Creativity: Why You Need to Master the Skills, Part I

When I was a kid, I had a set of children’s red-bound encyclopedia. One volume was “Things to Make and Things To Do,” and I was obsessed with the projects on those pages, projects that involved things you’d have around the house, like popsicle sticks and pipe cleaners (what we would now, annoyingly, refer to as “craft sticks” and “chenille stems”) to make really cool stuff like model airplanes and puppet theaters and, wow, who knows what other marvels! I spent many frustrating hours trying to duplicate the stuff in this book. Because I was a kid and had no particular skills, other than running really fast and avoiding my mother when it was time to have my hair shampooed, the things I made looked nothing like the illustrations in the book, and I usually abandoned them about halfway though, tossing them aside in frustration and disgust at my lack of talent. I wanted to make something, but I didn’t know how to get there.

This is what I hear over and over today: people telling me how they want to make something, they have a deep and abiding need to create–but it just doesn’t work out. They imagine things in their heads, see how fabulous it would be, figure out what they’ll need and how to get started–and then? Then, just like the 10-year-old me who wanted to make a boat so I could float down the creek with my dog, Liebchen (never mind that the creek was never more than about 6” deep), they just can’t get there. Either the glue makes the paper warp, or the seams won’t lie flat or the solder won’t stick or the cover of the journal won’t close (or, in my case, you realize you forgot to ask your dad for nails and a hammer).

We are a people who want instant gratification. We zip around the internet at the speed of clicks, we see tv make-overs where people lose hundreds of pounds and gain new muscle tone right before our eyes, we watch videos go viral and circle the globe in mere hours. Many of us have lost the ability to focus, to dig in, to work and master a skill that will enable us to take the next step to where we want to go, but that’s exactly what we need to do: master the skills. Yes, this involves work. No, work is not a dirty word. Many of us have forgotten the fabulous feeling of mastery, that buzz that comes from finally learning to do something really well, so well that you can do it almost without thought, so well that you can get the results you want over and over. Not every time, sure–there are still going to be glitches. But if you’ve truly learned the skills, you’ve also learned some work-arounds, ways to get around glitches and make things work out anyway. That’s why having that skill set is so important: it frees you up to do the fun stuff without re-inventing the wheel every time you sit down at your work table.

Because it has been very gently suggested that I am, perhaps, just a tiny bit wordy, I’m going to stop here and continue talking about skills next time, on Monday. Because you know I have more to say, right?


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7 Responses to Creativity: Why You Need to Master the Skills, Part I

  1. Zom says:

    I would have liked to read more. Wordy can be good when you have something to say.

  2. CarolineA says:

    Now we have to wait 48 hours for the next bit! is this what you mean by our expectations of instant gratification, lol?

    • Rice Freeman-Zachery says:

      Hee! No. Sorry to do that to you. Everyone else thinks short is better, so I try to be good, i.e., relatively brief. Me? I could go on for days–but you knew that already.

  3. Jeanie Thorn says:

    Doug Braithwaite who is an amazing artist, painter and teacher once told me that you don’t get good at anything until you’ve been doing it for 10,000 hours. I almost fainted when I heard that because I thought I would be able to paint after a few lessons. But then I did the math. If you worked 40 hours each week for 52 weeks like it was a real job and did it for 5 years that would be over 10,000 hours. When I considered that I’ve done that with welding I realized he’s right. It took me 5 years to really feel good about designing in steel and even after 10 years I still take a class now and then to learn new things and I still have to practice to keep my skill level up.

  4. A great reminder, Rice. If I find myself getting frustrated with things not tuning out “right”, then it’s time to walk away, reset expectations and try again later.

    If I find myself getting overwhelmed with the pretty pictures in a magazine (or online, for that matter) then I do have to remind myself that the artists have practiced and innovated and worked-around and taken classes, so the best way for me to get that good is to practice and innovate and work-around and take classes too!

    • Rice Freeman-Zachery says:

      They should come with a disclaimer, should’t they? Telling us how long the person has been doing this thing and how many hours they’ve put into it.