When I saw the Folklore special available on Disney+, I don’t know that I have ever clicked on anything faster. I had so many different thoughts and questions running through my mind throughout the hour and forty five minute special that I literally wrote them down in the notes app on my phone (I wish I was kidding.). Some of these thoughts were, admittedly, more superficial than others. Should I get bangs? I need to dig my flannel shirts out of the back of my closet. Is this place a wedding venue or a recording studio? I also found myself considering more profound things like the uniquely human experience of creativity and the importance of making space for new experiences. Mostly though, when I looked back on my notes, I realized there was a lot to be gleaned from watching an artist talk about the beautiful (and oftentimes painful) act of creating.
Lesson one: Creativity can, and perhaps even must, take place in imperfect settings.
Now let me be clear, 2020 has been a rough year for creative pursuits. If you are not in the head or heart space to be creating right now that is entirely normal. We aren’t all William Shakespears or Taylor Swifts. Creativity ebbs and flows and the mental toll of being a human in 2020 is no small thing. What I am saying is that sometimes we use our environment as a partner in crime with our personal fear and insecurity. Hand in hand they can both keep us from creating. If we don’t have the perfect house, then we don’t want to start that project that will require pictures. If we don’t have three hours to dedicate to it every night, then why start writing that book at all? When we find ourselves living in thoughts like these too much, then we begin to let our imperfect settings dictate our creative pursuits. We may never know how many well loved works of art were born out of imperfect settings and bravery, but I am willing to guess it’s a lot of them.
Lesson two: Sometimes inspiration sits with you for a long time, sometimes it is thrust upon you. They are both equally legitimate.
At one point in the special, Taylor is sitting out beneath a star lit sky sipping on white wine and she explains how she had been wanting to write a song about Rebekah Harkness for years. Later on Taylor says that she was struck with inspiration for a different track almost instantly after purchasing a baby gift for her ex. The process of creating both of those songs was entirely different but the finished product of both is amazing. One isn’t better than the other because of how easily it came to her. Paradoxically, the other isn’t superior simply because of how long it had been planned.
I think we can give ourselves some room to breathe when we have a lovely idea and it’s just not the time to put it to paper yet. I also think we can feel confident to begin when inspiration strikes even if we haven’t put in a great deal of planning beforehand. Lean into whatever phase you are in. You never know, you could be on the verge of something amazing!
Lesson three: Creating with other people you respect can bring a certain magic that wouldn’t have been there if you worked on your own.
This album is unlike anything we have ever heard from Taylor Swift. I’m sure there are a million reasons for that: lockdown, maturity, and wanting to explore different genres were likely among them. What struck me from the very beginning though was how Taylor didn’t hesitate to reach out to people she respected to ask them to collaborate with her. She brought other people in on her creative process and I think we are lucky to have the end result of what they made together.
I know that creating often feels like a solitary endeavor. I know that it is an achingly personal thing. I also know that it can feel incredibly good to share with people you trust! Maybe writing or creating directly alongside someone isn’t going to work for you and that is totally fine. However, letting someone into your process, while your project is still in process, is often incredibly helpful. Thoughtful feedback and discussion leads to better, more refined work. Sometimes you create something entirely different (and better) than you even set out to. It was a delight to see so many artists sit down and talk about their experience making something together.
Lesson four: Create what you love and people will love to watch you talk about it.
Throughout the whole show I was amazed at how riveting I found the discussion of each song. I’ve never written a song in my life and I certainly do not consider myself a musician. Yet through this special I found myself riveted to every detail. Somehow my lack of knowledge on the subject didn’t dampen my enjoyment of a deep dive into it. When I thought about it, I realized that I love to watch anyone talk about their creative projects.
I think we as a society love to hear from artists, writers, and musicians because there is something inside of all of us that longs to create. That part of us sits up and pays attention to the joy other people experience after they have put a creative project into the world. We want to listen about how they did it. We want to imagine ourselves doing the same. I think in this way one person’s bravery in sharing their artistic journey can encourage any number of other people to lean into their own creative drive. That is something truly special.
I hope even in some small way this encourages you to gather the people you know will cheer you on and go create something you love.