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Articles tagged “work”

The inevitable impact of doing a lot of creative work


“You aren’t going to change the world with your ideas.”

But why not at least try? What have we got to lose?

Often I encounter people who have ideas but never do more than sit and think about them. They tell me, “I have this great idea,” but when I ask how it’s going a month later, I’m told the idea fizzled out. “What’s the point?” is a typical reason. Others include not knowing where to start, the fear of failure, or uncertainty in general.

Whatever the creative goal – be it writing a book, starting a business, opening a shop, becoming a prolific painter, you name it – your job is to do the work. No matter what. Even if you don’t know where to start. Even if you’re afraid the end result will be failure.

Really the worst case scenario is you do fail. Your book doesn’t get published. Your business closes its doors. Your paintings don’t hang in a gallery.

But even failure is a victory for creativity, in a lot of ways.

Failing helps us learn (even when we’re not consciously aware of it). More importantly, I think failure allows us to create a lot of varied work, work that may not fulfill our goals or help us reach our vision, but work that can ultimately inspire or motivate others. It’s through any work we do that we do, in-fact, change the world; arguably for the better.

It’s impossible to know what will be a success, but you can improve the odds of encountering it by producing a lot of work.

For years I’ve been writing here on Creative Something. For many, many years people ignored what I wrote. Countless posts have gone onto the graveyard that is the Internet archive, never to be read again. But after writing for so long I’m beginning to learn that people are reading these posts.

Sometimes it’s a few thousand people, other times it’s only a handful.

What I’ve learned is that the handful are motivated enough from what I write to go on and do something with what they’ve read. They act on it, they teach it to others, and while I may not so the fruit of their labors, I know I’ve made an impact in at least one or two or a dozen people’s lives. And that impact inevitably grows. My intents may have failed, but the impact of my efforts have led to a very large and worthwhile reward.

Even failure in producing creative work can be promising.

No, you don’t have to set out to improve the world or change lives, but by merely doing creative work (a lot of it) you undoubtedly will. If your work doesn’t make you a lot of money, give you a reputation, or propel you into the place you want to be, it can, at the very least, inspire or motivate others. But you have to do the work to get even there.

Don’t wait, start today, right now.


Yes! Your creativity is what the world needs

Creating isn’t easy, try not to forget

What about after you’re a success?

“As creative thinkers, we want to make progress, and we want to move big ideas forward. So, it’s no surprise that the best motivator is being empowered to take action.”

Jocelyn Glei on What motivates us to do great work

Posted at 11:24 am

Daydreaming vs. making something worthwhile


How does anyone become a prolific writer?

How do artists get their work to hang in the MoMA?

If you have an idea for a creative business, how do you make that a reality so you can quit your dull day-job and spend your life doing what you love (or, at least, think you love)?

The answer in each case is easy to say but difficult to follow-through: just start. Hear me out.

I often hear from budding creative individuals that they want to do more or start something but can’t get over wondering about how to go about it.

They feel stuck, like they’ve hit a dead-end before they’ve even begun. The feeling is understandable, I feel it any time I start a new project myself (believe it or not). When I self-published my first book – Think Unstuck – I had nobody to hold my hand through the process, I had to figure out how to do it all on my own. When I launched Creative Something nobody told me what to write, or how often to write, or how to get nearly 100,000 people interested in what I have to say. But here I am, nearly seven years later. Believe it or not: I’m still figuring it out.

And that’s the thing: nobody who has ever become a successful writer, or who has work hung in the Museum of Modern Art in New York, or who has started their own business, has any idea what they’re doing.

They don’t. I don’t. We absolutely don’t.

This is an immensely personal topic for me, one that I get very frustrated with when I hear someone in my life say “I want to start this thing” and then they do nothing about it.

Daydreaming is fun, but I don’t want daydreamers in my life. I want people who do something with their ideas. After all, ideas are worthless.

So how does anyone do it? How do people write books, create masterpieces, start businesses, and create a name for themselves? We just do it. And what a load of crap that sounds like. But it’s true!

To become a successful artist, to produce a hit play on broadway, to start your own business, to create a world-famous blog, all involves doing it however you can. The key difference between people who do those things and those who dream of doing those things is that the people who do them simply do it. They put one foot in front of the other, guess what step comes next, and pray it’s a good one.

If you want to write a book, for example, the first place you should start is by writing some words down. It seems obvious, but the tendency is to first worry about how to contact a publisher, or what the cover art will look like, or what to title the book, or what format the book needs to be in. But all of those things don’t matter if you don’t have any words to fill the pages.

What then? Let’s say you want to be a writer and you’ve written a few thousand words, now what? It’s scary to think about, right?

Fortunately you have options on what to do next, and there’s no right or wrong way to go about it. I’ll say it again:

“There’s no right or wrong way to go about it.”

