ON CREATIVITY AGAIN
“STOP WHATEVER YOU ARE DOING FOR THE MOMENT AND ASK YOURSELF: AM I AFRAID OF DEATH BECAUSE I WON’T BE ABLE TO DO THIS TOMORROW?”
Every so often, a quote absolutely nails what I feel—and this is such a one. I have been reconciled to dying for quite some time—though not without a period of angst before I came to terms with the inevitable (and the manner of my dying is of some concern—decapitation seems to lack charm) but I will deeply regret dying before getting my publishing business going and making a serious dent in my list of writing projects.
That means I’m shooting for ten more years—but would rather like fifteen (and you needn’t stop there). But, who knows!
I ran across the Marcus Aurelius quote on an intriguing site called 99.com (“Insights on making ideas happen”—by Behance). I’m not quite sure how I latched on to it, but it is one of my regulars—and rarely fails to surprise.
Its latest piece was written by Paul Jun (a name to note). Here are some extracts. The full piece is worth reading.
7 Pieces of Wisdom That Will Change the Way You Work
Wisdom, in the words of Maria Popova, is knowledge that matters; it has both a practical and moral component to it that enriches our lives and inspires us to act wisely. Because the path to creativity is fraught with uncertainty, fear, and self-doubt, we naturally look to the wisdom of others to stop us from getting off course.
1. Ship and don’t look back
Author Steven Pressfield
In July 2012, I set off to write a short book to sell online. It took me eight months to write and ship it. I patiently waited for the results—praise, recognition, and opportunities. To my surprise, nothing happened, and I felt mortified. There were no downloads, no reviews, and no revenue—just crickets.
In a desperate attempt to understand why I was feeling horrible, I emailed one of my favorite authors, Steven Pressfield. His response:
What you’re feeling is what everybody feels. Start something new right away and don’t look back. Don’t check the grosses, don’t look up the reviews on Amazon. Get used to it.
In “The War of Art,” I tell the story of when I finished my first novel (after about ten years of trying and failing), walked down the street to visit my mentor, Paul Rink, and told him the good news. He never looked up from his coffee. ”Good for you,” he said. ”Start the next one tomorrow.”
My own theory is to have the next one already in progress. I like to have 30 or 40 pages of the Next Book already done (and have momentum going on it) when I finish the Current Book.
Congrats to you, Paul. You did good. You shipped. I salute you. Every other member of this select club salutes you. Get drunk. Have a party.
Then start the next one tomorrow.
To believe that any project is the cure to our restlessness, uncertainty, and fear of failure, is borderline egomania and it’s unhelpful for the creative process or creativity in general.
When we “start the next one” it keeps us vigilant for the long haul, to remove the desire for immediate gratification, and to ultimately create a mindset that serves as a foundation for sustained and disciplined creativity by enjoying the process and not the outcome.
It’s also about momentum, because after this project ships, what are you going to do next? It’s easy to sit around and read reviews, but that doesn’t prepare us for a fruitful career. Shipped projects are essentially a reflection of how your skills and mind are evolving. Each project is a step up from the last. Your first project, say, is a level one—not so great. But as long as that project ships, as long as you learn from it and poured your heart into it, your next project can’t help but be better.
4. Build your solid routine
Choreographer Twyla Tharp
In Daily Rituals, author Mason Curry shares choreographer Twyla Tharp’s morning ritual. She says:
I begin each day of my life with a ritual: I wake up at 5:30 a.m., put on workout clothes, my leg warmers, my sweatshirt, and my hat. I walk outside my Manhattan home, hail a taxi, and tell the driver to take me to the Pumping Iron gym at 91st street and First Avenue, where I work out for two hours. The ritual is not stretching and weight training I put my body through each morning at the gym; the ritual is the cab. The moment I tell the driver where to go I have completed the ritual.
Think about how your day is structured and what you do versus what you actually need to be doing. Whether it’s waking up early, working for hours, and then going for a walk, you need to find a rhythm—your rhythm. When you create a solid routine, you save your willpower for the stuff that matters.
Through this disciplined, personalized routine, it will help you bring out your best work, to put your hours in deliberate and focused practice, and to learn to pace yourself so you don’t burn yourself out for some faux honorary badge that shows you worked eight hours straight.
Routines will change from time to time due to circumstances. The idea is that you have a routine, something that builds the necessary habits to develop your creativity and mind, and to ultimately do the work. Your friends know not to text or call during your creative hours because, from past experience, you don’t respond—you’re working.
7. “No artist is pleased”
Dancer Martha Graham
In 1943, American dancer and choreographer Agnes de Mille was having a soda with the renown choreographer and dancer Martha Graham. After years of having difficulty finding work, Agnes de Mille had an unexpected, wild success for her choreography for the Broadway show Oklahoma!, which she thought her work was only “fairly good.” The production ran over 2,200 performances and eventually closed five years later. Mille recalls that her desire for greatness was always present, but her lack of faith is what kept her in the dark.
Graham gives her one of my favorite admonishments ever [emphasis mine]:
It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. … No artist is pleased. [There is] no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.
This ties closely to what Steven Pressfield said: “What you’re feeling is what everybody feels … Start the next one tomorrow.”
VOR words c.120