Crushing Creativity

I was reading a wikipedia article recently about Graham Gouldman, one of the founding members of 10cc and perhaps one of the most successful British songwriters of the past half century.  What was interesting was how Gouldman told of a time when he worked in New York in a song writing factory.  Although he had had several million selling songs, he was in what was effectively a desk job.  The discipline of writing every day was probably very good for him, but the pressure he was under to produce song after song after song eventually had an effect on his creativity and health.  He was overworked to the point of exhaustion.  All the joy of songwriting was taken from him.  He describes that period of his life as a creative low point.

How stupid were his employers?  Graham Gouldman went on to pen many more million sellers.  He writes songs of wit and charm, but with undoubtedly catchy hooks.  Because his employers were greedy and unconcerned about his well-being, they killed the goose that laid the golden eggs and effectively opted themselves out of his future songwriting earnings.

It occurs to me that there must be millions of people in jobs, doing the things they love to do, but who are under so much pressure that even their favourite activity has become a chore and a bore.  We see the effect all the time with rock stars so exhausted from their time on the road or under pressure from their record companies, that they turn to self destruction.  Few things can seem as hopeless as having the one thing you are passionate about and love to do turn into a living hell.

The answer, of course, must be to remove yourself from the pressure.  The stress is the problem.  Why should anyone have to withstand and deal with unlimited pressure?  Often, the simple move away from the source of the pressure is enough to rejuvenate your creative powers.

Ask Graham Gouldman.


About tropicaltheartist

You can find out more about me here: There aren’t many people that exist in that conjunction of art, design, science and engineering, but this is where I live. I am an artist, a musician, a designer, a creator, a scientist, a technologist, an innovator and an engineer and I have a genuine, deep passion for each field. Most importantly, I am able to see the connections and similarities between each field of intellectual endeavour and apply the lessons I learn in one discipline to my other disciplines. To me, they are all part of the same continuum of creativity. I write about what I know, through my blogs, in the hope that something I write will resonate with a reader and help them enjoy their own creative life more fully. I am, in summary, a highly creative individual, but with the ability to get things done efficiently. Not all of these skills are valued by the world at large, but I am who I am and this is me. The opinions stated here are my own and not necessarily the opinion or position of my employer.
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3 Responses to Crushing Creativity

  1. ….Or another answer is to reframe the situation…

    Studies have found that it’s not what happens to us and around us that causes stress.

    It’s what we believe about what happens to us and around us that causes stress…

    That’s why two people can have an identical experience and one learns and grows from it while the other is tearing his hair out.

    So while retreating from pressure can lessen stress, finding beliefs that give meaning to the experience can also renew you.

    Conan the barbarian’s “That which does not kill me makes me stronger” is one perfect example.

    “This experience is a necessary part of the process of traveling to my bliss” is another

    So the question is fight? flight? or stay and tell yourself better stories?…..


    • Thank you for your comments, Catherine. Unfortunately, for every aphorism there is an anti-aphorism. 🙂 That which does not kill me sometimes permanently scars me or impairs me. That’s what wounded soldiers discover, anyway. I agree that how you perceive a situation is important and often the crucial difference between whether or not you feel stress at all, but I think there are limits. If you find yourself in a situation where you are plainly being overworked, then your health will often fail for purely physical reasons, irrespective of the frame of mind you are in and what you believe at the time. At some point it has to be acknowledged that we have evolved with a need to sleep and if we consistently do not sleep, we cease to function as we normally would. Thinking positively cannot actually change that, in extremis.

      I’d be interested to know what you might take from the experience of being squeezed for more and more, as a creative being. I recognise that your craft will improve, but how do you force somebody to find inspiration and to put meaning in their work if they are required to produce increasing amounts of output, no matter how much they produce. I agree with your sentiments, but I think there are also limits.

      Thanks for taking the time to leave your thoughts. You make excellent points.

  2. I’d say that part of the point is that you cannot force someone to find inspiration. One of the key points of meaning is that it must come from within and cannot be imposed from without.

    The aphorism is only an example of what one can chose. A lot of times, what we chose to believe about our circumstances is what determines the effect it has upon us. This is one of the ways that the mind-body connection works – it works hard to manifest ones belief in reality. So if you chose to believe what does not kill me makes me stronger, you tend to create that kind of reality around you. If you believe that what does not kill me sometimes permanently scars or impairs me instead, you’ll tend to attract that.

    Some things are purely physiological. If every time you tried to sleep, someone poked you with a sharp stick and told you to stay awake and paint more paintings, sooner or later you’d probably start to hallucinate because of lack of sleep.If, on the other hand, you’re not sleeping well because of stress, reframing can really help with this.

    It’s not just my opinion. Viktor Frankl, author of “Man’s Search for Meaning” and a noted psychitrist who established the field of logotherapy, was also a survivor of the concentration camps in WWII. One of the things that he observed was that the camp inmates who gave way to despair were far more likely to succumb to the grueling conditions in the camps, where the prisoners who chose to find meaning in their circumstances, whether a determination to survive, a choice to help others or a belief that this experience would try them or make them stronger or more compassionate, statistically were more likely to come out of the camps alive….

    If reframing and belief can make a documentable difference in those circumstances, why not in ours?

    I agree that sometimes you just have to say that this is not the right place for me and move on. But not always. Sometimes, you need to look at the stories you are telling yourself about the circumstances you are in, and ask if those stories are serving you or not.


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