A Creative Manifesto

It’s hot in the city. This messes with my body and brain. Everything is uncertain, and slow. But there is work to be done. As in Capital W “Work.” Not long ago, my friend Liz Worth, a fierce poet and journalist, published on her blog a Creative Manifesto. I found it quite inspiring, and I made a note to create one of my own. And here it is. The 25 things that guide me in times good and bad. I hope it inspires some/one of you to have a more artful day/existence but it was really meant for me. As a reminder, to always rage against the dying of the light.

Not my desk.

Liisa’s Creative Manifesto, circa 2011:

1. You will die.
There is no reincarnation. No heaven or hell. Second chances are few. As I read on a bathroom stall once: You get what everyone else gets; you get a lifetime. Just this one. The only things worth doing are those that will outlast you, outlive you. Your ideas, your deeds, your work.

2. Be selfish.
Turn down invitations. Call in sick. Ignore the phone. It’s OK to shut off your friends, family and colleagues and just focus on your thing.

3. Produce more.
Most of your ideas will be worthless. Much of what you make will fail. To produce a masterpiece, you need 10 times more work that gets thrown out.

4. Quitting is OK.
If you don’t believe in something anymore, stop. If it bores you, if you don’t like it, stop. This doesn’t make you lazy. If there is a great idea in it, it will find its way into your new work. There is no glory in finishing something just for the sake of it.

5. Finishing is better.
That said, if you never finish anything, you won’t have much to show for your efforts. Push through the insecurities that stop you from finishing. Imagine sourcing the most beautiful fabric and cutting out the most perfect squares but never sewing the quilt: all you’ve really got is scrap rags.

6. Do nothing.
Free yourself from the tyranny of To Do lists and deadlines. Feel no guilt for taking hours, days, weeks off to do nothing but daydream. The outside world will look at you and think you are not working, but you know this time is essential. Unplug, from reading, writing, even consciously thinking and just let yourself wander. Boredom is a gift.

7. Surround yourself only with people who inspire you to be your best, your bravest.
Most of the world, the powers that be, it’s in their best interest to see you fail, to maintain the status quo, to keep power for themselves. Be grateful for the people who believe in you and want you to succeed.

8. Listen more.
Listen to people when they have problems they need to share. This is how you will learn about the human condition.

9. Take back the night.
Work late. It’s quiet and nobody is expecting anything from you.

10. Take a break.
Don’t beat yourself up for taking stretches of time to do things other than art. There are other good causes to fight. Just don’t forget to come back.

11. Travel.
Visit new lands, go where other languages are spoken, even if it’s just another neighbourhood, a different grocery store. Doing and seeing things for the first time opens up your mind.

12. Fuck nostalgia.
Remember how everything was way better when we were teenagers? Except it wasn’t. It was just new to us. There is plenty of new inspiration waiting every moment of every day. Don’t live in the past.

13. Celebrate the small victories.
Not everyone has a Nobel Prize-sized novel in them. Or an Oscar–winning script. Or a painting that will change the art world. You may never get to play Massey Hall or Madison Square Gardens or be on the cover of Rolling Stone or win the Order of Canada or the Giller Prize. But you might get a positive review on someone’s blog. Or be asked to read for money at a festival. Or be praised by someone you admire. Don’t be shy to crow about the so-called little things. They matter, and not only because they may be all you ever get.

14. Dream big.
I love tiny Christmas tree lights. But I love full-size neon billboards too. There is no good reason to limit yourself to DIY publishing, basement bars, neighbourhood craft shows. Imagine how you can reach masses of people, then go for it. So many ideas you assume will not fly in the mainstream will end up being done by someone else later.

15. You are not poor, you’re broke.
There is no money in this. No stable financial future you can ever count on. Be prepared to do without things other people take for granted. But don’t equate lack of money with failure. Find ways to live within your means so you can continue to create. And when things really suck, remember that money can’t buy a sense of purpose.

16. Demand to be paid.
Creators are always asked to work for free – because so many of us say yes. Don’t devalue your time, your ideas, your work. Demand to be recognized and compensated, even if it’s only an honorarium, barter, free drinks. Because the richest payment is respect. The people who expect you to volunteer your work would never ask the taxi driver or the bartender or the printing company to work for free. Don’t let them get away with taking advantage of you.

17. Don’t do anything just for the money.
You have to eat. You should be paid. But if money is the only reason to accept an offer, if you can think of no other benefit to you, to the world, it’s not worth your time. Remember, time is all you really have.

18. Art is not a contest.
Someone else’s success takes nothing away from you. Be generous with your praise and mindful of envy. Especially of people you don’t like.

19. Be a fan.
Don’t be ashamed to let other people know that you admire them. Egos are fragile and nobody ever had a worse day for receiving fan mail.

20. Study.
Through their lives and the work of those who came before you and succeeded in making a mark you learn how the world can be different.

21. Collaborate.
Don’t be afraid to work with new people, especially the ones you most admire. Let yourself be inspired by others and learn from them. Feel good that you are contributing to what they are leaving behind.

22. Imagine the Best Case Scenario
Picture the best possible outcome, the things you dream of. Write it down. Try to make it happen.

23. Don’t wait.
I had my book idea for two years before pitching it to a publisher. I waited out of fear of rejection. But it was accepted within three weeks of submission. What have you go to lose? How could it possibly be worse than lost time?

24. You don’t have to revolutionize to matter.
Even adding to the world, not changing it radically, is worth doing.

25. Say what you really think.
This is the most important thing. And the hardest.

Oh, and bonus #26: Don’t worry about what anyone else thinks of what you’re doing. See: item #1.

5 Comments

  1. Liz Worth July 10, 2011 Reply

    I love you, Liisa.

  2. Warren Sonoda July 14, 2011 Reply

    AWESOME post Liisa — I’m old friends with Brad Abraham and he just tagged us in a post on crackbook, which led me here. I love what you have to say — especially #1, which pretty well puts everything into perspective. Thanks for a great read! WPS

  3. Christine August 23, 2011 Reply

    thanks for this, like a swift kick in the inspiration and slap upside the head from the muse.
    (my muse sounds a lot like Olympia Dukkakis in Moonstruck: “You’re life is going down the toilet!”) but I digress…

    and congrats on the new book, can’t wait to see it.

    cheers
    c.

  4. Sharon September 1, 2011 Reply

    I’m reading this at work! This is so inspirational. I’m going to print it and put it on my wall.

  5. Sharon September 1, 2011 Reply

    You really inspire me to be a better, more creative person…I love reading your blog and your work! This manifesto is epically awesome 🙂

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