Daily Practices of Highly Creative People
Adopt three simple daily practices to achieve maximum creative success in your work.
In Steven Pressfield's book "The War of Art", he writes about the renowned English author Somerset Maugham:
Someone once asked Somerset Maugham if he wrote on a schedule or only when struck by inspiration. "I write only when inspiration strikes," he replied. "Fortunately it strikes every morning at nine o'clock sharp."
It's an age-old myth that creative people wait around for lighting to strike, for the Muse to show up, for the eureka moment. On the contrary, a creative person at work looks no different from a blacksmith toiling away in the shed. They just put in the work, day in and day out. At the same time, I have observed that the daily routines of successful creative people have some common themes. I have distilled them down to three daily practices that each one of us can follow to achieve creative success in our work - whether it's in the arts, finance, or business. The three daily practices are Read, Reflect, and Write.
1 - Read
If creativity emerges from the mind, then the mind is nothing but a repository of emotions, experiences, and information obtained from the world we inhabit. We need to ensure we are filling this repository with superior stuff. Otherwise, it is garbage in, garbage out. The best way to fill our repository is by reading, daily. The best minds in the world are also voracious readers, be it Bill Gates, Oprah, or J. K. Rowling.
Reading is like pouring beach sand into a strainer - most of the sand just passes through, but it leaves behind washed-up trinkets, odd-shaped stones, and sea shells that we might carry with us, so we can appreciate them later when we get home.
Keep in mind that you could substitute the act of reading, with something analogous that suits your line of work. It could be watching movies, reviewing code, or dialing into earnings calls. It just needs to be the good stuff, the stuff produced by the masters.
"I did not go to film school, I went to films." - Quentin Tarantino
2 - Reflect
To reflect is to stay with a thought, to let it germinate and mingle with other thoughts pulled out from our memory bank. As you spend more time with these thought ingredients, they begin to form patterns, giving rise to ever more refined thoughts. Eventually, if you are lucky, you might stumble into an insight, a deeper understanding of a topic, or a new way to look at something you already knew. This churning of thoughts into insights is the most mysterious link in the chain. You cannot force it to happen, but it will happen if you show up every day.
So how does one practice reflection? For me, reflection is an ongoing process throughout the day. It could be while I am driving, in the shower, or writing (practice #3 below). The key is to be intentional about it. The good thing is that if you are disciplined about reading (practice #1), your short-term memory will always be activated with the good stuff, and constructive thoughts will regularly bubble up to the surface for you to reflect upon. They might even surface while you are asleep!, author of Gamestorming shared with me his practice of keeping a journal. One of the things he does every night before hitting the bed is to write down a question in his journal. The next morning, he writes a response to that question. The churning continues while he is asleep.
3 - Write
The final and most important practice is to write every day. The act of writing encourages active processing and comprehension of information. It goes hand in hand with reflection (practice #2). When you write something down, you often need to rephrase and summarize it in your own words, which deepens your understanding of the material. This is the step when you turn the washed-up trinkets into something more familiar like a bracelet or a necklace.
The most accomplished thinkers known to mankind invariably kept a journal. In fact, there is a lovely newsletter bycalled "Noted" where she shares snippets (with archival images) of notebooks by famous thinkers; her recent posts include notes by John Lennon, Emily Dickinson, and Jim Henson.
There are several different formats for daily writing, and you should pick the one that is most enjoyable and natural for you. If you don't enjoy it, you will not do it. To name but a few:
Journal: personal records of daily experiences, thoughts, and emotions
Commonplace book: collections of quotes, passages, and notes from various sources, serving as a repository of ideas about a specific topic of interest.
Reviews: critical assessments of various works such as books, movies, food recipes, products, or services.
Letters: yes, the old-fashioned practice of writing letters to your friends and family.
Here's a tip - the best way to ensure you write every day, is to publish regularly. What you publish is entirely up to you - it could be newsletters, well-thought-out social media posts, or letters to a loved one. Seth Goding goes one step further:
If it doesn’t ship, it doesn’t count. If it’s not creatively productive, it’s not helpful. And if we’re lucky, this is the heart of our work. The work of creation in our chosen medium, putting ourselves on the hook, being asked to do something that’s never been done quite this way before. - Seth Godin on Seth's Blog.
At my video production company Story Font Studio, we recently launched an ambitious project called "Languages of New York". This is a multi-year, multi-media project to catalog every one of the hundreds of languages spoken by the people of New York. In a way, it is the rich individual stories of New Yorkers as seen through the lens of their relationship with their native languages.
Check out our Instagram and Youtube channels for episodes featuring Spanish, Urdu, Finnish, and more (be sure to subscribe for upcoming episodes):
AROUND THE WEB
Watch The Benefits of Keeping A Journal With Rajiv Surendra, a sweet and simple video to inspire us all to write daily.
I hope you enjoyed today's post. If you find any of these suggestions difficult to implement, please email or comment. Chances are the others including me have similar struggles, and we could help each other get unstuck.