The creators who most inspire me, then, are not necessarily the most passionate, but the most curious.
Curiosity is what keeps you working steadily, while hotter emotions may come and go. I like that Joyce Carol Oates writes a new novel every three minutes—and on such a wide range of subjects—because so many things seem to fascinate her. I like that James Franco takes whatever acting job he wants (serious drama one minute, campy comedy the next) because he recognizes that it doesn’t all have to earn him an Oscar nomination—and I like that, between acting gigs, he also pursues his interests in art, fashion, academia, and writing. (Is his extracurricular creativity any good? I don’t care! I just like that the dude does whatever he wants.) I like that Bruce Springsteen doesn’t merely create epic stadium anthems, but also once wrote an entire album based on a John Steinbeck novel. I like that Picasso messed around with ceramics.
I once heard the director Mike Nichols speak about his prolific film career, and he said that he’d always been really interested in his failures. Whenever he saw one of them airing on late-night TV, he would sit down and watch it all over again—something that he never did with his successes. He would watch with curiosity, thinking, That’s so interesting, how that scene didn’t work out . . .
No shame, no despair—just a sense that it’s all very interesting. Like: Isn’t it funny how sometimes things work and other times they don’t? Sometimes I think that the difference between a tormented creative life and a tranquil creative life is nothing more than the difference between the word awful and the word interesting.
Interesting outcomes, after all, are just awful outcomes with the volume of drama turned way down.
I think a lot of people quit pursuing creative lives because they’re scared of the word interesting. My favorite meditation teacher, Pema Chödrön, once said that the biggest problem she sees with people’s meditation practice is that they quit just when things are starting to get interesting. Which is to say, they quit as soon as things aren’t easy anymore, as soon as it gets painful, or boring, or agitating. They quit as soon as they see something in their minds that scares them or hurts them. So they miss the good part, the wild part, the transformative part—the part when you push past the difficulty and enter into some raw new unexplored universe within yourself.
And maybe it’s like that with every important aspect of your life. Whatever it is you are pursuing, whatever it is you are seeking, whatever it is you are creating, be careful not to quit too soon. As my friend Pastor Rob Bell warns: “Don’t rush through the experiences and circumstances that have the most capacity to transform you.”
Don’t let go of your courage the moment things stop being easy or rewarding.
Because that moment?
That’s the moment when interesting begins.