Monday, October 17, 2011

WtMoM: Making as a Way to Know Yourself

What to Make of Making

Are creative people born or made?

Do you need a certain degree of talent and aptitude or can you answer any creative calling if you're willing to work hard enough?

Beyond proficiency, there's a deeper question: given that creative work almost always involves an expressive medium, do you have anything to express? Once you've mastered the techniques and the craft, what are you going to do with that mastery?

The following statement was attributed to, "the guy who plays Dwight on The Office:"
"If you don't know who you are or what you're about or what you believe in it's really pretty impossible to be creative."
So, do you have to know yourself before you can make?

Clearly, study and practice are necessary if you want to do anything non-trivial. The question is really aimed at whether you can produce something worthy of an audience's attention if you don't know who you are or what you're about.

As you may have guessed if you've been following along, I believe the Laws of Making point the way to understanding this question.

Just like the best stories test the the limits of the protagonist's strength and resolve, true making is a way to know yourself. The fundamental dramatic question in a novel is often, "What is the protagonist willing to sacrifice to solve the story problem?"

The first Law of Making, "Love is the foundation of true making," establishes the baseline: if you love the project enough to undertake it (as opposed to dabbling or dithering with it), you've just discovered one part of what you're about.

Beauty and Truth, the second and third laws, are really about the essence of what you believe in.

Hope, Faith, and Charity (laws four, five, and six) are the natural result of learning that you're about something other than you.

Vision, Devotion, and Completion speak volumes about who you are.

In an absolute sense, none of us may really know who we are. But like the stories where the protagonist's actions reveal their character, the way you make reveals a great deal about who you are. The zen-like irony of the situation is that it is only through the selflessness--and by extension the lack of self-consciousness--cultivated by the Laws of Making that we can get a glimpse of our true selves. And that's what your audience really wants to see.

Image: Bill Longshaw /


  1. Your first questions are hard to answer. I know people who are quite talented and who got that way through hard work and determination. I know others who, even though determined and hard working, still have no talent. (And they don't realize they have no talent.) So I'm kind of leaning towards the idea that yes, there must be a seed of innate talent already within the individual. It's all a matter of whether it gets developed or not, whether the person works hard to make the talent grow. Even the most naturally gifted people have to practice.

  2. I have to agree with Bish. For example, a person can take piano lessons for many many years, and practice diligently every day of the week, but without an innate sense of rhythm, art, and "heart", his playing will remain wooden and uninspired. Nonetheless, the real question is who does the maker want to please? Himself, or others? If that person finds joy in the playing, it doesn't matter a diddle that he'll never make it to Carnegie Hall or even the Holiday Inn. Sometimes, creation for the sheer joy of creation is more than enough.

  3. The question about talent vs. hard work is a bit of a red herring because, as you've both pointed out, neither guarantees mastery.

    There's something else that ties them both together.

    Words like passion and drive get closer, but still fall in the talent and hard work camps, respectively. The "sheer joy of creation" gets even closer.

    It all orbits around fundamental questions like, "Who are you?" and, "What are you about?" -- not in a grand existential sense, but in the more immediate sense of joy and fascination.

    Making, in a sound bite, is about finding ways to give your joy form.

    And to be clear, the mastery we're discussing here has very little to do with, "success." While it may be nice to be recognized by others, real success is to recognize your true self.


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