Why do we create?

Why do we create? What is the point of art, creativity, imagination and storytelling, especially in the face of a tumultuous, unjust, and violent world? I grapple with this quandary almost daily. Before I let it completely paralyze me (or turn me into a useless puddle on the floor), I seek out a wiser being who always seems to know what’s up and what’s “right”…

My inner 6-year old—AKA “Peacock Sak.”

Without missing a beat, her response (in a nutshell) is: “Because it’s MAGIC. DUH.”

Have you ever tried asking yourself the Seven Whys? I can’t remember where I picked this up (most likely a podcast) but it’s a simple and surprisingly profound—if not alarmingly revelatory—line of self-inquiry that helps me figure out why I do what I do. 

Last time I tried it, it went a little something like this (and actually took a lot less than seven rounds):

Why do I create?
Because I yearn to see magical worlds.

Why do I yearn to see magical worlds?
Because this is where my soul finds connection and belonging.

Why do I need to find connection and belonging? 
Because if I (the perennial outsider) can find these things, I can also believe that anything is possible.

Why do I want to believe that anything’s possible?
Because in my heart of hearts, I am a rebel who demands the world be a kinder place full of beauty, enchantment, and connection. Because while the current world can be a wondrous place, it also needs to be better. 

I create stories to rage against the status quo.

My book BETWEEN WORDS takes place in a magical world I dreamed up!

This is when my Inner Critic (Peacock Sak’s nemesis) starts shrieking that this isn’t good enough. And maybe she’s right. But I also want to remind her of similar sentiments that other hearts have felt; that imagination is more important than knowledge (Albert Einstein), and that each of us doing what truly and uniquely feeds our soul is the key to unlocking all the necessary needs of the greater good—i.e. we serve best by doing what we love (Adrienne Maree Brown, Martha Beck, Steve Jobs). 

I tell her to remember that this is how nature takes care of itself. (I also remind her that a lot of our world’s problems are rooted in how we’ve forgotten we’re part of nature, but I digress…) I ask her to marvel at how a bee, just by “being a bee” and doing what it’s built to do, pollinates and sustains entire ecosystems! 🤯

I don’t begrudge my Inner Critic’s constant nagging, though. I get it. The system is rigged for us to feel like we’re not good enough because it benefits from our insecurities, especially when we’re creators and artists—what frivolous pursuits! While my parents never gave me the “you better become a lawyer/doctor/engineer” speech, they did advise me to channel my creativity in practical ways, like getting a graphic design degree!!!

So I did. 

For a while I actually enjoyed the developing of concepts, the problem solving, and the seemingly self-effacing aspects of designing this and that for clients. When lucky, I got to collaborate with companies I loved and amazing people that worked there—some who I’m still friends with to this day. But forcing myself to do something that didn’t always light me up (ideation rooted in “reality”), day in and day out, took its toll. I dreaded Mondays. I cried in the shower. I got existential. 😱

My lack of alignment with a lot of what I was doing, combined with the crippling guilt I felt for not being grateful for my job (and income) made me seek other avenues of purpose like supporting charities (“I don’t feel great about how I made this money so maybe I’ll feel better if I give it away”) and partying (NYC provided great distractions). I volunteered. I looked into getting a degree in social work and philanthropy. In the end, while these swerves inspired me with glimpses of other meaning-filled lives, I found myself feeling even less effective and out of place. I was a bee trying to build an ant farm. So what was it that finally punted me out of this rut? 


I started taking continuing ed classes where I could draw again. I woke up my long-neglected synapses by connecting my eyes to my brain to my arm to my hand to the piece of paper in front of me. I remembered the visceral thrill Peacock Sak once felt, making marks that didn’t exist before appear on a blank page (like MAGIC). 

One class led to another, and another. I met kindred spirits who also wanted to create, draw, paint, write, and tell tall tales. We shared insights on how to find our style and how to craft stories. We reviewed each others’ book drafts over, and over, and over (a post on all of this is forthcoming). We swapped intel about workshops, conferences, retreats and reviews that lead to nibbles, bites, and *gasp* book deals!!! A decade later, I look back in awe that I now get to experience the incredible honor and privilege of creating full time (ish). 

