Making meaning removes meaning

gif by John Walters

Making meaning removes meaning. What we make is what we want to make. The only supervisor is ourselves.

But we do need signals — something that tells us that we’re moving in the right direction.

“The muse has to know where to find you.”

Billy Wilder

Accept professions but don’t become them

Tied up in labor, we forget that the day job is the means of survival. Home is where the real sex happens, where we enjoy the liberty to play and rage into our work.

Doing the work we enjoy is the best use of our time. After all, more time is better than money.

Paradoxically, everything we don’t want to do feeds our basic survival. That’s why such priorities always feel somehow aslant.

Unoriginal and creative

We build careers off of clever hybrids, sampling the treasure trove of the Internet’s archival content to remix and recast as our own.

With a quick copy-paste, anyone with the tools can replicate a beautiful photo, record a song, or publish a book on Amazon.

Originality is dead. But that’s not to say it ever existed in the first place. Every piece of art, music, and writing we swallow was based on something before it. We continue the fad, bending genres and jamming stems into each other to create something novel.

Even the great Vincent Van Gogh adopted the style of Japanese prints and incorporated them into his work.

When we have access to slices of culture, the world (thanks to the internet) becomes our oyster.

Imagination is a mental scratch pad

Imagination is a mental scratch pad, a place to delve into the urges of the non-existent. It is only there can we see what’s more captivating than reality’s everydayness.

Imagination not only protects us from boredom, it also protects us from ourselves. It acts as a neuroprotective stimulus for brain expansion — we are only as good as what we can envision.

Imagination helps us slice through the bedrock of the present. It moves us behind the boundary of facts. It screams yes to life, even when there’s darkness.

“Logic will get you from A to Z. Imagination will get you everywhere.”

Albert Einstein

What is the imagination good for? Absolutely everything.

Keep them guessing

They say write to be understood. But what’s the point in spelling it all out?

Said author William Faulkner in an interview with the Paris Review:

INTERVIEWER

Some people say they can’t understand your writing, even after they read it two or three times. What approach would you suggest for them?

FAULKNER

Read it four times.

Write to be misunderstood?

It doesn’t hurt to make an arcane reference here and there to keep the reader guessing. Obscurity is luminosity.

Said author Jonathan Franzen in lunch with the Financial Times:

“I think you have to have a few things that you have to kind of chew on to get.”

When you first listen to a new Radiohead song, something about it sounds off. But after a few listens, the sounds in between appear and ameliorate Thom Yorke’s mystical voice. Nothing makes sense, but the emotional tug works, the same way laughter doesn’t need thought.

It shouldn’t be the author or musician’s goal to demystify everything. The maker is often still figuring it out himself, recasting their own interpretation.

Art constitutes thought’s core

We don’t make art because we need to. We do it because we have to. It’s not just an addiction; it is therapy.

Without our work or side projects, we are an empty shell. Each project gives us meaning.

“Art is a line around your thoughts.”

Gustav Klimt, Austrian painter

Yet, the tendency to overthink our work’s value often misconstrues the act of performing it. Sometimes making stuff doesn’t need thought nor interpretation. Like laughter, it just is.

The power to take a picture, draw, run a science experiment, or just write clears the fog of perfection or the need to appease others. The end product is not always for Instagram but for us. Art constitutes our thought’s core.

The homogeneity of stuff begs our mind to make what’s unique to the person. Limits are self-inflicted. Artists are inspired individuals, especially when they are working.

Writing helps you seek clarity

giphy (32).gif
via giphy
  • Change the font
  • Write freehand or on a different device
  • Use prompts to help you get started
  • Sit and think about what you want to say. No computer. No pen and paper.

Because writing requires daily practice, doing it can get boring and predictable. It helps to have a system of hacks to drive the writing habit along the way.

