Everything You Know About Creativity Is Wrong.
I get asked somewhat regularly how I manage my output of creative works, including zines, novels, magazines, albums, comics, photo books, jewelry, tintypes, and stuff no one knows was me so I’m not telling. What’s my secret?
Four letters. DGAF.
Don’t Give A Fuck.
Don’t give yourself deadlines. Don’t push yourself. Don’t be goal-oriented. Don’t cater to or research your audience. Don’t give a fuck. One day we’ll all be dead.
The reason I’m as productive as I am is that I got into punk. Not the music—well, the music too—but the culture. The culture of DIY anarchy. I wrote fiction because I wanted to. I drew comics and gave them away because it was fulfilling. I wrote zines because fuck it.
For ten years this was enough for me. I got books published because it’s awesome to get your books published (or to publish them yourselves!). I went on speaking tours because fuck yeah. My friends and I started a publishing collective because why not.
Art is the excrement of action. Art is the record of a thing having been done. Art is just a fucking tombstone—it’s a marker that says “art was made” the same as a marker that says “this person once lived.”
Awesomeness, fuck yeah, and why not. Those are three good reasons to be productive. Money is an unfortunate-but-sometimes-necessary reason. Fame is a shitty one. Seriously, fame is shit. Take if from someone who has seen just the tiniest bit of it: fuck fame. It’s okay to hate someone who is motivated by fame. It’s okay to hate yourself for being motivated by fame (recognition among peers is distinct from this, as I will address later).
I was being hyperproductive, for years, just because I wanted to be. And then one day, when yet another “thing I do for money” dried up, I thought “well, I do make tons of things. Maybe I should start selling them.”
And I went through the process of monetizing more of my interests. Hobbies became side incomes. Writing went from one of the things I do the most to being my career. And anxiety hit. Pretty much right away. Worse than I’ve ever had it. Crippling goddam anxiety. Because trying to do things “right” is fucking stressful. And to be avoided whenever possible.
You know what I did to try to deal with my anxiety? I looked up all the ways the internet says to deal with it and then I signed up for a site that gives you points if you do the things you say you’re going to and reprimands you if you don’t. So I made myself a rigid schedule. Exercise every day. Eat at least the following number of servings of vegetables every day. Take vitamins every day. Write 1,000 words every day. Practice Spanish every day. Et cetera. Every day I’d check off all the boxes, do all the things.
Conventional wisdom can eat a bag of shit. Setting goals and deadlines for all my healthy, stress-reducing activities just made my life worse.
And as soon as art became a “hustle” my productivity dropped dramatically. I’d make enough jewelry to post to etsy and then fuck off on the internet. I started being a procrastinator. A lot of things seem better to me than writing a novel when I’m trying to write a novel because I want a mainstream publisher to pay me for it when I’m done. But when I was just writing whatever the fuck I wanted (and learning to do it well because that’s fun too), I wrote because I wanted to goddam write.
I stopped shooting tintypes because breathing in poisons to shoot portraits for customers isn’t fulfilling in the same was as breathing in poisons to shoot portraits because holy shit I can make permanent images appear on a fucking piece of metal by doing some crazy alchemy that involves ether. I stopped doing it because it became work. If I wanted to do it “right,” and make my living at it, I’d have to promote myself and my work. I love going to steampunk conventions, but I’d probably need to buy a civil war re-enactors outfit and start shooting at re-enactments. And I don’t want to.
As soon as I decided I don’t give a fuck about whether or not my jewelry sells, I started making more of it again, and more different types. As soon as I decided that trying to make tons of money off of selling $1.50 buttons is stupid, I stopped stressing about it and I don’t mind making buttons again.
Forgetting about capitalizing on my work has meant letting go of stress. (And, yes, since we still live in a bullshit capitalist society, it’s meant that I’ve got to keep doing shit I know is work—like designing books for publishers or washing dishes or whatever. But I just know that’s work and I do it.)
