Robin Williams Oozed the One Creative Trait Writers Need

the amazing robin williams

the amazing robin williams

I needed time to process. Celebrity deaths don’t usually hit me hard (with the exception of John Ritter), but Robin Williams passing away was like a punch in the gut when you’re not ready for it. I’m sure it was partly because he offered up my favorite thing in the world: gut-busting laughter, but there was something else. I had to think about it for a bit, but came to the conclusion that it was because we were losing a true creative genius. And a comedic genius at that, which might be the rarest of all.

"He hit your brain, and then built a home in it." - Comedian Marc Maron on Robin Williams

Mork was a comedy magician. He could think of an entire act then perform it on the spot in the time it takes us to decide between paper or plastic. His mind moved at a speed unlike anyone else -- it just didn’t seem human. The evolution from the craziness of Mork to the tenderness and pain of "Dead Poets Society" and “Good Will Hunting” was astonishing and even a little confusing because we weren't able to keep him in the box Hollywood likes to define people by. What propelled his gift was the unique ability to lay it all out there, warts and all. He held nothing back, even at the risk of looking “dumb.” It’s the worst kept secret at doing anything creative, and unfortunately, it's something most writers never figure out.

This rare ability to open the flood gates of your soul and let it all come pouring out, risking embarrassment is something all great writers and creatives share. Ernest Hemingway called it, and I'm paraphrasing, "bleeding on his typewriter." That’s what Robin did. He hung it all out there and didn’t care if he looked like an idiot. Running through clubs like a maniac, saying whatever came into his head allowed him to perform like no one we’d ever seen. Or ever will see. And that’s where most of us fail as writers. We’re constantly worried about what people will think about us after we sit at our keyboards and "bleed." Keep in mind though, this doesn't mean you go out and blast or humiliate others. That's not the honesty I'm talking about. That's just another form of hiding behind something.

This is the root of the fear of failure everyone likes to talk about but without a clear explanation for writers. "Failure" seems to be the buzz-term and a badge of honor in every article you've read in the past 18 months, but never in this personal of terms. This is us with no mask or shield. Not failing to get VC money or creating an app that doesn't take off.

In essence, it’s like that horrible dream when you're in high school, standing on the 50 yard line at the homecoming game in your tighty-whities, but with the added bonus of saying, "Here I am!" It doesn't get much more personal than that. But normal people don't realize this. They don’t realize that we bleed for the things we create. No one epitomized this more than Robin Williams. You could see it in his face when he was making people laugh at a comedy club or cry in “Good Will Hunting.”

When you decide to create, you're not like everyone else and you need to stop thinking you are. If you've tried your whole life to fit in, it's time to stop. And this is then when you realize the potential greatness in you. The problem is that it'll never come out unless you paste it up for the world to see. And 999 times out of 1000 you're going to have to create large amounts of crap to find it.

Years ago, a person said to me, "you're not the same person that comes across in your writing." While this was an attempt to call me a fraud, what they didn’t realize was that I was much more the person in my writing than I was to the rest of the world. When I’m writing I can tear down the assumptions, insecurity and not worry about how I’m being perceived by the world. When my work is out there the right way, I lose the mask I tend to wear in public.

Losing that mask -- your armor to protect you from the world is a scary thing to do. And you don't just worry about this at the beginning of your career. I published my first article almost 30 years ago as a teenager and I still worry about humiliating myself. The great writer James Altucher says that he doesn't publish anything that doesn't make him nervous. Those nerves tell him the piece is worth sharing with his readers.

For most of us, our creative outlet is the only place we feel really like ourselves and that was definitely the case with Robin Williams. When he was on stage, he didn’t have to worry about divorce, addiction, or money problems. He just wanted to hear the laughter. Walking off stage was his real struggle.

"You're only given a little spark of madness. You mustn't lose it." - Robin Williams

That spark what makes great art and if you don’t use it, you’ll lose it. So use it and don’t worry about what others think.

(image courtesy of Bago Games via C.C. 2.0)