“The lab or the factory: You work at one, or the other.
“To work in the lab is to embrace the idea that what you’re working on might not work. Not to merely tolerate this feeling, but to seek it out.
“The factory, on the other hand, prizes reliability and productivity. The factory wants no surprises, it wants what it did yesterday, but faster and cheaper….
“At the lab, the pressure is to keep searching for a breakthrough, a new way to do things. And it’s accepted that the cost of this insight is failure, finding out what doesn’t work on your way to figuring out what does….
“Hard, really hard, to do both simultaneously. Anyone who says failure is not an option has also ruled out innovation.”
Seth Godin, Author and marketing maven
I read these words after spending part of an afternoon ambling through a book I wasn’t super interested in only to stumble upon the title of another book that leaped out at me. I made a creative connection that I can mine for nuggets of gold for my children’s novel.
That’s when it struck me that as writers, we’re “working in the lab” — we’re explorers, innovators: We’re courting creativity, that transformative spark of joy and mystery. Here are a few things I’ve learned about creativity on my writing road:
Creativity is messy: It’s unruly and elusive. You can fall in love with a character you create only to realize that he or she isn’t working in your story or novel and have to pull the plug, even after you’ve invested lots of time in conjuring them up. Or you can wander down a blind alley pursuing an idea that seems exciting but fizzles out. Yet, somehow, these pursuits carry you further down the road you need to go. Who can explain this.
Creativity takes time: Muses can’t be summoned — they can only be wooed — wooed with patience, with a steady focus not on results and outcomes, but on intention and effort. When we’re willing to put in the time to chase down an idea or approach, however elusive and frail, and get it on paper, our muse pays attention. But when we approach the page with impatience or frustration, demanding results and fearing failure, our muse takes a vacation and we often get stuck in a rut.
Creativity is chancy: When you’re in the lab, failure is a definite possibility and outcomes are uncertain. As Seth says, you have to not only be willing to “tolerate” the feeling that things might not pan out, but to seek that feeling out, to embrace it. Because you can’t really innovate and try something new if you’re playing it safe. To write dangerously, you need to willingly put yourself in harm’s way, and court disaster and disappointment.
Mmmm. So we’re in our lab coats, getting messy, playing around, chasing ideas the way a puppy chases a ball, flailing our butterfly nets hoping to catch those elusive words soaring away from us on gossamer wings. In a world that seems to prize results and efficiency, I’d say were definitely marching to the beat of a different drummer. But, hey, that’s what writing dangerously is all about. So let’s put on our lab coats and write on!