Whether you’re writing a book, a blog post, or in a journal, writing is the most efficient way to purge your thoughts from the darkest and dormant corners of the brain. Writing is like talking to your therapist, a bicep curl that strengthens familiarity with your mind.

“I find that by putting things in writing I can understand them and see them a little more objectively. For words are merely tools and if you use the right ones you can actually put even your life in order.”

Hunter S. Thompson

You don’t have to be a published or aspiring author to write, nor do you have to be a student. Writing is a system for coping with the vicissitudes and celebrations of life.

As David Ogilvy once said, “People who think well, write well.” People who write well think well because it’s hard to clarify thoughts. The writer’s main challenge, therefore, is to find ways to keep on doing it.

A curious rebel

When in doubt, you can always depend on your curiosity. It is the fire starter for all important questions. #giphy #gif #creativity
via giphy

When in doubt, you can always depend on your curiosity. It is the fire starter for all important questions.

But inquisitiveness is not the only fuel you need. Sometimes you need an anarchic kick. The best medicine is straight-up rebellion.

When conviction fights convention and curiosity whets the mind, the amalgam produces an orderly disorder that begs for reinvention.

The paradox of messiness

The paradox of messiness is that it can also describe someone who’s extremely productive.

For instance, your desk may be full of sticky notes, cords, and other office supplies and your computer desktop may be buried in a trail of untitled (and empty) folders. But all this frenzy could be a sign of busyness rather than laziness. 

In fact, clutter inspires creativity and it is an essential part of the making process.

We can choose to live uncomplicated lives by keeping it super-tight. But the messy stuff is so much more interesting.

Mark Bradford

This is not to say that creation provides an excuse to be messy. In fact, the act of cleaning up and editing can happen during work.

Figure out which ideas from the past are important and pursue those. Throw out the rest.

Greg McKeown

First, the artist creates disorder to spark further inventiveness — everything goes in the queue — then he or she simplifies their sources saving the most essential materials.

The tendency to hoard everything and do nothing with it is what really clutters the mind.

Like a DJ, one should feel free to remix their craft and sprinkle in new ingredients along the way.

The great German artist Albrecht Dürer

Envious of the Italian artists like Leonardo da Vinci and Raphael, the German artist Albrecht Dürer ventured to Italy in 1496 to prove his worth as a painter. He had already gained a reputation for his woodcut prints.

http_%2F%2Fcom.ft.imagepublish.upp-prod-us.s3.amazonaws.jpeg
The Sea Monster (1498) © Getty

After years of hanging out in Venice and gathering the technique of oil paintings, he created one of his most notable pieces, Feast of the Rosary, In 1506.

“I also silenced all the artists who said I was good at engraving but, as a painter, I did not know how to deal with colors. Now everyone says they have never seen more beautiful colors.”

Albrecht Dürer

At first, we develop good taste and copy. With time, we originate. 

Dürer is still considered “the greatest of all German artists.”

The two essential phases in the creative process

There are two essential phases in the creative process.

The spontaneous phase is where ideas sprout, unintentionally and seemingly out of nowhere. Everything interesting goes in the hopper, including the slightest observation, things seen, imagined, overheard, or misheard.

Whether it’s a notebook or your phone when you’re gathering string, the medium is less important than recording.

“I’m not writing it down to remember it later,
I’m writing it down to remember it now.”

Field Notes

The best notebook is the one you have with you. But seeing the world starts with being open to the repetition of arbitrary stimulus and its messy upshot: discovery.

The revision phase is where ideas get pieced together like a puzzle.

You go through all your notes, images, sketches, etc. for the purposes of synthesizing concepts and tossing away others.

When you start to piece together artifacts, revelations seems to arise out of epiphany. But there is no such thing as immediate discovery — such is the aggregation of everything we learned along the way.

The two-fold creative process never changes so it’ll always be there to fall back on if and when you feel stuck. First, we collect, and then we deduce.

The more you practice the creative process the better you get at connecting ideas and turning them into reality.