THE BLOG

Why Our Creative Plans Can't Be Personal

23/01/2017 14:44

It's quite fashionable to think of planning as 'self-actualising' this or that - something where we should let ourselves go to town on our personal hopes and dreams. Here's why wishing on those stars doesn't always work:

We can think of our behaviour as a continual stream of questions. Every time we engage with anyone, or take any action, there is a corresponding question that is bundled up in the behaviour.

If I'm posting a picture of my food Instagram, the question might be, "Does it look good enough?" - in that case, a question wrapped up neatly in the gesture and quite easy for others to see. If I'm writing something for you, a question embodied within each sentence might be, "Is this helpful, clear and true?"; making someone a cup of tea: "Does this match how they like it?"

You'll see, if you look at those questions again, that they are shared by the audience member. In fact, every time you make something even just partly for someone else, you let them ask the same questions you're asking of your actions; you make them shareholders in the action.

But I've noticed, when we start to look beyond the present, the questions can get a bit screwy. For a start, they tend not to involve other people anymore.

Almost everything we do in the present moment involves an acknowledgment of the reality of other people, a pre-checking of how they will respond in the (very) near future to our actions. We consider what people will think of that thing we just said or did. We bat things out into the world expecting them to be batted back, to help us make our next move. We issue a sort of subconscious appeal to the world, which we consider impactful on our immediate state.

But as soon as we start planning the future, these checks and balances go out of the window. Whether projecting ourselves into fairy stories of success, or horror stories of our current situation deteriorating, we allow our 'shareholders' to drift away. We distance ourselves from the social pressure of the present. It's understandable: planning is always escaping, to some extent. But sometimes we're just using thinking about the future as an excuse to think more about ourselves!

We imagine the present moment is where the audience is, and that the future is a solo flight. As if it will be different! As if we ever escape the present! As if 'the' future is 'our' future, any more than the present is.

Two take-aways from this:

1) Even your future isn't personal

To survive and progress, we must remember that we move forward as we exist right now - we'll never magically break free of the bundle of pipes and wires that connect us to everything else.

So we must focus on the questions we can continually share. These hold you in place in this web, keep others nearby, and keep the whole system moving as one. The questions have to be beyond time and therefore beyond you. Ask things like: "Is this good by some fundamental de-personalised criteria of goodness?" Bit of a mouthful, OK. But I mean: to make actionable plans, we must get beyond the personal.

2) Keep making

Making is a kind of planning. Make something right now, and, simply by making it, you're simultaneously planning for a future which contains that thing - and a future career or creative life for yourself with that piece of work in it. Even if you throw it away immediately, it was part of a longer process, and represents another chip out of your sculpture of life.

And while you make, while you audaciously change a piece of matter, in time, forever, your question has to be bigger than the trifling issue of people's feelings about you. It's both critically important and out of your hands, because everything needs everything in order to come about, as if it always had to be - and whatever you add to the world's 'gallery' will have its own concertina of consequences.

Good luck.

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