It’s true! One option is to find someone on Twitter, Google, or LinkedIn who has done what you want to do before and ask them what they did to get where they are.

The Internet gives you access to thousands of people who have already done what you want to do. I’m sure if you emailed 30 of them, one will get back to you with an idea on what you can try next. But don’t just sit there wondering what exactly to ask or who to ask or what they might say in response. Just do what the job requires: ask.

You could alternatively use Google to research what you want to do and find already-published answers out there in the world. There are billions of people around the world, millions of which have likely done something similar (if not exactly) to what you want to do. Hundreds of thousands of them are probably online, and thousands of those people are likely to have written a little something about their experience. Seek them out, you’ll find what you’re looking for if you try.

And that’s the thing: you have to put some work into the process to get momentum. You may not find the exact answer you’re looking for, and that’s ok. The reason people who take the risk to start a business, who quit their day job to pursue the life of an artist, who open the doors to their own shop, the reason they stand apart from everyone else is because they faced the fear of not having the slightest clue about what they’re doing…but doing it anyway.

In the end, the only way to be creatively successful is to start, to keep going, to make mistakes and learn from them, and then keep going.

If you were looking for an easier answer then you’re going to be in for a real brutal shock: there isn’t one. You have to start the work, you have to do the work, and you have to play a guessing game the entire way.

But trust me when I say it’s worth it. Guess, try something, and if it fails you’ll find you’re alright. You just dust yourself off, eat a pint of ice cream if you have to, and try something else.

Creativity requires that you keep coming back for more


To be a writer you have to write, of course. But you can’t simply write a paragraph and call yourself a writer.

Arguably, to truly be a writer you have to write more than a book too. You have to write and then keep writing. The same is true of painting, sculpting, performing, and even teaching.

This is also true of creativity: if you want to be creative you have to continuously work on it. But breaks are good for creativity too, it turns out.

Researchers have shown that taking breaks provides the brain with precious time for idea incubation. Breaks allow us to literally break the cycle of thinking that often causes symptoms such as writer’s block. When we break out of our current processes of thinking, it allows moments of eureka-like insights to occur.

What commonly happens for the amateur – or naive – creative is that he or she takes a break, and then another break, and then – before long – there’s too much other stuff to do and not enough time or focus to get back on the creative work.

We know this is a problem for creativity (apart from the obvious reasons of procrastination) because it trains us to be short-term with our thinking. As a result of breaks becoming more of habit and less of utility, our attention waivers at the slightest flash, beep, or craving.

You know what I’m talking about. Right now you’re likely tempted to check your phone, or email, or another website. To close the window, or open a new one, or get up from your desk altogether. If you’ve made it this far without jumping away: congratulations. Keep reading.

Scientists have shown that persistence pays off for creative work; those that can consistently show-up to do a task without distraction tend to fair better and produce more creative results.

This sounds conflicting at first however. Research shows that we need breaks in order to allow ideas to incubate, but additional research indicates that we should be persistent if we’re to gain the benefits of what psychologists and neurologists refer to as “working memory.”

It’s working memory that is failing when you walk into a room and immediately forget why you did so.

Working memory is also attributed to our ability to work on something while, at the same time, recall more distant memories or ideas that can be tied to the work.

So what do we need to do if we want to be the best creatives we can be: take more breaks or be more persistent?

Essentially this is how creative ideas fully come about: as a result of you being focused and persisting in the work, but at the same time being able to subconsciously recall additional information through working memory without being distracted by that information.

Professional creatives are those who have found the proper balance of persisting through problems or projects with taking the much-needed breaks that yield powerful insights.

Even those who have found a balance still struggle to maintain it from time-to-time. Sometimes the distractions are too plentiful or the work is too enticing.

But it’s from years of dedication to the work that the best creatives have thrived. Only from those years of dedication have the creative greats throughout history realized the power of both persistence and idleness.

By taking well-timed breaks (and that’s key here: timed breaks), then returning to the work, you ensure that you are giving yourself the time to let thoughts simmer, give your brain a break, and also that you continue on with the work.

Sometimes the work takes only a few hours, other times it can take months or years. The point to remember is that you have to keep returning to the work.

When the work is completed, the ideas are overflowing, or success has been unburied, the great creatives understand that those moments are breaks too. Breaks from the larger body of work: of becoming a writer, a painter, an artist, a dancer, a musician, or whatever else.

If you want to be creative – or a successful creative worker – you have to decide now, today, that you’ll keep showing up. Then, when you start feeling exhausted or stuck, taking a timed break and coming back to keep working.

Lamp icon by David Papworth.

“Success is no big thing. It is every little thing, achieved on a daily basis.”

Craig Lambert

Posted at 9:47 am

“Don’t do what you think the world needs; do what you love. The world needs more people who do what they love.”

The Best Advice on Failure

Posted at 1:53 pm