Another best contemporary example that I researched is the musician Tom Waits. Apparently Tom, for most of his life, was pretty much the embodiment of the tormented contemporary modern artist, trying to control and manage and dominate these sort of uncontrollable creative impulses that were totally internalised.
But then he got older, he got calmer, and one day he was driving down the freeway, and this is when it all changed for him. And he is speeding along, and all of a sudden he hears this little fragment of melody, that comes into his head as inspiration often comes, elusive and tantalising melody, and he wants it, it’s gorgeous, and he longs for it, but he has no way to get it. He does not have a piece of paper, or a pencil, or a tape recorder.
So he starts to feel all of that old anxiety start to rise in him like, “I’m going to lose this thing, and I will be haunted by this song forever. I’m not good enough, and I can’t do it.” And instead of panicking, he just stopped. He just stopped that whole mental process and he did something completely novel. He just looked up at the sky, and he said:
“Excuse me, can you not see that I’m driving? Do I look like I can write down a song right now? If you really want to exist, come back at a more opportune moment when I can take care of you. Otherwise, go bother somebody else today. Go bother Leonard Cohen or some other musician.”
And his whole work process changed after that. Not the work, the work was still oftentimes as dark as ever. But the process, and the heavy anxiety around it was released when he took the genie, the genius out of him where it was causing nothing but trouble, and released it back where it came from, and realised that this didn’t have to be this internalised, tormented thing. It could be this peculiar, wondrous, bizarre collaboration, kind of conversation between Tom and the strange, external thing that was not quite Tom.
When I heard that story, it started to shift a little bit the way that I worked too, and this idea already saved me once. It saved me when I was in the middle of writing “The Start-Up Revolution” and I fell into one of those sort of pits of despair that we all fall into when we are working on something and it’s not coming and you start to think this is going to be a disaster, the worst book ever written. Not just bad, but the worst book ever written. And I started to think I should just dump this project.
But then I remembered Tom talking to the open air and I tried it. So I just lifted my face up from the manuscript and I directed my comments to an empty corner of the room. And I said aloud:
“Listen you, thing, you and I both know that if this book is not brilliant that is not entirely my fault, right? Because you can see that I am putting everything I have into this, I don’t have any more than this. If you want it to be better, you have got to show up and do your part of the deal. But if you don’t do that, you know what, I don’t care. I’m going to keep writing anyway because that’s my job. And I would please like the record to reflect today that I showed up for my part of the job.”
There are days when I don’t feel like writing, when I’m just tired and not inspired. There are days when the creative genie has abandoned and gone to visit other people.
I will keep on writing even when the creative muse decides not to join me. I will show up, show up, show up, and after a while, the creative muse will show up too.
No matter how you feel, get up, dress up, show up and never give up.
You were made for this.