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The Specificity of Creativity

No single work of art is capable of meeting everyone’s needs.

The act of creating something is inseparable from the act of excluding something. In order for a thing to have identity, we must be able to distinguish it from other things. A hammer is not identical to a nail. A chair is not identical to a table. A computer is not identical to a lamp. A piano is not identical to a book. This ability to distinguish one thing from another is precisely what makes things useful. And yet, this is also what makes creativity so scary. In order to move an idea out of our minds and into the world, we must commit to specific forms and specific details. As long as our creative ideas remain tucked away in the safety of our minds, they can be whatever we imagine them to be. Once we choose to manifest our ideas in the physical world, however, we have to make concrete decisions that result in the exclusion of other options and opportunities. This is scary because it means that the act of creating is a sacrificial act. The actualization of one possibility requires the deferment, displacement, or dismissal of other possibilities.

For example, if you desire to write a book, you’re not in a very vulnerable position. The mere desire to write a book doesn’t cost you anything. If you actually choose to write a book, however, your book will need to be about something. As long as the book is just an idea, it can be about anything. But once you write the book, it can’t be about anything anymore. It has to be something specific. And that means you’re leaving stuff out. And there are going to be some people who are very critical or unhappy about the things you leave out. This is inevitable. There’s no way around it.

If you want to make an impact, you have to embrace the fact that you’re going to need to get specific. And once you get specific, you’re going to pay a price. Some people will call you out for not doing it this way or that way. Some people will tell you how much happier their lives would be if you had only included this or that. Sometimes you’ll listen to your critics and sometimes you’ll learn very valuable things from them. Sometimes you’ll ignore your detractors and you’ll be better off from having tuned them out. Either way, the critics will be there. So don’t let their existence be an excuse for inactivity. If you’re procrastinating your involvement in the creative process until you come up with some kind of project or idea that pleases everybody, you’re wasting valuable time.

You can’t create something useful, beautiful, or interesting if you insist on everyone finding it useful, beautiful, or interesting.

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