Oh, hi again Inner Critic. You’re saying this is all well and good but still just self-indulgent nonsense? Maybe, maybe not. Let’s, for the sake of argument, consider this little premise: that unused creativity is NOT benign

Remember those times when you made us focus purely on the very important, but very grown up business of paying bills, filing taxes, sending emails, and raising a human (this last one is pretty fun BUT STILL)? How do we feel at the end of the day/week/month when that’s all we’ve done? Productive? Sure. But also, like a shell of ourselves. We toss and turn at night. We can’t sleep so we wake up tired and grumpy and lash out at our loved ones. We get resentful of beautiful things and stop seeing the miracles around us trying to get our attention. 

And if that isn’t enough to convince you, there’s a whole book about how art and creativity positively affect our biology, heal all sorts of health issues and improve cognitive function (this isn’t pure “woo” either, it’s backed by SCIENCE). 

Case in point: what happens when we let Peacock Sak spend just TEN minutes a day doodling in her sketchbook? 

We sleep like a baby.

Spring-inspired doodles from my sketchbook that helped me sleep like a baby.

So. Back to our quandary. Why create?

Maybe we create because it’s one of the most powerful vehicles we have to express our truest nature and connect with our peeps? 

Maybe we create so we can show up as better humans and serve our ecosystems in the best way we know how, trusting this will send out the ripples that the world needs?

Maybe we create for the mere possibility that when we dare to envision the world we want to see, it sparks others to imagine and share their own?

Oh, and because “it’s MAGIC. DUH.”

These are reasons why I create. What about you?

[EDIT1: Was prepping this post when what pops into my audio feed but this podcast ep by Martha Beck who I reference above. It reinforced my belief in all sorts of MAGIC because she literally talks about how “the joy (of creating) IS the purpose. It serves the world. A lot of artists were able to change the world because they made things purely for their own sake.” and “The more you develop your superpowers, the more they take you home for you to find (your people).” ‘Nuff said.]

[EDIT2: The very same night I wrote this up, my partner randomly picked Just One Little Light to read to our kiddo from our very full bag of library books. It’s a “gorgeous, inspiring picture book about how one simple act can be the beginning of real change.” I wept.]

  1. Bear says:

    Thank you so much for this post! I follow you because of your raging against the status quo, it’s really nice to know we are out here doing this together!

    I’m so appreciative of the insight that we serve best when we are doing what we love. It’s not really something we get taught by institutions in the west—which all teach us to be really “efficient” producers and consumers—so we need to find our way to this wisdom somehow AND try to line it up with how to make a living…not easy on our own.

    Thank you SO much for turning me on to Martha Beck’s podcast! I actually read this post last week then immediately started listening and I’m dozens of episodes in and really feeling a lot more grounded. I love her concept of all of us and everything else in our entire universe being on the same plane of consciousness. Conceptualizing this in my meditation practice this week has really helped me reduce anxiety about interpersonal challenges and with my creative work!

    I also got and read Just One Little Light and read it with one of my kids <3 I wept. Thank you for these resources, and your thoughts on this topic!

    I was thinking recently that one great reason we create is that artists fill the gaps between other kinds of information. So do books. So does the news. So does a phone call to a neighbor. This idea simplifies art into being an obvious part of an ecosystem of information and emotion-sharing, which is simply what humans do. No justification needed in this framework!

    This framework puts the questioning back on to the questioner—why do we value some forms of communication and expression over others?

    • saki tanaka says:

      BEAR. Thank you for this beautiful note. Sparking this kind of thinking and dialogue is truly one of the best outcomes of me rambling on in what often feels like a (safe and cozy) vacuum. I looove your insight on how we create art to fill gaps. It’s like all of these become synapses that may or may not fire up, depending on who you are. Our myriad human experiences shape our very unique perceptive filters and this means one heart will be moved to action from reading the news, while others can only be reached by more oblique ways of communication like storytelling. I’m fascinated by how incredibly different we all are!

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