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The Maker's High

April 24, 2016

People say running gives you a high.

Unfortunately, I'm not a runner, so I can't really speak on that. But I can talk about something from which, I think, I take away a similar sense of euphoria.

I'm a maker of things by trade. I code, I design, I write, I compose... 90% of the time I'm working, I'm taking some idea from my head and creating a physical manifestation of it, whether it be a program, a website, an article, or a film. I admit, sometimes there are things that I create, projects that I work on, because I have to, for clients, for due dates, and so on. But sometimes, a handful of times every month, there's a certain sense of urgency, of excitement and a drive to create something that takes over my mind, and those are the moments that push me to keep making things. Creation is a euphoric experience, and any artist, any programmer, any musician, and any maker of all walks of life can attest to that.

The Maker's High, as I'll call it, goes by different names. In music, it's the concert high*. In programming, we call it the Ballmer Peak. But regardless of if you create art through the keyboard or on the canvas, there are moments of creativity and emotive captivation that comes at their will and takes control of our consciousness to sink into the moment of creating. And when we hold onto reality and let that feeling pass by, sometimes, we never find it again.

This happens most often for me when I'm improvising. As I'm sitting at my piano, eyes closed, hands hovering over the keys, most of the time, I'll play something bland and unremarkable, or find it difficult to hold on to anything worth playing. But if I'm lucky, I'll find a sound that I love, and the sense of euphoria I crave. I'll sink into the sounds of the piano, forgetting everything else around me or on my mind, and just play. And if I'm really lucky, I'll manage to get my mic and laptop on before that feeling washes away, and I'll end up with something like this**.

It's the dance that you do to your favorite song in the middle of the night, when nobody's watching. It's the thousand-word short story you type out in half an hour after an idea hits you. It's the song you write under stress, the app you code overnight, painting you make on a whim, just to wash away your thoughts and forget about the situation. The Maker's High comes when you create from a feeling, rather than from a thought.

In whatever form you experience it -- a "high", being in the "zone" -- there's something about having an idea and observing it as it becomes something real. In the moment of creativity, your mind pushes everything else out and sinks into the idea and the moment. And frankly, it's a pretty addicting feeling.

The Maker's High comes when you create from a feeling, rather than from a thought.

But if you found that feeling difficult to relate to as I talked about it, it's not just you. In fact, the majority of the people who read this will probably find it so.

As addicting as I find creativity, it's also something that's increasingly difficult to find around today. Unless you go looking for it in alleyways' graffiti, in your neighborhood garage band, or in between the pages of your favorite fan fiction, creativity is getting drowned out by the swarm of mediocrity and the cheap cost of production of unoriginal murmurs.

And most problematically, I think most people can't relate, not because they aren't creative, but as Sir Ken Robinson addresses in his TED talk, because most people get taught out of creativity in school.

As we pass through twelve years of the same-old curriculum, we're taught to favor conformity over originality and put perfection over novelty, and that, I think, teaches us to think less in terms of the impacts our ideas have, and more in terms of the immediate correctness of our results.

Personally, I think that's deplorable. When we lose the opportunity to create in the most critical period of our lives, we also permanently forget the inherent joy in making something out of nothing we're born to seek out. And ultimately, we collectively miss out on the experience, the euphoria, of creating new ideas in favor of following the old ones.

Unlike a mathematical prodigy or a scientific discovery, creativity's benefit to society, the profit in dollar figures, isn't immediately noticeable. And for the longest time, that's been the primary reason we've formed a culture of escaping creativity in favor of conformity. But maybe that's because we're looking for the value of creativity in the wrong places.

The value of creativity shouldn't be looked for in the auctioned value of an artist's artwork or the monetary valuation of a new piece of software, but found in the joy and the drive of the people who themselves discover that value again and again in the process of creating, in the Maker's High.


* Okay, a concert high isn't really from an act of creating something. But it's from an experience of being a part of that creativity of the artist, so I think it still counts. I was running out of words.

** In Another Fantasy is an improvisational piece I recorded today, precisely because I felt this way.