I watched part of a fascinating documentary on the life of Joe Strummer, lead singer of the Clash. The tail end of the film focused on a final project he was working on just before he died—quite unexpectedly of an aneurism at the age of 50. The film follows the process of Strummer putting together songs and musicians for a kind of reunion of old band mates for a new record and tour. He said as soon as he had made the decision to make a new record, the songs showed up and he couldn’t stop the flow. They came quickly, randomly, and profusely at all hours and in any context—he’d scratch lyrics out on anything he could grab nearby: napkins, matchbooks, receipts. He became incredibly prolific in these final months of his life, which seemed to make his death all the more tragic.
It kind of turns our logic about creativity upside down, doesn’t it? We think we have to have all our ducks in a row before we decide to step out with some new endeavor, but in fact it’s sometimes the stepping out that brings the ideas.
There is an attractive appeal to not finishing a creative project. I have allowed myself the luxury of ten thousand conversations with friends about things I’m “thinking about doing” without ever taking the thing across the finish line. For a lot of reasons. It’s more fun to talk about something than to do the work is the most obvious. And the fears and resistance deep inside that fight to keep us from taking decisive action are a formidable foe.
But sooner or later we need to just do the thing. Turn our verbs into nouns, as Twyla Thorpe says (The Creative Habit). Productivity implies that there will be a product at the end of the process. Maybe sometimes we need to “fake it ’til we make it” in our creative life, if faking it in this sense means to create as though there’s an end result to our work that the world is clamoring for–a new record, a novel, a poem, a painting. And in the faking it, the ideas come like water from a primed pump and before we realize it, we actually make it.