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Creativity Life & Philosophy Productivity & Work

Never mind the mood

The work doesn’t begin or end at the mercy of mood. Feeling lazy or prepared is neutral — both are non-starters. The mood’s texture remains unchanged. 

Having a daily discipline is the best way to keep the shipping alive. Habits are stronger than moods. 

If your emotions or conditions get in the way because you’re either unmotivated, too sick or cold, exhausted, or missing the perfect seat, you’re screwed. 

Show up and ride the wave of frequency

Sitting in the chair and beginning promptly by 10 AM is non-negotiable. By sticking to a schedule, you alleviate the pain of starting while forcing yourself to dance with all the anxieties that arise. 

If you get frustrated or stuck, try running out the clock. So be it — you showed up but didn’t produce. 

Dissatisfaction is part of the creative process. Afterward, rest or take your thoughts for a walk to digest the reality of incompleteness. A blank canvass with even the most disappointing attempts is a refreshing experience. There is always tomorrow!

When your perspiration and dedication are the muses, the creativity always comes back because the motivation is the same. The sink keeps dripping. 

Even while going about your day, discipline pays off. Deep work compounds, as the brain uses rest periods to reconvene, reconnect, and make sense of all the input. 

Creativity is complicated, but moods are untrustworthy. Once you’re committed to the process while following your curiosities, there’s no wasted time. 

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Arts Life & Philosophy Productivity & Work

Imagining life without work

Some people are obsessed with work. It defines them, gives them a structure. Without work, they’d sail away at the mercy of the waves and get lost at sea.

But technology facilitates creativity. The accountant becomes a music producer at night, a photographer, or YouTuber on the weekend. He or she identifies more as being an artist than a professional who crunches numbers. Their online persona seeks some greater truth beyond the work, more aligned with who they want to be. 

Everyone wants to pursue something meaningful. We want to do something that matters while working hard without working hard. As the musician Brian Eno reminds us, “Try not to get a job.” 

Whether it’s the day job or an artist, work is supposed to reflect our life philosophies. Most jobs, though, are solutions to a practical problem: we need the cash to live. The money fact keeps man awake at the clarion call of labor.  

The pressure to blend work and life results from our obsession with careerism in a twenty-four-seven hyperconnected world. So what would we do with all that free time if we didn’t work? 

We’d just do stuff rather than getting stuck in a career. We’d read, hang out with friends and family, watch and play sports, and listen to music. It would be like all the activities we’ve immersed in during the extra free time of COVID lockdown, minus all the social distancing and depression. The future of work would look less like a vocation and more like an extended vacation.

Will we be ok when the robots take over and the concept of labor fades away? Will making art suffice? We’re born off balance. It’s how we dance with the uncertain future that shapes who we are.

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Writing

J.K. Rowling revisits her masterpiece

J.K. Rowling reflects on annotating the first Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.

I wrote the book … in snatched hours, in clattering cafés or in the dead of night … The story of how I wrote Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone is written invisibly on every page, legible only to me. Sixteen years after it was published, the memories are as vivid as ever as I turn these pages.”

J.K. Rowling

Most authors refuse to revisit their old work. Musicians avoid listening to their old albums. Some actors refuse to see their movies after they hit theaters. J.K. Rowling goes back in time to relive all the scars. 

Art reminds creatives of their daily battles with the blank page, canvass, or script—a craft fraught with sweat and tears, pain, and pleasure. All the scars make it visible to the maker. 

The work always tells the truth. But it was also yesterday’s genius.

“There’s always more to be said, more to be felt,” Henry James once remarked. We can always do better. Yet finishing and moving on is the point. 

The grind begins again. And so we buckle up and start the next one.

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Arts Creativity Productivity & Work

Beware the mind virus

Creativity dwindles with age. First, school sucks it out of you, and then corporate work puts the nail in the coffin. 

Patterns of normality and absolutes are leaches. Like a mind virus, they try to kill off the imagination and train your organic reflexes into compliant sheep. 

If you’re lucky, you’ll have no choice but to follow the siren song of vocation. Suppose that means becoming an artist; if it’s a bank teller, ditto. Follow up your calling way with the utmost passion. To echo Mark Twain, “The secret of success is making your vocation your vacation.”

Never let your ambition slip out of sight. The happiest people chase their human truths to exploit time. 

As the musician Brian Eno reminds us, “Try not to get a job. Try to leave yourself in a position where you do the things you want to do with your time and where you take maximum advantage of wherever your possibilities are.”

Following the herd is a mind virus. Ride the mind wave of opportunity instead. 

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Creativity Productivity & Work Writing

Creativity is a fancy version of productivity

People confuse busyness with productivity. Answering emails all day is mostly a waste of time, as is instant messaging co-workers. Doing something — typing into little boxes all day — fulfills the human desire to feel useful.

People also perceive what artists do is an unnecessary use of time. But creativity is a fancy version of productivity.

Nothing gets wasted when it comes to painting, songwriting, and any other artistic vocations. Scraps and shitty rough drafts give us something to play with. The art of gathering string — doing the hard work, heart work, and head work — expands the reality we perceive.

Sensible work gets us paid. Yet, when we photograph everything, we look at nothing.

Without propelling the imagination and practicing our craft, we’re just procrastinators and waiters. The whole point of making art is to do and ship something interesting.

