You will get dirty

Messy! BOOM!My office is a total disaster.

It looks like someone seriously vomited index cards all over the place.

And scraps of paper. Full of little drawings. And cryptic notes.

With lots of arrows. And big exaggerated circles.

There are markers everywhere.

And highlighters.
And mechanical pencils.
And silver Sharpies that cause one hell of a head rush.

My Spirograph is sitting in the middle of the floor.

Next to an empty tea cup. And a 300 year old singing bowl.

Plus two wrappers from some spent Moonstruck Dark Chocolate Chile Variado.

It looks like a hideout for gnomes who covet inspiration.

And explosives.

Chai. And sighing.

Did I mention that I spent most of yesterday holding my head in my hands?

Rubbing my eyes. Pulling my earlobe. Shaking my leg.

Oh, and sighing.

Lots and lots of sighing.

There was thinking. And pacing.

Backandforth. Backandforth.

I took breaks for drumming. And chai.

And distracting myself with email.

Easy. Doable. No sighing.

A couple times I’d catch a wave and ride it for an hour or so.

Which kind of offset those chunks where squeaking out even five minutes of diggable work felt like having a catheter removed s-l-o-w-l-y.

Bwock bwock

By the end of the day, I was wiped.

I stumbled into the living room. Mush brained and mumble-ey.

I was saying something.

But I didn’t know what.

Neither did my wife.
Who gave up after asking me to repeat it three times.

I fell asleep. On the couch. With the TV on.

And I had crazy dreams all night.

Something about sneaking into an abandoned amusement park.
And roosters.

Weird, right?

Chomp! Chomp! Chomp!

Everybody talks about how fabulous creativity is.

And it is.

But it’s also hard.

The creative process is no joke.

You’re faced with the tricksy challenge of trying to bring what’s inside of you out.

To translate the vision in a way that works.

It’s like you’re building bridges.
And designing buildings.
And juggling flaming bowling pins.
While tip-toeing across a pond full of chomp-ey cartoon alligators.

Then there’s the tension.

And the doubt.

And that deep yearning for the delicious aha!

You know, the one that gets more desperate by the minute.

And there are times –hours, days, weeks – when you have no clue whether the pressure is going to pull you apart or catapult you into some dizzying awesome.

It could totally go either way. Really.



But gnarly.

Please fasten your seatbelt

The creative process is messy.

It’s supposed to be.

And I really, really want you to grok that.

Because messy doesn’t mean that your idea sucks.

Or that you’re not qualified to do it.

Or that no one will care when you do.

It doesn’t mean that you should turn back.

Or wait until later.

Or pick something easier.

The fact that it’s hard doesn’t mean you’re fucking up.

The creative process isn’t a civilized act.

Napkin tucked in your lap. Pinky finger extended just so.

It can be knock-down-drag-out.

With sighs. And explosions. And crazy dreams.

But crazy dreams are what got you here in the first place.

So dig in.

Go deep.

Get dirty.

And hold on.

What does creativity-in-action look like for you?
How do you interpret messy when it shows up?
What causes you to freak when you’re creating something?
How do you deal?

Flickr credit – Óli Jón

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19 Responses to You will get dirty
  1. Barb Black
    March 9, 2011 | 11:39 am

    I don’t have big enough words to express how much I love this! But it’s right up there with the way chocolate feels as it melts on the tongue.

    I hope you don’t mind, but I’m going to “borrow” this post and your questions for my own blogginess tomorrow.

    Thanks so much for you being willing and open and sharing YOU.

  2. Square-Peg Karen
    March 9, 2011 | 11:41 am

    This is the bestest reminder! I’m going to paste the link into my inspiration folder because even though today I’m not in that between-a-rock-and-a-hard place, I WILL be – and then it’ll be SO good to read this and sigh and say “Right! it’s not just me – it’s ok – I’m not fucking up – it IS hard sometimes, b r e a t h”


  3. Juliana
    March 9, 2011 | 11:57 am

    Totally love this so much.

    Creativity is a lot like love for me – there’s the infatuation stage, the honeymoon stage, and then when that fades… is when most people give up… when it gets *harder* and *not constantly fun*. But sticking it out through that leads to breakthroughs!

