So I’ll let you in on a little not-so-secret about people who make stuff that people who don’t make stuff might not realize: we hear things in our head. Things that other people apparently do not hear. Not in a dangerous or unstable way. Mostly. Though sometimes, it can make us feel a little anxious. It goes sort of like: Why is this imaginary person speaking to me—NO WAIT, not to me...to someone else, who is speaking back. They’re insulting each other now...they’re clever, too – hahaha! Nice one, voice number two! Oh man...this is great. And their brisk English accents are pretty slick, but seriously. What is HAPPENING HERE? Wait a minute...this is good stuff! I’ll go get a pen and write it down. Don’t go anywhere, voices! And then, sometimes we start seeing these people and their back-and-forthing, and we make a book out of it. Or a script. Could be both. Maybe it’s a picture. Sometimes it turns into a sculpture made out Lucky Charms and Fimo clay. That’s fine, too.
Yes, we hear things, and we see things, and then we make things out of *all that*. And it makes us feel good for the most part, and our biggest wish, our highest pie-in-the-sky hope is that it makes whoever might encounter it feel good, too.
Aside from the interior voices dictating our Lucky Charms sculpture-novel-screenplay-art installment, there are voices floating above those voices. And these voices actually do belong to us. Sometimes, there’s not enough room in our heads for all of it, so we take a nap.
Now you know TWO secrets about creatives.
Our own psychology intrudes on the process and weighs in like Statler and Waldorf from the balcony of Muppet Theater watching Fozzie tell knock-knock jokes. Those miserable, hilarious old coots! Psychology maven and notorious pipe-smoker Sigmund Freud had names for these voices...not as fun as Statler and Waldorf, but he tried. There’s the id, which says “GO FOR IT!” the superego, which says “ARE YOU CRAZY??” and the ego, which says, “Chill out, kids; I think there’s a way...” (I know, I know...psych 101 stuff, but Sigmund wasn’t wrong, and this blog is totally free, so it’s not like I’m wasting your money, just your time, it's all gonna be okay.) From a maker’s perspective, these take the form of archetypes, which is a Jungian thing, not a Freudian thing, but because they were buddies, we’ll let it slide for the sake of this metaphor.
In the head of a maker, the id, the superego, and the ego put on uproarious costumes and become the Creator, the Critic, and the Consumer.
The Creator says, “You should TOTALLY make that Lucky Charm sculpture!”
The Critic says, “What are you thinking, you goon? This is never going to work!”
And the Consumer says, “You know, if you stick with just the marshmallows, I think you’ll have a winner here.”
When we do our little dance of creativity, we’re trying our hardest to indulge the Creator, entice the Consumer, and quiet the Critic. But Critics are noisy little buggers, and they like to have their say, even when the Creator is fully engaged and riding the lightning of a Grand Idea. And the Consumer can be a little too accommodating at times, goading the creator into pulling back on the magic to keep it bland-ish and middle-of-the-road; this guy is swayed very easily by the Critic, which can leave the Creator stranded on a feisty island of “OH, I’LL SHOW YOU!” that leads to an isolating work made out of the not-marshmallow parts of the Lucky Charms...you know, the parts you eat around or leave in the bowl. Then dump down the drain.
I am REALLY getting some mileage out of this Lucky Charm sculpture analogy, right?
SO NOW LET ME MAKE THIS RELEVANT. YOU’RE WELCOME.
When I'm working on any storytelling thing, my Creator fights my Critic 1000%, with an eye always on my Consumer. My main point in making anything is to fulfill the circuitry of idea-to-completed work, and when writing a story, which is such an involved process to both create AND consume, the balance is incredibly tricky to strike. With Handelman, I’m walking a particularly wiggly line: the voice is whimsical and coy, a marked departure from anything I’ve used for a full-length work before; it’s proven worthy in short form, but this is...a whole bloody novel. It could trip over its own shoestrings and fall on its face very easily. And the subject matter is literally magic, which of course works in a story-for-adults format...but the main character starts as an 11-year-old kid and ends as a 26-year-old young man, which can throw the book into young adult territory if I’m not careful enough with the maturity of the telling. And the story is centered on Sid growing from an awkward boy with few adults in the world to depend on, into a confident, self-invented guy who's weathered the pain of loss and betrayal and found himself stronger and more fulfilled for the journey. WHILE DOING ILLUSIONS. So the emotional track has to sell the ups and downs without lingering too long on either, and without having one negate the other, lest it turn overly maudlin or become too zany to keep the underlying ties to reality. Because in the end, the Creator and the Critic are going to have to agree that the Consumer will be fairly dazzled by what all three (four?) of us have made together.
See how it works now?
See why it sometimes feels like a form of madness?
Add to all of that the necessity of keeping the idea solid and maintaining the energy required for the actual creation process, and you have a fair understanding of exactly what’s happening in the head of the author who wrote your very most favorite book. Or your very LEAST favorite book. Because guess what?
It takes the same amount of everything to make something people love as it does to make something people hate.
And guess what else?
Critics and Consumers aren’t just in our heads; they’re out there in the world, too, either happily digesting all of our creative works and throwing us praise, or coming at us with hammers and knives to tell us how our stories ruined their lives and burned their retinas to the point that they only use their Kindles for solitaire and checking Facebook now.
That’s on the extreme end.
It turns out that the voices in our head that guide us when we make our creations transfer to the voices in the real world whenever anyone consumes or critiques them, which is why it’s so important for us as makers to get our own balance right, so we can merrily engage the Creator on autopilot for the creation part without worrying so much about the Consumer or the Critic that we forget the reason we create in the first place: because it makes us feel good and whole and purposeful, and without it we reduce—ourselves and others around us who consume our creations, whether they’re waiting to love it up and recommend it to their friends, or slice it to ribbons and pound the stuffing out of it.
So to the creators out there: Go wild, kids. It’s your show!
And to the critics within and without: Pipe down a little, huh? We’ll be just fine.
And to the consumers everywhere: Be gentle with us, please.
We’re working with Lucky Charms here.