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Creativity Productivity & Work Writing

If you’re struggling to get started, do it badly

“Work finally begins when the fear of doing nothing exceeds the fear of doing it badly,” advises the author Alain de Botton

Perfection is the antithesis of inspiration — it prevents you from getting started.

The trick to getting going is to do it badly. To do that, one must be intentionally messy. The art of spontaneity asks you to start before you’re ready. Don’t over-think the process; intensify the habit of doing.

The emancipatory power in getting started helps jumpstart creativity. 

Producing crap isn’t the end-goal. There is no quality without quantity — first, we get going, then we deduce. 

“If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word.”

Margaret Atwood

The point of taking small actions is to create enough momentum to feel like we’re winning. You’re looking to go from one pushup a day to two the next week, four thousand steps a day to five-hundred. 

You’ll need to write one-hundred words day after day before developing the muscle to consistently get down two-hundred words. By the way, there is no such thing as writer’s block!

Do small things to get started — no matter how poorly — to avoid second-guessing yourself and prime the motivational pump.

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Arts Creativity Life & Philosophy Productivity & Work

From seeing to believing

Obvious to you, not to others.

It’s the human condition to see patterns but leave them to abstraction.

Identifying the gaps is only the start. No one gains from keeping silent on the puzzle of opportunity.

What occupies the rest of the grey space is doing the work.

Creators play the dual role of keen observer and competent persister. They control the master switch between idea and reality, optimizing their time, energy, and luck while never having all three simultaneously.

Anyone can learn how to see — how to build off a concept, sell the story, and contribute something meaningful is the worthiest challenge.

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Arts Creativity Productivity & Work

A panoply of tools

What’s the primary device that unlocks your creativity — the camera, a pen, or the paintbrush?

These tools are our passport to freedom. So photographers speak through photos, writers communicate in text, cartoonists draw, etc.

“We become what we behold,” Marshall McLuhan said, “We shape our tools and then our tools shape us.”

Tools for Titans
Photo: Bill Robertson

Our vocation shapes our perspective and predetermines our output.  

But we gather scraps of ideas everywhere; through unintended eavesdropping, mishearing things, and misread headlines. Artists are scavengers.  

We combine divergent widgets in our toolshed to strengthen the entire arsenal. The writer makes draws; the architect paints with light; the musician scribes poems. 

Using a variety of widgets helps work out different artistic muscles. As we draw analogies across subjects, we improve our core craft. 

Said the Greek poet Archilochus: “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.” 

All the hedgehog knows how to do is protect itself with its spines. But the fox is more elastic — it can adapt to different conditions that enhance its chances to survive.

We permit our perspectives to shapeshift by opening the mind up to ubiquitous inspiration. Our imagination expands in so far as we stretch our palette. 

First, we collect and understand. Then we deduce. Only then can we return to mastering our core competency. 

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Arts Creativity Life & Philosophy

The archaeological dig of the self

A synchronization of mind thought, and people — symphonies boost enthusiasm, concentration, and memory power. Their confluence is the great harvester of human attention.

If you’re always polishing the car, you’ll never go anywhere to discover new things. If you’re always rushing, you’ll never reap the benefits earned through reflection.

The inner and outer worlds work together to stimulate the imagination.

Money and passion fail to make one rich and happy automatically. Creators are doers. And work demands all the scars.

Invest in yourself — spiritual and mental health — and see it a role to play the orchestrator of your own life.

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Creativity Productivity & Work

The burn of discontent

Everything starts and ends from the burn of discontent.

We all have an inkling for something, a dormant enthusiasm, waiting to erupt so we can pour our hearts into it.

But the wait is killer. Toiling in anonymity while practicing in mediocrity needs a special kind of patience.

The resistance can only win at our own capitulation. The work is all that matters. 

As they say, “the only place where success comes before work is in the dictionary.”

If self-promotion along the way helps one build up the confidence to ship, by all means, do it. We must seek the respect we deserve.

We are the audience and actor in the play of life, trying to step back and compose with the highest quality. 

No one is going to announce our emergence. All we can ask for is to be consistent with our time. 

Show up. The only talisman is the heart and head work.

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Creativity Productivity & Work

Creativity: Faith in process, faith in rest

Rest is integral to unlocking creativity.

Your best ideas come when you’re not trying to grind it out, but when you’re not trying at all. Ideas hit you when your mind is at ease. 

Says composer and playwright Lin-Manuel Miranda:

A good idea doesn’t come when you’re doing a million things. The good idea comes in the moment of rest. It comes in the shower. It comes when you’re doodling or playing trains with your son. It’s when your mind is on the other side of things.

Lin-Manuel Miranda

Creativity is always awake

The brain never shuts off. It’s always processing knowledge, thoughts, and experience, even in a perceived dormant state. 

Creativity is always awake, but it needs time to bloom. The head takes in new information and gets feedback along the way. 

The ‘eureka moment’ is, therefore, a canard. The sedentary body helps the neurons and synapses synchronize thoughts. 

If you get tired, learn to rest, not to quit.

Banksy

Neurochemistry thrives off disconnecting, in which connections mount unforced.

A good idea is an accumulation of bad ones, clever hybrids cleaned up and simplified through trial and error.

The creative thinker enters a relationship through a swift reflection process.

Discovery is not a matter of giving up but giving in to the process of waiting and wondering, all the while keeping the faith.