In the face of such anxiety and confusion, isn't there a great pull to just skip being creative? Choosing is such a terribly uproarious, stressful, and confusing business: it demands resolution, even if that resolution is to flee. The anxiety of this choosing stage is confused-mind anxiety, and what one desperately wants is clarity to replace the pain and anxiety of confusion, but that is a wish that can't be appropriately realised at this moment.
You can be clear that you will proceed: that is courage. You cannot, however, be clear about the idea or that you have chosen correctly. That sort of clarity is not available to a creator at this stage of the process. But how wonderful clarity feels! It feels so wonderful to know which menu to select or which movie to watch, wonderful to know that an idea is worth choosing and that one is competent to tackle it. How much pressure there is to attain clarity! What then happens when we strive for clarity when clarity is an impossibility or frankly undesirable? We reach inappropriate clarity only.
You can gain this spurious clarity by:
- knowing everything about the work because internally you killed it, stuffed it, embalmed it, and mounted it beforehand. Yes, the idea is clear now, mounted above the mantel. And dead.
- knowing everything about the work because you engaged in some inner manipulation that provided the clarity: exchanging clean, clear plot for real-life ambiguity and complexity, returning to an old comfortable chord scheme rather than encountering a presently unfathomable chord scheme, deciding, in the space of an image, to be tricky with the image rather than self-challenging. These inner manipulations, available to a beginner and veteran alike, provide clarity at the expense of the idea's sanctity
- knowing clearly that the work will turn out well.... This clarity, which seems like nothing but necessary optimism, endangers the process. It is one thing to have high hopes for the work and a good feeling about the work. That is splendid. It is quite another to presume to know how the work will turn out beforehand; clarity of this sort is a close cousin of wishful or magical thinking
- knowing clearly that the work will not turn out well. This defeatist attitude, which depresses the artist and depresses the idea, seems reasonable enough if one turns a statistical calculation into a state of mind. You say to yourself, there have only been a handful of great, original novels ever written. So the odds must be ten thousand to one... against my novel being great... To work with optimism and passion, you must operate under the illusion that the odds are very different from these and much more in your favour. This adaptive illusion, which should amount to a kind of certainty in the body, is the equivalence of saying, 'The hell with the odds. How does it help me to think such depressing things?' Do not be clear that the work will fail. That sort of clarity is a death threat to the creative process.
Maisel, E. (1995) Fearless Creating Tarcher Penguin pp60-62
Mmmmm. Wonder what he's going to say next....