How to Create a World

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You start with nothing.

You’re sitting alone in the dark, thinking. Then out of nowhere comes a blinding flash of interior light, a searing white-hot fire that consumes thought and vision.

You have an idea.

Everything your world is and everything it will become is locked up inside of it, an infinitely hot, infinitely dense point of creative energy waiting to be released. There’s a crack of mental thunder. A flash of lightning. For one brief instant, an entire universe that has yet to exist is laid bare before you, and you scramble to remember as much of the prophetic vision as you can before the flash winks out and the future goes dark. It’s a foretelling, a far-off plea from the denizens of your future world, crying out for you to grant them what only you can provide: existence.

You scratch your head. A little while later, you bang your head against a wall. What do you do with your idea? You’ve just seen an entire cosmos in the span of a heartbeat. Your chest begins to ache with creative agony, and you realize that you won’t be able to rest again until you’ve heeded its lofty call.

You have a mission.

You didn’t ask for it, and you have no idea how you’re going to fulfill it. But you ponder the people of your world and their desire for life. You reflect on your responsibility as a storyteller and you realize you have no choice but to buckle down and get to work.

You’re not really sure where to start. Your new world is a big place. You scramble to remember everything. You obsess over every detail. You worry that even marginal deviations will irreparably alter the fates of millions of fictional lives, or worse, that your world will destabilize and collapse, crushed by the combined weight of inconsistencies, ambiguities and indecision.

You learn that perfection is impossible.

You aim for it anyway, not because the ideal can actually be reached but because trying will propel you further than you ever thought you could go. You shoot for perfection; you embrace imperfection.

Wielding paper and pen, you lay the foundation of your world, one word at a time, a cosmic web spun from the fibers of your imagination. Sometimes, you look back and cringe at what you’ve constructed. But you know you can’t stop, that you have to press on, that you can’t rest until your world has at last crossed over the threshold into reality.

You continue to put one word after the other.

You work feverishly for days, weeks, months, years. The process is often painful. An entire world is erupting, a volcanic blast of newly formed material, coalescing from the ether of your mind.

You catch glimpses of your initial vision in the fallout, but you realize that your world has assumed a life of its own, that it’s destiny is only partially determined by what you’d forseen so long ago. You discover the truth, that the prophecy was not a vision of what must be but what could be, a glimpse into one of an infinite number of possible worlds. You realize that your universe and the people in it are substantially more complex, versatile and adaptable to change than you ever could have imagined.

When you least expect it, you look back and discover that you’ve finished.

One day, without ever having realized how close you were, you set the final word down in ink, the lifeblood of creation. You blink down at the final page with disbelief. Surely, you must have forgotten something. You go back to the beginning. You review your work. You go back to the beginning and review your work again. Eventually you realize that yes, you’ve done it after all, and just like that your world is alive.

You gaze at it with wonder, a product as much of divine mandate as it is of your imagination, and like an Old Testament god enamored with creation, you can finally look upon your newly minted world and proclaim, “it is good.”

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What’s My Mission?

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Purpose. It defines our existence. We spend our whole lives searching for it, and we don’t stop until our ephemeral lives come to an abrupt and unpredictable end. We pay counselors, therapists and psychologists hundreds of dollars to help us find it. We spend innumerable solitary moments beneath the stars, hoping and praying that in the stillness of the night, the cosmos will whisper their designs into our ears, and we grow restless and anxious when the years pass without an answer.

Ultimately, what we’re looking for always boils down to the same question: “What’s my mission?”

Each of us has one.

We are a race composed of individuals, each with our own unique talents, each with our own unique ways of contributing to the world. We all take our place in the human family. Each of us assumes a role, some task that we’re called to fulfill until our Earthly lives are complete.

This is our mission, a biological imperative embedded in our DNA, an indelible mark upon our souls, a divine mandate that we’re powerless to resist if we wish to live happy and fulfilling lives.

Our purpose in life is to discover what this mission is and to complete it.

To uncover our reason for being is to locate our rightful place in this cosmic symphony, to harmonize with the celestial melodies of a divine purpose that far transcends our own.

Everything we do should further this goal in some way. Until we know what our mission is and until we can accept it, we’ll be doomed to wander the desert of internal anarchy and despair.

Some of us believe in purpose, but only on a larger scale. We often ask ourselves, “how can one ordinary individual have a measurable global effect?”

Whether great or small, our actions can and do transform the world.

In Does What You Do Matter, I argue that it’s precisely those “insignificant” activities which manifest the greatest changes. Life is a tapestry, a mosaic of apparently unrelated events which, when taken as a whole, form a clearly-discernible pattern.

It’s out of the humdrum and the ordinary that the miracle of civilization itself emerges. Without the standard occupations, there would be no food, no running water, no medicine, no roads, no waste management, no electricity. If everyone were to give up their jobs at the same time for as little as a day, the world would come undone, like a tattered cloth left too long to the elements.

In fact, the anonymous individual is the great unsung hero of the world. Those rare role models we know by name we know only because there were millions of unknowns working behind the scenes.

Yet, even if we understand this, we’re still going to ask ourselves, “how do I discover what my mission is?”

Personal revelation demands hard work.

