The old philosophical question asking whether a tree falling in the woods or not isn’t so much about the tree, but whether the noise occurs if no one is there to hear it. Can a tree – and the resultant sound of the fall – exist if no one is around to observe the tree and hear the fall? If you go a little further down the rabbit hole, you may ask if the tree even fell, or if the tree even exists? Similarly, if an artist paints, but shows his work to no one, is he really a painter? If a writer writes a book, yet no one reads it, is he a writer?
In 2012, Adobe conducted a global survey on creativity and found that 52% of Americans identified themselves as creative, but only 39% believe they are living up to their creative potential. If we assume that 48% of Americans don’t think they are creative, and that an additional 13% of Americans who do think they are creative but don’t tap into that energy, that means only about 20 Americans out of 100 are using their creative minds in any way. I admit, math has never been my strong suit but based on those numbers, too many Americans are allowing their creative minds to atrophy. What Adobe was focused on in their survey was creativity as it relates to business and ingenuity in the workplace; the type of creativeness that can allows for cutting edge technology to change markets and what-not. Adobe’s concern was that office managers are more concerned with workers being productive than being creative. They want workers who are drones who just do what they are told and that’s it. It’s an interesting survey, and probably worth bringing to your boss if you want empirical data to back you up for a vision you have on improving something where you work. Of course he’ll probably just tell you to get back to work, but I am really going off on a tangent now.
What I want to focus on is creativity as it relates to the arts, specifically writing. Assuming the above numbers represent all Americans, and not just Americans in the work place, it is safe to say there are a lot of people who are creative, but they don’t do anything with their talents. I truly believe we are all born with God-given talents, and the purpose of our live is to find those talents and use them to the best of our abilities. So it is sad to think that so many people go through life working jobs they don’t like, living lives that are dull and empty, and just letting life pass them by, all because they never broke out of the mold to see what they were really capable of. To frame it in the question about the falling trees, these individuals are trees that don’t fall at all. They become overshadowed by taller trees that block out the sun. They could rise up and be just as tall as the trees around them, but they choose to play it safe and so they do nothing. They wither away, losing all their color, until they are gaunt skeletons, devoid of life.
For others, they have found their talents, but maybe they are afraid of stepping out from the shadows into the spotlight. After all, when any artist – painter, sculptor, writer, etc – presents an idea, they are opening a window into their soul. When a painter paints, she is putting a piece of herself on the canvas for all to see. When a writer writes, he is pouring his inner most thoughts onto paper for the world to read. Get it right, and the artist is praised and exalted. Get it wrong, and you are mocked and criticized, so much so that you may never again venture out into the spotlight ever again. It is understandable that so many people who are aware of their talents never put them out for the world to see. These individuals are also trees that do not fall. They stand through life like any other tree, but inside they are dying. Their souls are eaten away by the termites of self-doubt and regret until they are completely hollow.
Of course you have writers – and artists of all stripes – who believe they possess talent but in fact have none, at least in their chosen field. The writing field is full of people like this. If you need proof, browse through Amazon’s e-book section and just take a look at some of the offerings that are self-published. Not all self-published authors are bad, but nearly all bad authors out there are self-published. For a genuinely good author to find an audience in the flooded morass of the self-publishing world is nearly impossible. For this type of writer, the noise of his fall is often dampened by the cacophony of rotten trees falling with him into the swamp, where he will be buried in the muck, despite his talents.
Instead, you should wish to be a great live oak tree like the one in the picture up top. Just looking at it gives you a sense of awe. Imagine the noise it would make if it were toppled by a hurricane. That’s the noise a great artist makes when he enters the spotlight and the whole world sees his masterpiece. So how do you get to a point where you can make that sort of entrance onto the world’s stage?
Growth. No artist is born able to write, paint, sculpt, or perform like a master of the arts. Practice, refinement, learning, and a bit of humility all go a long way to getting where you need to be. So don’t be afraid to grow. But you have to be willing to grow, and that isn’t always easy.
Not having confidence in one’s own work is usually the biggest obstacle to growth. Rightfully, many writers and artists wonder if their work is even any good, or if their close friends and families are just humoring them. What if an objective audience hates your work? What if your coworkers and acquaintances see what you have done and think less of you? What if your story or your painting is actually so stupid that people question your sanity? What if…what if…what if… The poison of self doubt will kill any tree and prevent it from ever getting to be the great oak tree that will make a crash in the world. Quelling self-doubt is often easier said than done though, I know.
I have written one complete novel and have another one about 60% complete. I’ve written around 15 short stories as well. I can probably count the number of people who have read any of my work on two hands. Perhaps I have dwelt in the shadows of other trees. Perhaps I’m ready to see if I can grow some more. Maybe you are too. For me – and for all authors looking to take that step into the spotlight – the question is: if I fall, will I make a noise…and will anyone take notice of me?