Making A Case For Ordinary

When everyone else is pursuing exceptional, being it’s ordinary might be what it takes to stand out from the crowd.

image of an old workshop storage unit for article titled making a case for ordinary.

Photo by Eric Parks on Unsplash

When everyone else is pursuing exceptional, being it’s ordinary might be what it takes to stand out from the crowd.

Welcome to The Reflectionist, a daily dose of reflection on the nature of the self, personal reality, creativity, life and work, submitted to the public record for posterity. Read personal essays and articles on the psychology of creativity to help you nurture and broaden your creative prowess.

I can’t write anything of depth and value at the drop of a hat. I think few can. Maybe that will change as I get older. However, I have found that if I want to write something of substance, then I need to be completely free of all other potential distractions and commitments.

No phone calls, no emails, no wife or children. No tv or music playing in the background, and certainly no pursuit of clicks or some other ulterior measure of my brilliance.

I am an introvert and need silence and solitude.

Now, that might sound obvious, but when I see the volume material produced by some writers here on Medium, something strikes me. It seems the vast majority of what I read must be written on the fly — without time for proper research, editing, or indeed adequate self-reflection.

The headline usually tells me everything I need to know. Then out of curiosity, to see whether or not my bias is accurate, I take a read. Shortly after that, it’s usual for me to move on with a shake of the head. But on this occasion, although it’s not my style, I was compelled to offer commentary.

Maybe I’m not qualified to comment; maybe I have no right. But if someone is going to hit publish on something that hits my feed, something that is so poorly thought out, absent of research, and terribly written, then I should do these writers a favour and point that out.

I would expect the same of my work, regardless of whether or not I openly invited critique. Besides, if we publish openly online, then we are subject to public scrutiny whether we like it or not.

The reality is that for us to create something worthwhile, one needs more than just a spare 30 minutes in between commitments. Churning out volumes of writing without time for adequate reflection and self-assessment is merely an exercise in click-chasing, and it’s not art by any stretch of the imagination.

It is, in fact, the antithesis of art.

That’s not to say we should not be motivated to prolificity. On the contrary, we should make as much work as possible. However, in that intention, we should make for the right reasons. The alternative is that we become sellouts to quantity rather than quality.

Is all my work fantastic?

I doubt it.

I know that I have written plenty of crap. That’s why I avoid, for the most part, reading back over my old stuff. The vast majority of my material over twelve months old is terrible, in my opinion. At best, after reading over it, I get a chance to make it better — or even delete it.

I see that significant element of self-critique as an advantage. It stops me publishing the worst of my stuff.

Take this short narrative; for example; I’m putting this together in a car park while I wait for my son’s rugby match to kick off. I’m firing ideas on the screen, but it’s going to take at least a couple of hours to turn it into something concise and readable.

I had intended to write something entirely different today, something substantial, but I realise it’s pointless. I have kids to mind, an appointment in the afternoon, my wife is just off a night shift, and asleep upstairs, and in the meantime, Little Feet plays in the background.

If I tried to do some quality writing today, I’d fail, and become completely frustrated.

There is just no way on earth, I can satisfy my muse, so to speak, without taking time and complete isolation as primary elements in the production of valuable creative work.

So I’m making a case for ordinary.

Ordinary takes its time. It is focused, resolute and consistent. In the face of stack ’em high, sell em low mentality — that cheap and nasty ideology that seems to have enveloped the collective psyche, ordinary cares about quality.

Although best intentions sometimes fail, ordinary has ultimate integrity and value. We can see it in the artist’s work even if we can’t quite put our finger on it.

Ordinary is predictable. It spends time in solitude and cares about what comes out the other end of the process. Ordinary doesn’t care about public opinion; it cares about giving voice to something important regardless of whether or not people take notice.

Worldly things, applause and notoriety, do not motivate ordinary. Instead, it is intrinsically motivated. It cares about success but not success in the conventional material sense. Success is achieved every time ordinary goes to work.

Ordinary is dichotomous in its work. It is humble and proud, naive and wise, productive and lazy, patient and impatient, subtle and brash, all at the same time.

Ordinary should not be confused with mediocre.

Ordinary is ultimately extraordinary because hardly anybody does ordinary.

Everyone else chases extraordinary because they think they know what that is, what it looks like — but they don’t. So what they make is entirely fake — a plastic reproduction of something great.

Imitation is the ultimate form of flattery, so let them imitate you.

Go to work, get stuck in, put the blinkers on and be predictable. Don’t chase admiration or exterior measures of success because it will lead you astray.

Trying too hard to stand out has a diluting effect. It says, “hey everyone, look at me, take notice of me”. On the other hand, ordinary says very little if anything; it just does the necessary work.

So go to work. Be ordinary yet exceptional, then wait. Don’t take score.

You’ll surprise yourself.

Thanks for taking the time to read my stuff. Every morning you’ll find me sharing a new thought on life, art, work, creativity, the self and the nature of reality on The Reflectionist. I write also on The Creative Mind. If you like what I’m creating, join my email list to receive the weekly Sunday Letters

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