Figuring out what we’re supposed to do is by no means a passive endeavor. Rather, it’s a lifelong quest. We must traverse steep psychological mountains, wander through barren spiritual deserts, never resting until we reach the understanding we seek. Our quest requires three things:

  1. Answers to basic questions. Every quest has a beginning. Ours should start with what we already know about ourselves. What are we passionate about? What are we good at? Can we align our career goals with our interests? If not, can we at least integrate our interests into our off hours?
  2. The ability to make the best of our current circumstances. Living a purpose-driven life requires us to accept and embrace what we’ve been given, and to use it to make the lives of those around us better. We always accomplish the most good simply by being who we are and by living in the moment.
  3. An open heart. Above all, we should think, pray and listen. We should ask for guidance, because our maker will always furnish the answers we seek in the fullness of time. His won’t be a voice of thunder but of circumstance, and we must pay close attention to the things that are going on around us so that we can discern what it might be trying to tell us.

Our mission is knowable, and we can fulfill it.

Each of us was fashioned with all that we need to be successful already inside us. We must only find the courage to chase after it, to search high and low for the key that opens the lock to our souls. Open that, and our hearts will unfurl like budding flowers, revealing its deepest mysteries.

Here, in the center of our hearts, where God and Man intersect, we will find the answer that we’ve pursued all our lives.

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Why An Artist Should Share His Work

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Many artists believe they have to strike out on their own, that art is an inherently personal endeavor and that the opinions of others should never matter. This is a perfectly acceptable outlook if one’s work is private. But if an artist ever hopes to publish his creations and share them with the rest of the world, at some point he’s going to have to accept that the opinions of others do matter, that he can’t go it alone and expect to build a significant following.

Don’t get me wrong. A lot of what we artists do is by nature solitary work. We have to turn off the world outside so that we can tune in to the world inside our heads. But in-between these interior excursions, if we are to be understood by others, we must at some point submit our discoveries to the scrutiny of others. We must be prepared to be misunderstood and rejected. We must accept that our work is imperfect and that critical feedback can help us improve it.

The art-making process is like dreaming. Though the initial result might make sense to the dreamer, those outside won’t understand its many inconsistencies and contradictions. Reliable outside witnesses are therefore a necessity. They will be able to see what we as artists cannot so that, armed with knowledge we couldn’t have gathered on our own, we can make our work more relatable.

Sounds simple, right? Gather feedback, then improve. Why then is it so hard for us accept feedback from others?

The problem is that we artists are by nature sensitive people. Often, this sensitivity is an asset. It allows us to perceive the ordinarily latent subtleties inherent to the human experience, to amplify them and to reflect them back into the world from a different angle so that others can share in our discoveries. But the same sensitivity that allows us to penetrate emotional undertones and to make good art also hinders us in our ability to perfect it, because to do so requires us to admit that our work isn’t perfect, that the children of our minds which we’ve fallen so deeply in love with are flawed, that we failed in our attempt to create something beautiful. Because of our heightened sensitivity, we feel an almost agonizing despair.

To be successful, we must first learn to identify true beauty. Art is never perfect, especially not good art. It is and always will be imperfect, because the humans who make it are also imperfect. We must love our art not for what we wish it to be, but for what it is. We must accept it with our whole hearts, on its own terms, with all of its many flaws. In wanting the best for our work, we must desire that it be better even than ourselves. By encouraging healthy outside criticism, we are able to refine our work in ways we could never have dreamed of on our own, allowing us to accomplish precisely that.

Once our understanding of true beauty has been rooted in a more practical perspective, once we’ve removed our work from the pedestal that would have set it forever out of our audience’s reach, then we can learn to appreciate and even enjoy critical feedback. We might not always agree, as great minds will seldom see eye to eye. But we’ll no longer cower in fear of rejection.

Of course, in cultivating an open mind, we must be careful to filter out those voices which are better left ignored. Not all feedback is good. Unfortunately, there are those who, for reasons of their own, delight in tearing others down. They’ll sit atop their pristine white horse, proclaim with feral brutality every last way in which an artist’s work falls short and sneer snootily while declaring that his work isn’t even suitable for the garbage. This type of criticism can be corrosive and toxic to the soul, because it often contains just enough truth that we begin to question and even doubt in our abilities as artists. We must learn the difference between constructive criticism and insults so that we can filter out harmful comments and focus on making our art better instead of throwing up our hands and giving into despair.

Lastly, we must understand that good art doesn’t please everybody. The human population is diverse. Everyone has a different type of mind that operates in a different way, so that everyone resonates with a different type of work. Don’t believe me? Check out the Goodreads page for any classic novel (David Copperfield, by Charles Dickens, is a good example) and filter for one star reviews. Making your work accessible to all would require you to boil it down to something so basic and simple that it loses all its flavor, ensuring that your art will please no one. Spend your time courting those who can appreciate you for who you are and what you do, because art should never be a popularity contest.

Art will always a personal journey, of course. Its manufacture requires us to reach deep inside the cavernous depth of subjective experience. But to be appreciated by an outside audience, it must first be transformed into something the audience can understand. We must never be afraid to solicit opinions. Rather, we should accept criticism with enthusiasm, because it’s through honest feedback that we can finally make our creations shine with the radiance we knew them to be capable of from the get-go.

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