  4. Emily
    March 9, 2011 | 12:08 pm

    Oh, the brilliance here.

    Messy and uncomfortable. A wrangling with unanswered — unanswerable! — questions.

    Those blessed moments when you feel you’ve got a line straight to the divine. Then, the darkness when you wonder if you’ll ever hear that still, sweet voice again.

    Yes, I say. To all of it.

    Because otherwise, what would be the point?

  5. chris zydel
    March 9, 2011 | 12:38 pm

    Ha, ha, ha…. oh my dear friend! I laughed so hard at the description of your office as you are creating. Once, again, I’m CERTAIN we were separated at birth… even though I’m 20 years older than you!!

    I’m always so perplexed by people who say that they can’t begin a creative project until everything is all neat and tidy. Because those markers and chocolate wrappers and the not-so-controlled chaos are what FEED my creative juiciness. It’s like those piles that I surround myself with are compost and are full of all kinds of dark and wriggling things trying to get born.

    And yes the head banging. And the hard. And the mumbling. Since Tim and I are BOTH creative types there is a lot of incoherent mumbling in our house.

    Once again you’ve nailed a universal experience with such clarity and compassion. And of course I just LOVE that you always make me laugh!!

  6. Ericka
    March 9, 2011 | 2:27 pm

    Shit, shit, shit, shit, shit. *big deep almost crying breath* Well, I just needed to say those words b/f I told you how much I am so digging what you wrote. B/c I sort of want to give up or focus. Hard to decide which. But I know that there is something I have to say to teach,and I think it has merit. I do leadership development *eyes glaze* but I am so passionate about it and think creative thoughts all the time.” Thank you for telling me its okay that its messy. And now, I shall sit, read, think and write.
    p.s. sorry about the cursing but it puntuates how this felt. 🙂

  7. Michelle
    March 9, 2011 | 2:37 pm

    You forgot the part about ideas waking you up in the middle of the night and nagging to be written down, not letting you sleep until you do so. Or early in the morning and not letting you get back to sleep because dammit, they deserve some attention right now!

    Which is to say: yes. I grok this. I grok it hardcore. Creativity can be so easy and flowing and delightful, but it can also be such a pain in the ass.

  8. Paula Swenson, Creative Catalyst
    March 9, 2011 | 2:42 pm

    Glorious, wonderful, oh-so-accurate description of the process of getting what’s inside, out. Thank you!!

  9. Joan Bright
    March 9, 2011 | 5:06 pm

    Wow. Your creative space sounds…vaguely familiar. Is it possible some of my “messiness” is, after all, er, tied in with creativity?

    The weirdest dreams I’ve had in some time and they’re all new ones! have started back up lately….it’s a relief to read your posts, you know that? Something may be percolating in me, more than I want to dare to believe…and it’s all ok. Thank you again! And I’m chuckling at the images, too. They’re great.

    <3 you and your gut-level sharing of the unpretty part of creativity….

  10. Julia
    March 9, 2011 | 6:35 pm

    I’m so glad I’m not the only one. Your studio sounds like my entire house. Messy, with intermittent joy and despair. Sigh.

  11. Fabeku
    March 9, 2011 | 7:12 pm

    @Barb – Chocolate on the tongue. Mmm. Glad it landed for you. And feel free to borrow away.

    @Karen – Smartness! I have things I go back to a lot, too. Those anchors + root-ey bits. Lifesavers. And, yeah, it’s totally hard sometimes.

    @Juliana – Love! Yes! It’s like that for me, too. And the cool thing is, when I keep moving, even when the meh sets in, I usually end up back at in love.

    @Emily – That wondering-if-it’ll-ever-happen-again thing? I so get that. Even though it always happens again. But at the time? Ouch.

    @Chris – I love the idea of compost + wriggle-ey bits + things waiting to be born. I also love that you + Tim speak mumble. Blerftingle efftek, soffting, eh?

    @Ericka – I feel what you’re saying about give up/focus. Isn’t it wild how thin that line is? And how teeter-ey it can be? Oy. (p.s. Your passion for you what teach? Obvious. And gorgeous. And inspiring.) (p.p.s. Totally ok about the cursing. It happens here on the regular.)

