This post is part of my project to write one essay every day of February 2018. The essay topics will vary, but they’ll all be something I’m interested in. All essays can be found here.

Creating something new, whether that’s founding a business, writing a book, producing an EP, sculpting your body for physical competition, or whatever, is a wonderful thing. It is by its power to continually create that humanity has accomplished everything it has. If our species had a resume, “adaptive and fast learner” would be its strongest skill.

But the act and process of creation isn’t regarded the same way by everyone. As I’ve created things, I’ve encountered two broad kinds of responses: one I like, and one I don’t. Pulling from my total stock of experience and observation, I think these two responses are generalizable, and not just anecdotal relics.

They are: viewing creation as a human act, and viewing creation as a divine act.

To create something new, a human almost always has to struggle. The greater the thing, the harder the struggle, and the greater the heroism. Human creation is an act of transferal: part of the human—its time, its energy, its resources, its very life—must be poured into the endeavor. One cannot get something from nothing. Part of what makes human creation so risky is not just the potential for failure, but the opportunity cost. What if one’s time is wasted on a creative failure, and one could have earned a good salary doing prescribed work? For a human to create is for a human to be brave—to face reality with an analysis of risks and rewards, and take the risk to bring progress to civilization.

Divine creation is a non-event.

Most characterizations of divinity ascribe it omniscience and omnipotence—divine expenditure of any amount of time and energy (if the concept of time even applies to such a being) is therefore always negligible. I would say that infinity minus anything is still infinity, but the concept does not even permit subtraction to be applied to it. Subtracting from infinity makes as much sense as measuring tastes in decibels—it can’t be done.

Divine creation happens simply when a deity wills something, “Let there be light” being a famous example. For human civilization to light the planet, it had to invent and produce over generations.

Many people recognize human acts of creation for what they are, which means they recognize the struggle, risk, and work that support a final product. But some people, in response to seeing a great business or creative product, treat it as a divine act of creation: this means regarding the creator as some kind of special being above others, including themselves. In this view, the creator accomplished what they did because it was the inevitable end result of their talent. They’re just that kind of person.

Viewing creators and their products through the divine lens is bad for several reasons: (1) it insults creators by refusing to acknowledge the bravery and risk that they shouldered, the opportunity costs they forewent, and the work they did; (2) it is a personal cop-out. It places creators and their endeavors on a divine pedestal, and makes them psychologically unavailable for personal comparison. If someone else is a god or mega-genius, how can you expect to do what they did? It’s OK to not rise to the occasion—they only did it because they are more than human in some respect.

One of the best illustrations that I’ve found of treating human creators as divine is this comic, which is generally hilarious and everyone should follow its creator on Instagram:

(There is a difference between acknowledging someone of superior ability doing something that you couldn’t do and treating their accomplishments as divine. Acknowledging superior ability still acknowledges the work and risk of the creative process—it just says that some particular processes require more skill or ability than you happen to possess.)

Treating creative products as human products does wonders. Not only does it restore the proper full measure of esteem to creators, it places creative work within reach of everyone. If the abilities to start a business or learn how to paint are not just inborn skills, but learnable, than everyone can do them in some way. No one should feel unworthy of creation.

Metaphorically, it also restores humanity to its proper place—as a species that can make its own way in the universe, one without need of a Garden of Eden to protect it, for it can fashion a better garden with its technology.

All this isn’t to say that doing independent creative work is easy. Doing it in this age almost certainly means you will, at some point, be Googling a question like, “How do I make a podcast?” But hey, everyone starts somewhere. More importantly: it is within everyone’s power to start in the first place, because creation is a human thing, not a divine one.

“Throughout the centuries there were men who took first steps down new roads armed with nothing but their own vision. Their goals differed, but they all had this in common: that the step was first, the road new, the vision unborrowed, and the response they received—hatred. The great creators—the thinkers, the artists, the scientists, the inventors—stood alone against the men of their time. Every great new thought was opposed. Every great new invention was denounced. The first motor was considered foolish. The airplane was considered impossible. The power loom was considered vicious. Anesthesia was considered sinful. But the men of unborrowed vision went ahead. They fought, they suffered and they paid. But they won.”

(Ayn Rand in The Fountainhead, also in For the New Intellectual)

For your reading pleasure, I present my own process in various creative projects:

  1. Google how to do the thing, probably.
  2. Read lots of articles, become slightly overwhelmed with the size of the task.
  3. Make a giant to-do list that isn’t super well-informed, because if I knew how to make an informed one I wouldn’t have had to Google anything. See GIF below.
  4. Just start in on the work somewhere, and keep working over hours and days. Eventually, it is clear that progress is happening, although slowly. A better to-do list and workflow replaces the first one. Repeat.
  5. Once progress is established, work until the thing is done. This means dedicating hours every week, usually several most days, scaled over months (if not longer).
  6. Present the thing to the world.
  7. Some people say good job, and the rest say, “I wish I was lucky like you and could [do the creative thing].”
  8. I smile at the first group, and my eyes gleam in a crazed fashion at the second.
  9. I start the next thing.

Note: follow Sarah Andersen on Instagram here. You won’t regret it.

This post is part of my project to write one essay every day of February 2018. The essay topics will vary, but they’ll all be something I’m interested in. All essays can be found here.