Archive for the 'Creativity & innovation' Category

Commonplace: Lady Gaga.

Sunday, August 5th, 2012

“When you make music or write or create, it’s really your job to have mind-blowing, irresponsible, condomless sex with whatever idea it is you’re writing about at the time.”

–Lady Gaga, quoted in the August 2012 Esquire

~ ~ ~

She’s right. After you’ve gone on that remorseless bender, then you can let your critical-thinking faculties take over and refine the work, polish it, give it more structure (or less). But at first: go crazy. You can’t get an STD from an idea.

Commonplace: Vidal

Saturday, August 4th, 2012

“…those who take solemnly the words of other men as absolute are, in the deepest sense, maiming their own sensibility and controverting the evidence of their own senses in a fashion which may be comforting to a terrified man but is disastrous for an artist.”

Gore Vidal, on Norman Mailer

I was going to write a pretentious thing . . .

Wednesday, August 1st, 2012

. . . about how you’re writing the book of your life. How this day is another paragraph, this month is another chapter, blah blah blah.

But you know this, right? It beats in on your consciousness, anytime you’re not burying your head in the sand?

This is it. This is your life.

You know this. You know that whatever you’re going to create needs to happen, happen, happen, happen — and it needs to be now.

Enough with the whatever-else-ing. Make your art. Make your contribution.

Life is short.

Don’t just visit: make yourself bicultural.

Saturday, July 28th, 2012

One of the problems I see for creative people working in the business world is that they feel that they’re “just visiting.” I think this tends to work one of two ways:

1. They think of themselves primarily as creators: “I’m really a painter.” “My real love is music, but it doesn’t pay the bills.” “I’m a writer first.” So they see the corporate work / day job as a big distraction that’s holding them back from being what they “really” are.

2. They identify themselves primarily with their moneymaking profession, such that the creative outlet is never more than a sideline. “Oh, I write poems on the side.” “I have a pottery shed in my backyard, but it’s just a hobby.” So they’re “really” librarians or marketers or programmers or whatever, and the creative part is just a sideline.

Live in Both Cultures

What I’m trying to do for myself — and what I’m recommending to you — is to adopt the approach that you’re BOTH of these things. Just because most people don’t combine the two doesn’t mean that my being a marketer must detract from my fiction writing. And vice versa.

In other words, I don’t have to treat myself like a creative refugee who REALLY belongs in Novelist-land but who finds himself for an extended period in Corporate-land, stumbling over the dialect and never really feeling at home. Similarly, I can immerse myself in deep reading, conversations about art, and especially my own artistic process, without feeling like that has to alienate me from those of my fellow corporate citizens who are more interested in other things.

In other words, I can be fluent in both languages and at home in both cultures, no matter how small the overlap is between the readership of Forbes and that of The Rumpus. And maybe I can help other biculturals navigate their own way, while better translating the artistic process for the more strictly corporate types and business processes for the more strictly artistic types.

See also:

  • William Carlos Williams
  • Wallace Stevens
  • Anthony Trollope

Does this make sense? What do you think?

Broken chains.

Friday, July 27th, 2012

Yesterday I made a mistake and didn’t work on the novel I’m drafting. That went against Jerry Seinfeld’s wise advice to artists: “Don’t break the chain.”

I’ll get over it, but I don’t want to be too quick to say “Ah, it’s okay — I’m really busy” and move on. In my experience, it’s the breaking of chains of work that leads to so many problems for creators who have to balance the process of creation with a job, family, and other responsibilities.

Artists of all sorts need continuity in their creative work so that it can flow. They need many links in the chain to produce meaningful art. That challenge is magnified when much of the day is claimed by the job that pays the bills or family duties.

There are other chains that deserve continuity. Some examples:

  • Taking care of your health.
  • Connecting with your loved ones.
  • Good housekeeping to keep your life in order.
  • Enough rest.
  • Quiet time for yourself.

But we can only keep so many chains going, because doing that requires focus and concentration — traits that can be strengthened, but that always hit a limit at some point.

My advice to myself, and to you: Choose just a few chains that you will forge daily, and then forge them diligently. Don’t let the sun go down without having added a link. Do that work first, whenever possible, or carve out some sacred time of the day when only that work has your attention. Let other things fall by the wayside, when need be . . . but don’t break those chains.

Today I start a new chain of work on my novel. What chain are you making?

Image source.

Endless material.

Thursday, July 26th, 2012

The world is full of material. Endlessly. Every hour of the day.

If you’re a writer or a painter or a poet (or an entrepreneur or a scholar), never complain that there’s a lack of things to work on.

There is always something. Many somethings. Many problems that could deserve your attention.

The real challenge is to choose among them.


Why I’m blogging again.

Thursday, July 26th, 2012

When I started blogging, years ago, the purpose was to use the blog as the sort of “outboard brain” that Cory Doctorow talks about: you blog primarily to capture interesting ideas, sites, art, quotations, etc. so that you don’t have to remember them. That these thoughts are then shared with others is a bonus.

