it would go over? Well, ask Bruno Mars, he co-wrote it:

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So. My point. As you get criticism on your work, learn to hear the important stuff that makes your work better, and learn to identify the criticism that just can’t apply to your message. If you paint a camel on the moon, listen to the critics if they’re talking about composition. But ignore the person who’s saying “this is nothing like Picasso.”

Wow this rambled so much more than I meant it to.