Weirdly, I’ve also found that I can kind of DGAF my way through capitalizing on some of my crafts, too. I’m not saying don’t sell the things you make, I’m saying try not to stress about that aspect so hard because it’ll fuck up your work anyway.
Deadlines stifle creativity at least as often as they bolster it. If a deadline is stifling, drop it.
Free yourself from goal-oriented thinking. Goals exist solely to inform the process. I will argue that this is universal. (Because arguing it’s universal seems like an enjoyable thing to do. Maybe it’s not universal. Fuck if I know.) For example: the point of painting is to paint, not to have a painting. Art is the excrement of action. Art is the record of a thing having been done. Art is just a fucking tombstone—it’s a marker that says “art was made” the same as a marker that says “this person once lived.” Don’t get me wrong—art, the product, is also awesome. And thinking about the effect the finished product will have on people can help you have a more awesome time making it.
As you might have noticed, DGAF isn’t a “how to be rich and famous” solution. Quite the opposite. It’s just how to be productive.
Money is a terrible motivator for art. (It’s also a terrible motivator for science. And determining who lives and who dies. Actually money is a terrible motivator for pretty much everything besides supporting yourself.) It’s why we live in a world of derivative art: people make what they think will sell instead of what they believe in or want to.
I do not believe that people who are motivated by money to make art are bad people or hacks or whatever-the-fuck. I do it. Plenty of my favorite people do it. I’m just annoyed that the world is set up so that that’s a thing we feel drawn to do.
Fame is a terrible motivator for art. I do believe that people who are motivated by fame are bad people or hacks or whatever-the-fuck. However, in the modern era where everyone is a freelancer and we’re all “liberated” as artists in that we have to be constantly fucking selling some bullshit manufactured image of ourselves, a professional artist has to be working towards some level of fame in order to eat food on a regular basis. Fame-as-strategy-towards-eating-burritos-and-having-health-insurance is perfectly reasonable. Fame-because-I-want-to-be-famous-and-have-skewed-power-dynamics-with-everyone-I-ever-meet-ever, well, there’s a reason we have words like “shitlord” in english. (Actually, my spellcheck doesn’t think we do have the word “shitlord” in english, but what does it know.)
Power dynamics are the different levels of power between two or more people. Fame is kind of just the word for “skewed power dynamics.” Famous people have more power than other people in most social interactions. And unequal exchanges are less fulfilling for everyone involved. Seriously. Fame and its attendant power imbalances are, in the hands of the best people, hurdles that need to be jumped every single goddam time you enter a friendship or romantic relationship with someone. In the hands of most people (read: the worst people), fame grants power over other people.
Fame and its attendant power imbalances are, in the hands of the best people, hurdles that need to be jumped every single goddam time you enter a friendship or romantic relationship with someone. In the hands of most people (read: the worst people), fame grants power over other people.
If there’s a not-shitty version of fame, it’s recognition among peers. Like, “good on you, you fucking killed it on that guitar solo, and hearing your band play meant a lot to me. But you’re on the same level as me of course because we’re both just people. You’re great at guitar and I’m a fucking marine biologist or a stay-at-home parent or some other at-least-as-hard thing.”
I have no idea how to foster “recognition among peers” and dismantle fame. But I have a feeling it involves destroying all the intersecting power hierarchies our society. So if you want a world where you can be recognized for doing awesome shit without it fucking up your life, you probably need to dismantle patriarchy, white supremacy, capitalism, the state, and all that shit.
Look, aren’t you proud? I turned a “how to be productive” article into arguments for anarchism.
Disclaimer at the end where you won’t read it because you’ve already made up your mind that I’m a bad person who doesn’t know what they’re talking about: Yes, I understand this won’t work for everyone. I also understand why daily word count goals help people finish novels. But the internet is full enough of advice about all the ways to fucking kill yourself with stress. And since DGAF has been so effective for me, I’m willing to bet it’s effective for some other folks out there too.
Okay, actually, to be real, I wrote this article because I needed to read it just now. And if other people get something out of it, awesome.