The Responsibility in Creativity

If you’re interested in hearing me banter about books, check out this video that I recently made with a friend of mine.

It was my first time filming this sort of video, so do bear with how shy and awkward I am in it. Excuse me while I hide away.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy this week’s article.


“Art is one of God’s work. Therefore, do it with diligence and sincerity.” 

P. Ramlee


“Our futures, it seems, don’t always unfold in the ways that we expect,” wrote Haruki Murakami in his one of his essays.

It was certainly the case for Murakami, who had no plans to become a writer, let alone scribble any of his imaginative thoughts onto paper. Though he had always loved literature, it had never dawned on him to write a story of his own. At the edge of turning thirty, he spent most of his waking hours running a jazz bar in the city of Kokubunji, Tokyo with his wife.

He remembers a particular moment of epiphany that changed the course of his life, when “the bug suddenly bit me.” It was an afternoon at the Jingu Stadium in 1978, where he watched a baseball game between the Yakult Swallows and the Hiroshima Carp.

A cracking sound reverberated through the stadium, as Yakult hitter Dave Hilton’s bat met the ball for a double, and the stadium drowned in uproarious applause. In that moment, as if he was caught in the randomness of a dream, Murakami suddenly realized, “I think I can write a novel.”

Recalling the moment, he wrote, “I had no idea why it had chanced to fall into my grasp. I didn’t know then, and I don’t know now. Whatever the reason, it had taken place.”

Right after the game, he took a train to Shinjuku city and bought a stack of paper and a fountain pen at a Kinokuniya bookstore. Every night since, he would sit at the kitchen table and write after he got home from work. He eventually went on to publish his first novel, Hear the Wind Sing.

It’s beautiful how creative ideas and epiphanies come when we least expect them to. 

You’re free to disagree, but I personally find that the more I do creative work, the more I see it as a spiritual experience. Over the years, I’ve realized that creativity isn’t merely the act of creating something — it’s much more than that. It encompasses our relationship to the world, particularly a force larger than ourselves — whether that be God, or nature, or whichever definition fits your beliefs.

Because ultimately, we’re not in control of the ideas that come to us subconsciously. Our only locus of control — and our responsibility — is in giving those ideas the best shapes and forms possible.

Ray Bradbury famously said that he didn’t write Fahrenheit 451. Rather, the novel wrote him.

The Malaysian actor and musician P. Ramlee saw art as a blessing from God, and therefore the artist’s duty to carry it out in the best ways possible. 

I too, have to learned to see creative ideas as God’s gift, and that it’s on me to nurture and give life to it however best I can. This gift is meant to be shared with the world around me, so that others could benefit from it, even if in the smallest ways.

This responsibility of giving life to your art isn’t easy to carry. In fact, it inevitably requires time, hard work, and a painstaking amount of attention to detail. Not everyone has the patience to go through the tedium and the near-endless tinkering, especially when they are more obsessed with the idea of the finished product itself, that they just want to rush through the process. And of course, this shows in their work, in that that it feels stale and lifeless.

Going back to Murakami, even though Hear the Wind Sing is a relatively short novel, it took many, many months of trial and error, as Murakami experimented with writing styles that could best suit the story.

For a period of time, he wrote in Japanese. But the results left him unimpressed, and even disappointed. His writing felt cold and inauthentic to himself, as he was largely self-conscious about wanting to have a sophisticated style that was worthy of being deemed as “literature”. 

“If that’s the way the author feels,” he thought to himself. “A reader will react even more negatively. Looks like I just don’t have what it takes.”

He considered giving up on the manuscript, but decided to keep trying. His epiphany in the Jingu Stadium was very much tattooed in his mind.

“Give up trying to create something sophisticated,” he then told himself. “Why not forget all those prescriptive ideas about ‘the novel’ and ‘literature’ and set down your feelings and thoughts as they come to you, freely, in a way that you like?”

He put away his stack of paper and fountain pen, because they made him feel like he was writing “literature”. He brought out an old typewriter from his closet and started typing out the opening of the story in English. 

Given his limited command of English, he could only write in short and simple sentences. And that meant that however complex his thoughts and ideas were, he was forced to package them into concise and easy-to-understand sentences. Yet, this approach felt more natural to him.

Then, purely out of curiosity, he once again pulled out his stack of paper and fountain pen — but this time, he translated the chapter that he had written in English into Japanese. And from that, he developed a new style of Japanese writing, one that didn’t have to rely on big words and flowery descriptions, one that was truer to his natural voice. 

“Now I get it,” he thought. “This is how I should be doing it.”

As he wrote about using his newfound style, “(It) felt more like performing music than composing literature, a feeling that stays with me today. It was as if the words were coming through my body instead of from my head. Sustaining the rhythm, finding the coolest chords, trusting in the power of improvisation — it was tremendously exciting.”

It’s worth taking inventory for a moment. Look back at your own creative work — how would you approach it differently if you were to remind yourself that it is your calling, and your responsibility? 

Would you be willing to run the extra mile and keep trying different things to make it the best it could be? Or would you wilt at the slightest hint of it not working out? 

It’s tough. It drives you nuts sometimes. But it’s a struggle that’s worth having. Because, really, there’s nothing that feels more fulfilling, humbling and purposeful than dedicating yourself to your art, to something much larger than yourself.

Go out there, my friend. Keep doing what you do.

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