Urgency Is What Fuels Prolific Artists
Here’s something I didn’t know: MLK died at 39.
Now, I don’t know about you, but since about 27 years old, anything in the 30’s is looking younger and younger. Which was why I was surprised to find how old Martin was. Since he’d already been dead for decades by the time I was born, I just lumped him in the “automatically old” category.
I figured he was at least in his late 40’s when he died.
Nope. 39. Still younger than “middle aged” in my opinion.
Over just a 15-year period, this guy led hundreds of boycotts, wrote books, gave hundreds (thousands?) of speeches, raised a family, won the Nobel Peace Prize….AND started the biggest change social movement in the history of America since, probably, the Civil War.
Speaking of prolific…what about Tupac?
Twenty years after his death, he’s still making music. What the hell is going on with that?
(Quick Wiki search: He’s produced 15 albums -- 10 of them posthumously. Whaaaaat?)
In fact, his last album, “The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory” was written and recorded in three days. The album was produced and finished in four. Thus the whole “7 day” thing.
In a period of five years from 1992-1996 he created a dozen albums, eight feature films, dozens of commercials, music videos and even a book of poetry.
And this was before the Internet.
From the one interview:
“I’m coming at ’em 100% real. I ain’t compromising nothing. Anybody that talk about me got problems. You know what I’m saying? I’m coming at ’em straight up. Like a street person would. That’s how I’m coming at the whole world. And I’m being real about it. And I’ll grow with my music.”
I think it goes without saying: prolific.
What possessed people like MLK and Tupac to create so much work and have such an impact on the world in such a short time?
I think the answer is URGENCY.
They were in a state of “I could die today.”
They were in a state of “I can’t contain these ideas.”
Or perhaps, as Malcolm X said in regard to the need for Black Nationalism (I’m not trying to turn this into a civil rights piece, but this is a great example):
“A ‘do it now’ philosophy. A ‘do it yourself’ philosophy. A ‘it’s already too late’ philosophy.”
Creators don’t wait to be asked to create something. They create because there’s nothing else to do but create.
Creators don’t care if what they create doesn’t turn out beautifully. The true pleasure is in the process — even the frustrating aspects.
Creators can’t keep it in. Their need to create literally spills out of them.
Creation is URGENT.
Yes, passion and obsession are powerful tools to create more urgency. But I think fear of death is actually one reason why so many prolific creators also die young.
(Paging Jim Morrison and Amy Winehouse in the “27 Club”)
Perhaps it’s not even fear, as much as it was an acute awareness that death was near. MLK pretty much knew he was going to die. He was pissing off too many people.
Tupac got shot five times, went to prison immediately after he got out of the hospital, and somehow survived. He wasn’t exactly the poster child for a long life, and he knew it. He even wrote a poem called “In The Event Of My Demise.”
With that type of knowledge, wouldn’t you work a lot harder, too?
Wouldn’t you immediately disregard anything that seemed frivolous or mundane in your life?
Wouldn’t you get a lot more serious about what you are creating for the world?
I know I would.
If you knew you had three years left, every morning you woke up would be the best day ever. Every single breakfast would be delicious. Every second spent with people you care about would be extra special.
But you probably don’t think you’re going to die anytime soon, do you? Which means that more than likely, this thing could drag out for another 80+ years.
(Damn, technology is getting too good.)
Every morning you wake up won’t be the best day ever. Sometimes you’ll hate your life and just want to sleep all day.
Every breakfast you eat won’t be delicious. Some days you’ll act like a spoiled brat and want to order food when you have plenty to eat at home.
Sometimes you’ll ignore the people you care about and hurt their feelings.
Because you have no urgency. Nothing pressing that needs to get done. Nothing inside of you that has to get out into the world.
Instead of diving into life and sucking the marrow out of it…you just sit back and wait.
You wait for things to happen for you. Or to you.
You wait for people or situations to change.
You wait for your food to get here.
Why rush? We can always watch it later on Netflix.
And because of that “I can do it later” mentality, we never actually create anything of value.
Or we create at such a slow rate that we never really get to the “good stuff.” We never get to true mastery.
What a shame…because that’s the part where it gets really fun!
Mastery is the when we can put our true selves into the art because we know all the “rules” and we thoroughly understand the basics of the skill we’re pursuing.
But think about the process of building any skill set.
Growth starts off slow, painful and frustrating. The beginning stages of any creative process always opens us up to the most embarrassment and potential for failure. This is a fragile period where the largest percentage of people quit.
(Just like 50 percent of med students decide they don’t really want to become doctors once they hit organic chemistry!)
From mastery, you can move to urgency and create more work.
From there, you become prolific.
If you have something to get out…get it out now. Don’t wait.
Do it with burning urgency and intensity because it might already be too late.