It was mid-November.
I had just gotten a message from a friend asking if I wanted to participate in a new adventure he was embarking on, one that would be completely out of my comfort zone: a campaign for ‘National Novel Writing Month’ to write a novel.
My writing at the time had been limited to spontaneous platitudes on Linkedin, anecdotal Facebook statuses, and the occasional pontificating Twitter rant. I wasn’t equipped with the endurance or attention to span to be a novelist nor did I have any intention to be. The process of even creating a plot and then executing on the shock value required for a desirable novel was overwhelming to think about.
He insisted. He was not a novelist either and his writing was done under the same parameters as mine. My excuse was one he had already shed. She wanted to do this for fun.
I went to India shortly after this conversation — while I wasn’t sure if it was the jet lag, copious amounts of Black Mirror that made me perpetually question the world, or lots of free time on vacation, I decided to take the jump.
I wrote a few chapters of a novel when another friend invited me to join a 17 day writing challenge in December. The goal was to write something every day. It didn’t matter that it was unpolished or imperfect — the goal was simply to engage in the act of creation. I moved on from the novel to a previous passion I had in high school, writing plays.
For 17 days, I scripted small acts of different plays — a social commentary on an Uber Pool Ride, a satire on Millennial consumption, and even a short play about the story of the “Lion King” told from the POV of an angry gazelle. It was liberating to create with no expectations, heartwarming to receive feedback from strangers participating in the writing challenge, and gratifying to have a discipline for daily posting.
December ended and the fire of the writing challenges softened. I entered 2018 with several unfinished plays, an unfinished novel, and lots of new ideas that had not even manifested into a page. As soon as I began to tell friends about this ephemeral creative revolution, I got a lot of the same questions:
What are you planning to do with the plays?
Are you publishing the novels?
Are you submitting them to competitions?
It was a natural line of processing. Creation without an outcome is generally seen as pointless. Many triumphs of creation are driven to create change, tell a new story, be cherished by an audience. Why create if what you don’t want to create anything that could potentially be validated by the outside world?
The truth was that I had no idea. If I had gone into a writing challenge attempting to create a play that would one day revolutionize the Broadway stage, I would have ripped it apart ten times before abandoning it altogether to spend hours studying the intricacies of Stephen Sondheim and Arthur Miller.
The simple act of waking up, writing whatever I wanted regardless of how nonsensical it sounded, and making it a routine felt like a success.
In an interview for his book Ego Is the Enemy, Ryan Holiday discusses the idea of detaching yourself from an outcome. He touches upon the launch of his book, how he did everything right and the Pulse Nightclub shooting had disrupted the news cycles and changed people’s priorities. He then goes to on to explain how external factors can interrupt even the best-laid plans and how it changed his perspective from pride over an outcome to pride over an effort.
“Instead of having some external result in what determines whether you’re proud, happy, or satisfied,you have to do a lot of work to get to a place where you’re saying to yourself — this is a success to me, regardless of how many copies it sells.”
Imagine a world where the only time we celebrated was when our books were bestsellers or our plays were performed by Broadway regality. A world where our throwaway paragraphs were failures and our unfinished scribbles were marks of futility.
When we celebrate our ability to create and build a discipline to create every day, it encourages us to create more. Behind every bestselling book is hundreds of attempts at writing, sharing, and ideating that never made it to a wider audience. It becomes harder to stay creative when we tie our sanity to an external outcome. This isn’t to say we shouldn’t aim high or look to publish our work. There are certainly exceptions around professions that are designed to have work produce a financial outcome or creative work that is done with the hopes to recover an investment. It simply means we shouldn’t make creation conditional on outcomes that sap us of our desire to create. Look at the value that simply comes with bringing something new to life. Take its success as a bonus.
Perhaps there will be a day where one of these quirky play ideas will cement their legacy in a competition, a stage, or in the canon of musical theatre alongside Lin-Manuel Miranda. Today, I’m simply celebrating the fact that they made their way out of my head.
Kushaan is an IBM Consultant based out of Washington D.C. His interests are rooted in strategy consulting, product management, entrepreneurship, social media, and the intersection of technology with social impact. He enjoys blogging about life, career insights, social technology, and hacking the corporate environment. If you liked this post, follow him on twitter: @kushaanshah or click “Follow” at the top for more posts on Medium.