    @Michelle – Yep. Totally know what you mean. I actually don’t mind those we-interrupt-the-regularly-scheduled-program moments. But the lack of sleep thing can get kind of gnarly.

    @Paula – Thanks!

    @Joan – *raises a drum to what’s percolating in your world right now*

    @Julia – Intermittent joy + despair. Yes. I have all their albums.

  12. Ellen Berg
    March 9, 2011 | 7:55 pm

    Oh yesyesyesyesYES!

    When I work with novice writers and they find expressing themselves just so is not the romantic vision they had in their heads, they often want to quit and run away. But the truth is that writing and other creative acts are often messy and painful. Kind of like childbirth.

    As I’ve been writing in preparation for my launch, I’ve had lots of those sighing experiences and right now my husband is being oh-so-sweet not to comment about all the shit that has exploded all over my makeshift office (our table). I will even admit to having said a few curse words as what was in my head/heart/soul wouldn’t translate to actual words on an occasion or two.

    But to not create in exchange for a clean, easy life? Pshhh. Not a chance.

    Love the post.

  13. Lisa Wood
    March 9, 2011 | 9:05 pm

    um, how’d you get inside my head? freaking awesome post…

    …and you have a spirograph…how cool is THAT?!?!?!?!

  14. Tangerine Meg
    March 10, 2011 | 7:13 am

    The blank look I received from a friend when trying to inform them that some people thrive on, get inspired by and need “mess” and gravitate towards the chaotic end of the chaos>order spectrum made me wonder if I was in fact nuts. Thanks for this, I am right there in the painful, uncertain, wonderful chaos with ya!

  15. Jennifer Schildknecht
    March 10, 2011 | 7:42 am

    You. Me. Chris. Guess that means we’re triplets, separated at birth 😉
    I’m always thinking you’re my long-lost brother when I read your stuff….We’ve got the red boot thing(I just bought red Converse hi-tops. You?), the chai, the chocolate, the mumbling, and come on, silver Sharpies too?!

    My studio is ALWAYS a disaster, and that’s usually fine. I do occasionally have to clear enough space to work (like yesterday), but creativity IS messy. LIFE is messy.
    I worry about folk who need their studios TIDY (ahem…MY CANADIAN)…spending so much time and energy “tidying” that they never actually eek out any creativity. What are they running from???

    It’s easy to want to run…this thing is FRIGHTENING sometimes…but the only way to get it out is to allow it to overcome you, to roll and tumble and wrestle with it until you become one with it, and give birth to whatever wants to be born.

  16. stacey beth shulman (curvyyogini)
    March 10, 2011 | 7:02 pm

    hey Fabeku-

    how did you get inside my brain? lol!

    thanks for this – it’s such a relief to know that other people go through this too…


  17. Susan T. Blake
    March 23, 2011 | 11:43 am

    And, as they say in “A League of Their Own,” “hard is what makes it great.

    Thanks Fabeku!

  18. Lisa Gillispie
    April 3, 2011 | 8:44 pm

    So glad I saw this mentioned on Twitter! As I munch on my dark chocolate, while sitting at my messy desk, having just finished doing some flailing aka Dance of Shiva 🙂

  19. Fabeku
    April 7, 2011 | 3:10 pm

    Hey taters!

    Apparently, in the hard + busy that was my sister’s surgery, I missed these comments. I’m totally sorry, folks.

    @Ellen – I loved what you said here. It makes sense. All of it. It’s easy to think creativity is romantic. And there are parts that totally are. But there are also the exploding-shit-sighing-and-swearing parts, too. (grin)

    @Lisa – Thanks you! And I lovelovelove my Spirograph. It’s a key ingredient in the secret sauce.

    @Meg – Not nuts at all. I think even if you’re not someone who thrives on chaos, you can still get that the creative process can be messy. Even if the chaos isn’t constant, it’s still a part of the process, yeah?

    @Jennifer – Triplets! Sweet. And I get what you mean about the messy studio thing. Day to day my stuff is pretty tidy. But when I’m in major creative mode? No chance. (p.s. Red Converse!)

    @Stacey – Totally welcome. Creatively messy folks of the world unite! (grin)

    @Susan – Good line!

    @Lisa – Glad it struck a chord. Chocolate + messy desks – I totally get that!

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