"We all have 10,000 bad drawings in us. The sooner we get them out the better."
-- Walt Stanchfield, artist and animator
We live in an anti-process culture. We love results. No -- we are obsessed with them, addicted even. The faster, the easier and the bigger, the better. Education is reduced to test scores and report cards. A career is a string of job titles. Health is a number on a scale.
To grow up in this culture -- obsessed with the finished product, the ta-da moment -- is to live in perpetual anxiety, haunted by a fear that the opening, the launch, the big reveal will come up short. And who wouldn't be stressed out beyond belief if they only had one shot to get it right?
Before this starts to sound like a conspiracy theory -- like The Man is keeping us down -- let's think about it. Humans aren't really wired for process. We gravitate to thinking about winning the race, crossing a finish line rather than daydream about the countless hours of training and gaining a hundredth of a second here and there. Process is kind of nebulous -- not a neat little to do item you can check off of a list. In movies, it's the stuff montages are made of.
It's harder for us to remember process, too. Many studies have shown that memories for "neutral stimuli" diminish over time, but memories of "arousing stimuli" remain or improve. Translation: those Big Moments are chemically underlined in our brains; it's called encoding. So if our memories consist mainly of positive or negative results, it's no wonder that we tend to discount the importance of the in-between times.
Process is more than a sum of habits -- it's a critical ingredient in a creative life. It's bushwhacking new mental territory, and sometimes making a divine mess of everything. And we need to get intimately acquainted with it because amazing things can happen when thoughts are given form -- in words, in images, in actions, in enterprises.
There is no great work that travels from inside your mind to the outside world without friction. Everything depends on our ability to escape the drag of this friction -- and how we do that is this wondrous thing called process.
Making peace with process begins with a willingness to do something badly.
Creativity is a Zen riddle in this way. It's a paradox: in order to get great results, we have to not care so much about getting them. Entering into a creative process is setting off into the unknown -- something we as a species routinely avoid. We sit around theorizing, wondering how we can attempt a straight shot from A to Z and avoid the intervening events. Trying to get it right before we start just prolongs our journey to our desired result -- or worse yet, it means we never start.
That's why we must be willing to begin with what Anne Lamott calls the "shitty first draft." We must be willing to fuck up, piss people off and look stupid (though usually not as stupid as we think we look).
Get on the magic bus.
Have you ever been on a bus and you didn't know exactly where you were getting off? Your attention and energy are bound up in not missing your stop. You may be a little anxious. Almost certainly you're not present with what's happening around you.
Process is like a magic bus. It's a bus that you board not knowing where it will take you, but you are willing to go and find out. Since you don't need to know where you're headed, you can relax and check out what's happening on the bus -- and look for signs of your great work.
It might be scary, but it's an exhilarating scary. There might be bumps, there almost certainly will be points you want to get off, but if you hang in there -- the magic bus always takes you somewhere worth going.
If you're going to do great work, you must commit to getting your ideas out of your head and into the world -- no matter how messy the process gets. This commitment begins with accepting the fact that you're not totally in control of how this happens, that the magic bus doesn't go from A to Z in a straight line.
The sooner you can accept that, the sooner you can create something magical, beyond even your own expectations! A healthy process always has the potential to surprise you.