The One Bad Habit That Cripples Creativity
Are you an artist or an editor?
Are you sometimes one and sometimes the other?
Are you both at the same time?
How you answer this question could mean the difference between creating something truly meaningful or something totally forgettable. How you answer this question will determine if the things you design make a real difference in this world or quickly settle like dust in the abandoned corners of the internet.
If you're a creative of any kind - if you create content to share with the world - you need to answer this question correctly. If you write sermons or craft set lists or sing songs or experiment with recipes - you need to get this right.
As a child my imagination felt limitless. We didn't have TV so I grew up running through fields or playing war in the woods or pretending to be a ninja in the barn. I started playing guitar when I was 12 and started writing songs immediately.
I'd sit alone in my room, pen in hand and a 79 cent spiral bound notebook on my lap. I'd write songs about everything. Stories, thoughts, hopes, hurts. No one told me to and I never EVER dreamed of showing them to anyone. They were honest and raw and vulnerable.
An artist finds a way to keep creating in this childlike, openhearted way. Maintaining what Christoph Niemann calls a "fearless naïveté".
One of my all-time favorite songwriters and producers, Brian Wilson, calls it courage. "I go out there and take chances. That's okay, though. It pays off to be courageous. Courage pays off. Honesty pays."
Now an editor is much different than an artist. But just as important. An editor cuts through the noise and finds the essence of an idea. An editor gives shape and clarity to what you're trying to say.
Alanis Morissette and her album Jagged Little Pill is an outlier. She said she wrote the first lyrics that came to her and recorded them immediately. No edits. Just like that. Every other songwriter, author, and designer I’ve heard says the same thing. Rewrite. Rewrite. Rewrite. Make it better, better, better. Clearer, stronger, bolder.
Author and Professor William Zinsser says, "most first drafts can be but down by 50 percent without losing any information or losing the authors voice".
In his book "On Writing" Stephen King tells of the best advice he ever received as an author. It came from an editor, scribbled onto a rejection slip. "Not bad, but PUFFY. You need to revise for length. Formula: 2nd Draft = 1st Draft – 10%. Good luck."
Of course, it's possible to over edit. I've written songs, given talks, written articles and even lead worship services that were all editor, no artist. They were a paint by numbers, plain porridge kind of boring. Soulless. In most cases, it's because they were born in editor mode. They never had a chance to be nurtured under the hand of an artist.
Back & Forth
Okay, so now we know that as creatives we are both Artist and Editor. So how does this work? I'll tell you how it doesn't work. Constantly flipping back and forth between artist mode and editor mode during a project. This is a terrible habit! I promise you, this will absolutely kill anything you're hoping to create. All life and beauty will be sucked out before it ever had a chance.
I've spent years in this space. A glimmer of an idea would emerge. A sudden rush of boldness and vulnerability. A truly creative connection. And then it was gone. Within seconds Brenton the editor would show up and say, "You can't say that! You can't admit that! No one is going to like that!" And it's cut down to a boring stump. Then I go back and try to prop up the ugly little thing with ideas that are half as interesting and half as authentic as the first ones. You're welcome world. My gift to you.
Artist THEN Editor
So now we're here. The all-important answer. Are you an artist or an editor? You are both - but separately. First an Artist. Then an Editor.
Create with a childlike naïveté and fearless abandon.
Cut with a ruthless indifference and fearless boldness.
A Childlike Artist.
A Ruthless Editor.