DIY: Making Meaning Your Way

Making Meaning through your creative work takes courage.
It’s an intensely private work, which in our culture is always slightly suspect. When you see the serial killer being led away from the crime scene, you always hear, “He kept to himself,” or “He was a loner,” as if those things are somehow intrinsically bad and wrong. Yet that’s where a lot of creative work is done–by yourself. Alone.


One person's chicken is another's Little Red Hen

Making Meaning starts from scratch.
Sure, you may have played with kits. And you may well be using many leftovers from various kits to make your own stuff. But you are working with your idea. You aren’t assembling anything, and you aren’t using directions supplied with a kit. You are moving into uncharted territory, and you are alone. And you love it.

Making Meaning means you write the rules.
The way you make meaning is your way. Not your neighbor’s, not the rich and successful writer, musician, dancer, or gardener you admire. You get to fail, try again, and then succeed. And that trip is what makes it so very satisfying. Because it involves creative play, messing up, and fixing it all by yourself. Making meaning brings satisfaction because it involves triumph over obstacles. The major obstacle is often your own thinking.

Making Meaning is not a consumer activity.
You can buy a kit and make something, but it doesn’t make meaning. You can buy paint-by-numbers, scrapbooking kits and cards, you can complete step-by-step wire-wrapping jewelry and wind up with a product without one scrap of meaning making. You may feel empty after such an activity, even if you have completed a gift-quality product.

Making Meaning is a Little Red Hen project.
You remember the story of the Little Red Hen. Her friends–the cat, dog, mouse, chick (it varies from story to story) don’t help her plant the wheat, cut the wheat, take it to the mill, or bake the bread. But they all show up to eat the bread. And after all that work, she doesn’t share the bread. She eats it by herself. Is she selfish? No, in this story the other animals aren’t starving, they are hoping to share in her success without having done the work. The Little Red Hen has made meaning in the bread and is eating the joy of her work.

Making Meaning is a goal in itself.
You’ve written a book? That made meaning. Publishing it is another story. The joy you feel in writing is the success. Publishing is an administrative task that will make you feel proud, inadequate, fill you with “shoulds” and bring out detractors, admirers, and hangers-on. That’s a step beyond making meaning. Making meaning is a journey.   It can have many goals that don’t make meaning. Make sure you notice when meaning-making stops, you don’t want to confuse the journey with reaching a destination.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer, life- and creativity coach. She has a website for writers who want to keep an art journal, and a website for her business training. Both have coaching sections.