I fiddled with my hands while I waited for the student paper to be dropped off.
Although it wasn’t my first, the article appearing in the sports section that day was unlike anything I’d every written before — emotional, subjective, passionate. My editor and I took a chance on departing from the flat, news-based approach, and I lay my thoughts naked before our readership.
Long story short? They loved it.
I got high fives from people I didn’t know, dozens of shares on Facebook, and congratulations from my team members.
But who cares about that? Here’s what happened next:
After the buzz died down, I wrote ABSOLUTELY NOTHING for three months. I sat there, day after day, thinking;
“I’ll write some after this episode of the Simpsons.”
“Ooh, now I have to do some homework.”
“Now my girlfriend’s off work. I can’t look like a jerk…”
Different versions of this happened for 90 days. Each time I looked at my laptop, I knew it wasn’t worth trying. I couldn’t match what I’d already done.
Since then, I have become a slave to creative habits. I can’t go back to that abyss. Here are the habits which have helped me create more, better, and often.
1. SEEK CREATION, NOT AFFIRMATION
This tactic is a little controversial:
After I post something — a blog post, a Quora answer, a Facebook status, I immediately step completely away from it. No replies to comments, no checking the numbers, no anything related to the post for 24 hours.
Instead, I start working on my next idea.
Every time I think I’ve moved past notification addiction, it jumps right back to grab me. My only option is to close my eyes, plug my ears, and wait until I can take compliments and criticism with objectivity.
The reason for this is simple — I am a weak, silly human being who loves hanging his ego on a number. I have to love the work, and only the work, to keep creating stuff that matters.
Creation beats affirmation.
2. READ ALL THE TIME
This advice gets paraded around plenty, so I’ll only offer a personal story.
Like many people, I would get my “reading” done through audio books and podcasts most days. But when Anchor came out, I completely abandoned my reading practice. I would spend my commute, my bathroom time, my extra hours at home trying to put my stamp on the world. I would talk, talk, talk.
One day I realized it sounded like I was saying the same thing over and over.
Because I was.
Reading keeps you sharp. It helps new ideas come and go.
Perhaps, most importantly, it keeps you from becoming obsessed with yourself.
3. TAKE CARE OF YOUR HEALTH
Your mood, attitude, dexterity, thought processes, and relationships are all affected by the pink sack of flesh which is somehow holding all your bones and organs in place.
Without it, creativity is outstripped by another human instinct — survival.
I spent most of 2014 wrestling with a concrete block who had set up shop in my intestines (well, it felt like it anyway).
Take a look back — you didn’t see any blogs, books, videos, or posts in 2014.
No health, no creativity.
4. CREATE EVERY DAY
Think of a good friend you have from high school or college.
I’m willing to bet that those closest to you, the ones you could go get a beer with right now and pick up where you left off, have spend multiple days in a row with you.
Humans forget things almost immediately. Most of what you learn is gone in 24 hours unless you refresh the memory.
Create every day. It works with friendship. It works with art.
(I use Microjournaling to keep a routine of creating daily.)
6. BREAK THE RULES
5. FIND A NEMESIS
My boss and I have an agreement. Whenever I create a new eCourse for our employees, I’m going to be as raucous as possible: inappropriate jokes, edgy design choices, new menu navigation, hidden Easter eggs, the works.
She will then dissect everything I’ve done, explaining what works and what doesn’t. I usually get 3 or 4 pages of feedback.
After I’m done pouting, I execute on what she’s given me, and we release the product.
This serves 2 purposes:
- It keeps me from doing whatever I want to do at all times. Not all my ideas are good ones. Given the chance, I’ll be lazy and go with the first thing I think of.
- It enables the course to be much more interesting than if I start in the middle. If you start boring, you end boring.
(Bonus) DO MORE THAN YOU HAVE TO
Creative people are all aware, on some level, of the power inside us.
You know the power. You have felt it.
Your fingers start to fly across the keyboard, your brush starts picking up speed, or your eyes start taking in elements at lightning speed.
In this moment, it no longer matters whether the car is paid off, the kids are going to college, dinner isn’t planned. No, it is you and your instrument of creativity. You are no longer a human being. You are a conduit. The Muse moves ever closer — can you hear her? — begging you to see her vision through.
Your mind goes electric. The lights dim. The world is silent.
You stand alone with your art.
So dance. Sprint. Love. Leave everything you have on the canvas. Life will return soon. Even now she is knocking — can you hear her?
Let the hours pass. She can wait.
You have work to do.
Todd Brison is the author of The Creative’s Curse. If you’re looking for a dose of motivation, encouragement, and instruction on building a creative career, it’s a good place to start.