What if you don’t have to be “creative” to create?
We all know the archetype of the creatives, right? Eccentric, weird, scattered, messy. The creatives are plagued perpetually by writer’s block (or sculptor’s block, or painter’s block, or whatever block). They spend most of their time lazing about gloomily, smoking cigarettes and cursing this cruel world. But then, every once in a while, the creatives are so touched by the muse that they are forced to immediately drop everything, go into a trance and become a funnel for the beauty of the world.
Personally, I think that’s a bit too precious. This notion to wait around in the rain until you get struck by lightning to make art (or anything) doesn’t mesh with my experience at all. What comes much closer is the famous Chuck Close quotation: “Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and get to work.”
The major implication of Mr. Close’s quotation is that you don’t have to be creative to create. So here’s a secret ninja trick that will help: Don’t wait around for creativity to strike. Strike creativity! Invent an obligation for yourself so you have to be creative on purpose.
I once heard a story about a guy who wanted to write a book. But he was too overwhelmed by the enormity of the process, so for a decade, he didn’t do it. One day, he decided to create a 5,000-word monthly magazine and offer a two-year subscription to everyone he knew. A bunch of people signed up, and all of a sudden, he had to do it. At the end of two years, he had 120,000 words to work with to create this book.
There’s another guy I know who for 10-plus years made a commitment to sit down every day and write something. That’s exactly the opposite of waiting for inspiration to strike. Every day. Nobody’s creative every day for 10 years! Now this guy didn’t start out as a creative, but I don’t think anyone would bat an eye if you called him that today. In fact, you may have heard of him. His name is Seth Godin. Check out his blog and decide for yourself.
Of course, I can relate. I’m no Seth Godin, but every week for seven years now, I’ve had a deadline to produce this column and draw something. I have never seen myself as an artist or an illustrator. But for about 400 weeks, I’ve created a sketch to go in The New York Times. So I engaged in the process, and, as Mr. Close puts it, I went to work.
All my best work happens this way. Not through luck of the draw, but through persistence and dedication. And I’m not saying luck has nothing to do with it. In fact, I love luck! I’m just saying it’s important to put yourself in the position to get lucky. Don’t wait around for creativity to come to you on accident. Be creative on purpose.
This column, titled Want to Be Creative on Purpose? Schedule It, originally appeared in The New York Times on May 15, 2017.
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