Over the past several months, Soramimi and I have been sending each other reading recommendations and resources to enhance creativity, and that's where the idea for this blog post - and two more that will be coming in the next few months - came from. Soramimi is intensely interested in the how, why, and what of creativity. This first post addresses the how, the coming posts the why and the what.
Where Creativity Meets Productivity
by Soramimi Hanarejima
You have now begun to walk in the open space of the page. The journey becomes an elaborate series of gambles, and there is no forward progression as such; there is shaping and reconfiguring, stepping backing, inking in and beginning over.—David Morley
Creative writing can be messy. There can be countless ideas, aspirations, doubts and dizzying decisions to be made regarding plot development, tone, the psychology of characters and much more. Research beckons, the urge to outline flares up or gets suppressed, scenes spring to mind, scuffles between spontaneity and structure erupt. There are so many facets of craft to grapple with.
Then again, writing is on some level about getting work done, about creating a product. So while I love discussions about craft and activities that hone our literary sensibilities, the resources that have been most valuable to me recently are books, podcasts and talks that deal with the pragmatics of being productive as a creative individual, of carving out time and space and practices to fill that time and space in the service of accomplishing meaningful work. Here are my favorites, the ones that keep me coming back for their effective frameworks and processes.
Tendencies, Preferences and Circumstances
Anything that tempts us to break the extended concentration required to perform well on challenging tasks is a potential barrier to success.—Daniel Levitin
It is invaluable to have a firm grasp of our behavioral patterns, especially in terms of what works for and what works against making progress towards our goals. This means making an honest effort to answer questions like, “When and where do you get your best work done?” and “What and who keeps you accountable to reaching your aspirations?” To confront what’s working and what isn’t in concrete detail, David Morley (of Writing Challenges podcast fame) offers a writing game in The Cambridge Introduction to Creative Writing that requires you to list out the allies and enemies of your writing, an inventory of helpers and hindrances of your ability to create. The resulting list then provides some very specific activities, places and even people to then embrace or avoid. Nicely complementing this with a higher-altitude perspective is Better Than Before which allows you to determine which of behavioral archetypes best characterize you, allowing you to work with a greater awareness of how you typically operate.
Routines and Rhythms
What I do every day matters more than what I do once in a while.—Gretchen Rubin
Aligning your tendencies with consistent, effective structure can dramatically ratchet up how much of one’s creative potential is realized. Pomodoro-Technique sprints to conduct research, free-writing to limber up your narrative musculature, coffee shop revision sessions, if it works for you, make sure it’s on your calendar on a semi-regular if not recurring basis. The range of activities you schedule in should encompass not only the productive activities, but also those that renew you. With regular practices and reliable structure in place, we afford ourselves promising opportunities to accomplish meaningful work.
The Accidental Creative book and podcast discuss fantastic ways to easily build structure to support the development of creative work; I especially like the Big 3 and Dailies. Also, the HBR Guide to Getting the Right Work Done, 99u’s Manage Your Day-to-Day and Austin Kleon’s Steal Like an Artist (of course) all contain great plug-and-play practices that can be integrated right into your workflow.
By changing your habits, you reprogram the behaviors that control most of your life and ultimately determine your success.—Scott H. Young
We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act but a habit.—Aristotle
And finally habits. David Morley’s writing game can uncover productive (and problematic) ones, and The Accidental Creative offers simple, effective practices that can become habits with frequent implementation. By embracing existing helpful habits and creating new ones, we harness the nature of automatic behaviors to put our limited energy to very efficient use. Automaticity cuts down on ambivalence and ambiguity and makes it no longer a question of whether then how to do say, the revising, merely a question of when—maybe not even that; just know that it will happen every Wednesday at the Pachamama Coffee Cooperative at 11am, with a small Sidamo pour over, using a Lamy Rollerball, listening to Emancipator’s Soon It Will Be Cold Enough on Sony XBA1-IP earbuds.
To overhaul, tweak or create habits, try the fantastic strategies in Switch, Better Than Before and The Power of Habit. Each provides excellent insight into human behavior combined with an actionable framework.
When pursuing creative work, we are often told to embrace the mess, and yes, it is messy, especially at the outset, but it doesn’t have to be utterly messy all the time. Fruitfully engaging the mess should sometimes mean making it less messy. If nothing else, we can give the mess and its “elaborate series of gambles” time and structure in which to unfold.
|Photo credit: Soramimi Hanarejima|