Some of my best ideas have come from storms of conversations in dark bars or while yelling playfully with friends over campfires.Nothing makes me feel more alive than having a discussion where I end up understanding the world better than I did before. It teases me that there is a meaning to nail down. You have the meaning of life by the tail just a bit more when you can bounce your ideas off of someone else. It's orgasmic in a different way. It’s idea sex.
Ideas may sometimes come as jolts. That's true. But visual artist Ann Hamilton makes a point when she jokes that no one sits down to be creative. There is no punch clock, there is no finish line.
Don’t be fooled, there is actual work to creativity. It just feels like some big secret. We pretend artists and writers are a special group of people destined to be weird and moody. But as E.B. White, author of Charlotte's Web, wrote, "A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper." It's not a one-and-done process, it is a meditation, a lifestyle. What Hamilton was poking at is that creativity is not a noun, it’s a verb. It is making the time to open your mind and ask questions. It is the practice you need to produce your best work. We don’t know when it will come and we don’t know if it will come, but you need to sit down and do the work.
The Good Stuff
The process in and of itself can be maddening. There is an intense pressure of a billion tiny thoughts firing in your brain when you’re trying to create something to move you and the world around you. It’s no surprise some of the most amazing artists of our time have been seriously fucked up.
Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, beautifully challenged the tormented artist image in her TED talk “Your Elusive Creative Genius”. Gilbert found comfort in the ancient Greek and Roman ideas of a creative genius not being within you but being an external divine presence grateful enough to loan their powers to us mere mortals for some time. It took the burden off the “artist” to acknowledge that his “genius” or divine partner did or did not deliver. No artistic ego or suffering needed.
I’d like to take that idea one step further from Gilbert and the Greek genius. I believe we are all divine partners of one another. You’ve heard the theories. We’re all One. You’re the sum of your five closest friends. And now with the magic of the Internet, we’re all connected, sharing ideas and colliding off one another.
Every tweet is an invitation to idea sex.
The work of creativity multiplies with idea sex. And we can have it all the time. We can have multiple partners. We can do weird stuff. It is some freaky, tantric sex connection where your ideas and others collide to make something new. It is the pleasure of sex and the joy of birth all in a moment. Sharing anything less is masturbation.
When I write, I need to reference other people. Each of the thinkers that have influenced me have put ideas out into the world for others to take and do what they will. There is no pretending for me that my thoughts are only my own. It is just the unique, swirling combination of my experiences and my days.
The trouble is none of this is possible if we don’t share our thoughts and our work.
You have to make yourself available and vulnerable in a completely human way. It’s terrifying and exciting all at once. And it requires you to sort out your thoughts and make something.
Blackout poet and author Austin Kleon takes the creative process to heart. While inspiration or genius, or whatever you may call it, may not come every time we sit down, Kleon believes in the process of delivering and publishing work constantly to draw that genius closer. Sometimes it hits, sometimes it doesn’t.
We're meant to do this. Idea sex is the new evolution. As psychedelic explorer Terence McKenna put it, biological evolution ended with language. We have transformed the landscape of the world with our idea sex. And the more we come together, the more complex we get. Matt Ridley points out in his brilliant TED talk that no single person in this world knows how to make a pencil, much less a computer mouse. Comedian Joe Rogan considers the sophisticated level of which our world operates by asking, "If I left you alone in the woods with a hatchet, how long before you can send me an email?" We are nothing without one another because there is no artist without audience. There is no artist without art.
Nothing is original. Nothing is instant. So go have idea sex and you’re sure to change the world in the process.