The Creative Process

“The chief enemy of creativity is “good” sense.” 

— Pablo Picasso

“Creativity doesn’t wait for that perfect moment. It fashions its own perfect moments out of ordinary ones.” 

— Bruce Garrabrandt

My whole life I’ve yearned for creative endeavors of some sort. It started with art – constantly sketching, doodling and drawing throughout elementary school, then I moved onto music and the guitar as a young adult. Through college my outlet was Twitter, writing a satire column for the school newspaper and starting my first blog Rhymes with Ranga. All of that has now morphed into this blog and a book recommendation engine that I don’t seem to have total control over. Nearly every time I fall into a creative field, I dive in head first for a number of years – becoming as proficient as possible until I’m either internally satisfied with the results, bored, or flamed out.

This though… (what you’re reading right now) is something I love doing and I don’t see myself stopping anytime soon. It combines many of my favorite facets of creativity – the ability to think through my thoughts, shed light on favorite books and quotes, recommend things I like or find interesting, experiment with new products and experiences, and edit through the bad to get to the good.

I’ve been able to harness the creative process much better recently. One of my favorite books on creativity is The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. It’s a quick read that will motivate you to sit down and do the things you love. If it’s writing, I recommend On Writing by Stephen King. Below I’ve outlined some good ones to check out and get you started and/or motivated. I have a few more on my Amazon wishlist that I know are great, so I’d love for you to check them out for me:

Books on Creativity

I recently read The 5 A.M. Club by Robin Sharma, and while I don’t think it’s entirely necessary to wake up at 5 A.M. every day, I certainly understand the value in rising early. My morning routine is sacred from me, as is my night routine before bed. I’ve already outlined most of what I do in the morning in a previous post – but it’s the creative process that I’ve really been honing in on. What is it that gets good ideas out there? Nothing really. There is no factory or secret way to tune in to the best ideas. It comes from the daily discipline. Like digging a well. Each day you wake up and you have to keep digging if you want to get to the bottom of it. Boring slog each and every day eventually becomes mastery. Keep writing down your ideas for songs, products, articles, business ideas, et cetera. Keep spewing out garbage after garbage. There’s a great clip of Ed Sheeran talking about this. Malcolm Gladwell explains it in depth as the “10,000 hour rule.”

It’s so incredibly easy to let yourself fall into the trap of “I’m not generating ideas.” I need to do something drastic. No you don’t. Just sit down and write. Go for a walk and think. That’s it. It’s the same thing as getting into shape, right? One SoulCycle class isn’t going to give you abs. But if you put in the work every day, eat right, sweat, and stay disciplined for a period of weeks to months, you’ll see those abs no doubt. It’s not a secret. We just don’t want to believe that’s they way to get it done. Most of the daily efforts that result in success are tedious and boring. As Lionel Messi says, “It took me 17 years and 144 days to become an overnight success.”

Every now and then, something will give you a massive spark of inspiration. It can be reading a good book, watching a good movie, or seeing an inpirational YouTube video. You get amped and motivated for three or four days before you burn out. And then you have to motivate yourself again. It’s going to be exhausting if that’s how you go about it. It needs to be a disciplined practice. Boring, monotonous, and repetitive. Jerry Seinfeld writes joke ideas on a yellow legal pad every single day for two hours. Each day he marks a big X on the calendar to continue his daily streak. I’m learning, and I really mean learning, how and what goes into being creative and thinking up ideas.

Financial success works the same way. You’re not going to become a millionaire from Robinhood day trading or selling your Bitcoin when the price spikes next month. Lifetime wealth comes from the boring compounding growth year after year. If you check your portfolio every day, you would think the world is burning. But if you go five years without checking it, all the sudden it’s grown by a large percentage. Twenty, thirty or maybe forty more years of that and you may become a millionaire “overnight”.

