On making

For a long time I’ve been operating in one mode of learning and personal growth, and I’m in the process of pivoting to another.

Since sometime in college, I have followed what we might call a consume-curate-archive model of learning. I read online frequently, so I have hundreds of articles saved to Instapaper about a range of topics. I read books. I guzzle podcasts, and I use Tweetdeck to follow a lot of carefully-refined Twitter lists about politics, tech, culture, and more.

This is a process of finding inputs, highlighting or annotating them, and stashing them away. It’s a kind of orderly digital hoarding, and I’ve been doing it for a long time.

At the same time, my creative output slowed to a crawl. I’m not sure if there was a direct 1-to-1 tradeoff of those two (any writer will tell you that reading is essential to better writing), but certainly I was gathering a lot of inputs and not using them to produce rare and valuable outputs.

There are a lot of reasons for that. Basic lifestyle is one factor, especially after college. Unsure what I wanted to do, I felt directionless and frustrated. After being across the country for college, I moved back home and worked for myself for about a year. (A contemporary indicator of the simmering desire to make was the joy I felt designing and creating my solopreneur business.) After a few months on my current job, at Earlham, I feel better consistently. Maybe I should have created in spite of my mood, but I didn’t, and now I feel like I can again.

I also experience typical human anxieties about reactions. Some of my work can be private, but some should be public, and how do I sort which is which? We know deliberate practice, “learn by doing” guided by consistent feedback, is the only path to mastering something, but how do I implement that? Say I decide writing is what I want to do. Do I have to spend all my time keeping track of website comments and worrying about traffic? Can I make money from it? Should I? I feel like I have a lot to say, but am I then violating my own privacy just to get attention or make a buck? If I succeed, do I have to be a “public figure” (I don’t want to be)? There’s a halting problem to be modeled here, and my conjecture is that this kind of thinking never terminates on its own.

All of that was enough to smother my creativity for a long time.

That’s no way to live, to work, or to grow professionally. That’s why, in the last few months, I’ve been gradually switching into a creation-first model of learning – a model in which producing some artifact (at a high level it doesn’t much matter what kind) is the guiding principle, rather than accumulating a lot of neatly-arranged inputs.

This is the first in a series of posts I’ll be writing about making. In my next post, I’ll share how I’m planning to orient myself, on a regular basis, into a pattern of creativity.