Joy in low-stakes creativity

Changing Hands Bookstore had a virtual writing event recently where we were guided through a variety of chance operations activities.

These activities leave the writing process to chance. (They’re useful for any creative composing, not just writing. John Cage used some in composing music, for example.)

Leaving things to chance requires the writer to put their guard down a bit and just go with whatever is thrown out there. 

In the workshop, I wrote part of a story about a couple of dogs getting tired of what’s on TV and taking a spin through the McDonald’s drive-through. It’s only part of a story because of time constraints, and finishing it is on my to-do list. I also wrote a story about noticing a former math teacher tipping a dumpster on its side to put out a fire on the ground adjacent, and a bear passing on a train yelling at him to stay out of his dumpster. That one? Not refining.

It was ridiculous and so much fun.

Also, I’m not going to win a Pulitzer from any of it.

Writing great literature was not the goal. The activities got my creativity flowing, got me laughing, charged me up to write more—whether it was more silly fiction, less silly fiction, or the non-fiction I usually write.

A previous incarnation of myself would have had a completely different experience at this workshop, would have stared at the blank page, completely stuck on what to write because these things don’t make sense and my story isn’t going to be any good.

Circling back around again to suggest that “good” isn’t necessarily the goal. Or perhaps “good for what?” should be the question we’re asking.

On some levels, my fast food dog story was fantastic. I laughed while I wrote it. I enjoyed sharing it with the group. I’m looking forward to continuing it. 

Will I publish it? Eh. Maybe? That’s not the goal. We’ll see how it plays out. But playing with it? Walking into it as an idea in the first place? Loads of fun. Worth the time, paper, and ink.

In a similar vein, I have circled back to watercolor in recent months. Prior to fall 2021, the last time I painted watercolor that I can remember was spring 1988.

I’m not good at it. But also, I’m not looking for curators to discover my work. It’s fun to do, it’s expressive. Sometimes the end result looks like what I’d hoped and sometimes not. Regardless, it’s a good way to spend time, and buying a few supplies was a good way to spend money. (Also, not going crazy buying supplies makes the whole activity feel lower-stakes.)

I know this isn’t the first time I’ve written about this in recent months, but letting go of self judgment and just creating things has so drastically increased my quality of life, and I’m sure that it would have a similar effect for you.

Give it a whirl. Write or draw or make music or paint or dance or do whatever the thing is you want to do. And let it be silly or low quality or inexplicable. You don’t have to share it. 

If you decide to share it, choose someone who isn’t going to douse that little fire you just lit. And if you don’t have any of those people and you want to share it with someone, share it with me. I’ll cheer for you.

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