Monday, January 17, 2011


For many of us, there's nothing quite like creating something. Poetry, a song, hallway shelves - there's something rewarding about devoting yourself to a creative end and watching the result happen in front of you.

But for many creatives, there's a misconception. (Found among artists of every type.) Lots of us operate under the misguided idea that creativity is intended for the major moments - times of delirious joy or profound sadness. While those are certainly fertile times for any creative mind, I think there's a better way to approach creativity.

Be a "clock-in creative."

The phrase may be original, but idea isn't. It's been shared in numerous works and most impressively in Steven Pressfield's WAR OF ART. It's a simple idea that we need to be reminded of. We've got to be clock-in creatives. Here's how:

Think of anybody you know who's great at his or her job. Now, imagine how many days each year they surpass expectations and think creatively and blow everybody's mind and change the entire workforce. Probably not that many, right? But they show up. Day in and day out, they show up and they put in the time and when they're needed, they're ready.

Being creative is the same way. You gotta' show up. You've got to be okay with the possibility that at the end of the day, you'll have nothing to show for it. You've got to have a global view of what you're doing - knowing that each day that you show up and be honest and work-hard and create, you get better at it.

For me, it's songwriting. That's my thing; it's the creative thing I love most in my life. And I'm always surprised when somebody tells me they'd love to write songs only to find that they never even try (other than one or two early attempts.) If you're waiting around to have some strong emotional surge that will propel you into creating something, you're not going to do much creating.

Why? Because life isn't like that. Most of our days are normal - a mix of good and bad and mundane and special. Not creating because you don't "feel it" is like a guy who decides to only write poems when there's an earthquake somewhere in the world. That guy's not gonna' write many poems.

Show up.

After you "show up" to create something, remember this: the first thirty minutes are worthless.

I know what you're gonna' say...

"But I saw on VH1 that Duran Duran wrote their biggest hit in five minutes on their first try."

Two things: you aren't Duran Duran (and) they weren't that great anyway.

I'm not saying that greatness can't surprise you, but I am saying that the first half-hour of any creative endeavor is more about you honing in on what you're doing that actually being immediately awesome. When you show up, make sure you've got some time to dedicate.

A lot of us don't have unlimited hours to devote to creativity. You may not have more than thirty minutes and that's fine - just know that the good stuff usually rises slowly. Over time.

You're not creating for the sake of other people, but having some folks who love you and who are honest will be a great benefit to your work. Maybe you email that song to a friend or post your photographs to a flickr that your friends can see. Find a way to share it.

You may opt to share it with everyone via some public or online forum. That's cool, but it's not necessary. Have at least one person who will "get" what you're doing and who will be a reliable source of encouragement and analysis.

With all of this discipline and dedication, you have to leave room for the unknown. Even though you don't live in extreme emotional back-and-forth, there are moments of true inspiration. I believe these moments to be inspired by God and they are true gifts for creatives.

Seize these moments. They happen far too infrequently for most creatives and when the time is right, there's nothing more enjoyable than taking a risk and going for it.


Caroline Cobb Smith said...

Todd! So true. May I link to this on my blog?! Love the term.

Todd Wright said...

Link away!