When I sit down to write, all I do is let my stream of consciousness flow out of me. I started writing this post a month ago and then I didn’t look at it for four weeks. When I went back to read it I realized 70% of it was garbage. But some of that garbage could be picked apart and be built on for another paragraph. Sit down and put in the work. It’s not all going to be great. In fact, almost all of it is going to be absolute shit. That’s fine, get it out of you. It’s not the words that really matter but the act of getting it out,  the act of exercising that muscle and activating the brainwaves and thought waves that are required. You can’t run a marathon unless you put in the boring monotonous work of 3 mile days, accumulating until you can go up to 4 miles, then 5, and so on and so forth. You also need to stretch, to eat right, and to ice your joints and take care of your body.

Brian Koppelman cites the Haruki Murakami’s What I Think About When I Think About Running as one of the best books on the creative process he’s ever read, and I agree. It’s not about running, it’s about discipline and sticking to a process. A method that is boring but results in the greatest outcomes.

You think the Beatles just came out with hit song after hit song innately? Hell no, they put in the work in Hamburg, Germany night after night after night for years. It’s the same as star athletes. There’s a reason MJ, Kobe, or Ronaldo are not only called the best, but also the hardest working. They put in more time than anyone else – even AFTER winning MVPs and championships. They’re the first guys at the gym and last to leave. No, that’s not a figure of speech, that is LITERAL.

They have the passion coupled with a love of the craft and an obsession with not only gaining the edge over their competitors but not losing the edges that got them past their competitors in the first place. Fundamentals and discipline allow them to always be better than anyone else. If you’re the best at the fundamentals, how can you be stopped?

“You can’t use up creativity. The more you use the more you have.” 

— Maya Angelou

I’ve been writing down ten ideas every day. I got the idea from author James Altucher in Tools of Titans and it really does work. Something as simple as “10 Things I Can Write About” or “10 Things I Can Post on Instagram.” If I do it first thing in the morning, I literally can feel ideas come to my head throughout the rest of the day. I feel more creative. It’s like a weird mind hack to warm up the brain. Like a dynamic stretch of sorts. By the time I finish that list, I have a million other ideas waiting to penetrate my attention – I just need to pick which lane I want to go down. Ninety percent of the ideas are laughable and I wouldn’t do them in a million years, but the exercise alone is a great primer for the day. Altucher uses a waiter’s pad to write down 10 ideas each day. He also says if you can’t think of 10 ideas, you’re putting too much pressure on yourself – write 20. Let your mind go.

Once at the keyboard, my subconscious takes over. English teachers in high school would call this a “verbal vomit” or “stream of consciousness.” I like to think of it as a brain dump. I squeeze every last drop of thoughts, stories, or ideas out my brain and onto the keyboard before I can make a fully conscious thought. It may last 45 minutes or 45 seconds, but once I stop, I can’t get it back going again. I have to find the flow of that wave and ride it as long as I can. Sometimes it produces 2,000 words, other times I can barely muster two measely sentences.

Long walks are also key. I usually love listening to podcasts or audiobooks on my walks, but lately I realized that I’m unable to sink into deep thought if I’m distracted by what’s coming through my earbuds. I spend so much of my free time listening to podcasts that I never allow my mind to just wander. I wrote about it in a previous post but I now try to go on long walks without my phone. Since the quarantine started, I’ve been going on more frequent walks without my phone. Not only are my thoughts more clear and fun to explore, but I can discover new areas of my neighborhood or different features of a building I had never taken time to notice before. My mind is able to go down different avenues at lightning speed and produce creative ideas every few seconds. Every well-known author or poet we know credits much of their creative ideas to long walks

“An early-morning walk is a blessing for the whole day.”

-Henry David Thoreau

“All truly great thoughts are conceived while walking.”
― Friedrich Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols

“If you seek creative ideas go walking.
Angels whisper to a man when he goes for
a walk.”
― Raymond I. OD Myers

Repetion is the key. It isn’t going on an adventure, it isn’t listening to an album. It’s sticking your bum in the chair day in and day out and working with the shit that comes out of you. If you do it long enough and consistently enough, miracles will happen.

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