Over time, my goals changed, and I’ve used this blog as a place to share advice on things like job hunting, comment/rant on the state of the world, share life events, and publish short stories. I’m constantly amazed when I go back through the archives and find things that I completely forgot I had written.

I’ll probably still write posts like the ones I’ve just described, but now I’m focused on using the blog to think through my own work as a creative writer living day to day in the corporate world. To be clear, my day job is a lot more than writing, and I’ve had the good fortune to become a real businessperson over the past several years — instead of being a writer/editor in a business setting. That work is serious to me, and not just because I need to do it to support my family. It’s taken on a life of its own.

Meanwhile, though, my true career mission is to write and publish good books. Many factors have slowed down that process over the years — or, to be really honest, I have allowed many factors to slow me down. So rather than sit back and give abstract advice at arm’s length, I want to make this more of a journal of my own parallel working life: I’m a corporate marketer AND a fiction writer, and both of those things are likely to continue for many years to come. This blog is about figuring out how to do that with more success in both of the parallel tracks, and more balance and peace of mind as a whole.

Anyway, that’s what I have in mind here, and it’s why I’ve already talked this week about committing to your own creativity and about the creative inspirations tacked up over my desk.

Getting from here to where I intend to be — a successful writer of books, with or without the corporate work — will take years. That’s fine by me, but I want to use this venue as a way of recording and sharing my progress, in hopes that it will be (a) interesting, and (b) useful to others who are on a similar path.

Happy to have you along for the ride.

Before you’re ready.

Wednesday, July 25th, 2012

Before you’re ready . . .

. . . you’re afraid to act.

. . . you feel unprepared.

. . . you worry about what others will say.

. . . you spend lots of time planning and thinking.

. . . you wish you could already have finished it.

. . . you bargain with yourself about when you’ll really get started.

. . . you daydream about it.

. . . you second- and third-guess yourself. You fourth-guess.

. . . you lie awake wondering.

. . . you imagine your name in lights.

. . . you imagine yourself as a worn-out failure after years of trying.

. . . you avoid the act of creation because the act of creation is so scary.

. . . you’re nervous.

Before you’re ready is the time to snap out of it and start doing the work.

Unsuccessful creators think you get ready to do the work and then start working. But that’s false. The process actually runs like this: you start working . . . and that’s what makes you ready to do your real work.

Simple question: Are you going to do the work today? Or waste more time waiting to be ready?


Do you have time to think?

Tuesday, July 24th, 2012

One of the advantages of my “rebooting” vacation was that I had plenty of time to think. I had no Internet to distract me and no duties to discharge, beyond showing up on time for meals. That left me with many hours of the day in which I could read a book, write a book, draw a picture, go for a hike, or just sit and look at the trees. That kind of unstructured time is a great tonic that we don’t often get in our normal lives.

We don’t normally get it, I’m convinced, because we don’t insist on it. It’s easier to submerge our creativity under the constant flow of e-mails, meetings, tweets, chats, and to-do’s. I’m as guilty as anyone of diffusing my thoughts and talents this way, replacing sentences of prose that could help make a book with sentences of chitchat with my friends.

I love my friends, and my life would be so much poorer without them. I’m also a strong extrovert, so I actually get energy from talking with other people, and I come to understand certain ideas only by talking them out. But all of that has benefit only up to a point.

Commitment to Your Own Creativity

As creators, what are we really after? Whatever else enters the picture — happy relationships, financial stability, good health, and so on — one key answer has to be the sustained practice of real creation. And we have a corresponding duty to ourselves to carve out the thinking time that we need to fuel that creation.

It’s no different for us than it is for business leaders or heads of state: without dedicated time to thinking about what’s most important and most durable, we will inevitably end up in a reactive mode that saps our creativity as we move from one crisis to another. (Watch this video for Tony Blair’s take on that.)

You don’t need complete peace of mind to create art or master a craft or build a business. Some of the best creators have excelled during periods of personal chaos. But even in the midst of chaos you must find the time — make the time — to sink down into your creative work, swim in it, learn it from the inside.

Later I’ll talk about what I’m doing to achieve this steadily. It’s really about cultivating a set of habits that transport the spirit of my vacation back into the hurly-burly of my everyday working life. For now, though, tell me: what are you doing to carve out that time for yourself?

Inspiration above my desk.

Monday, July 23rd, 2012

In response to yesterday’s post on rebooting, my friend Chris asked me what I keep tacked above my desk. Besides pictures of and art by my kids, I have these three things:

1. A photo-portrait representation of willpower. Helen Keller, Eddy Merckx, Mohandas Gandhi, Anthony Trollope, Louis Pasteur, and Linus Pauling were all famous for their willpower.

2. A terse reminder from Goethe — who knew something about the process of creation.

3. Wisdom from Seneca to remind me to keep the destination in mind.

What do you keep in your workspace for inspiration?