One of the most important tools in my productivity/creativity toolbox is carving out time to think. I’ve recently started being more intentional about doing this, and already I can tell the difference. It feels a little like a superpower.
The areas which I’m currently dedicating time to think about are: story ideas, art, HCI/toolmaking, school, and work. I’ve done something similar in the past where I would write down everything as I went along, but I’m finding benefit in making specific, separate time for each area, and in not writing things down by default (but I do of course write things down if I need to).
Came across Andy Matuschak’s note on working in public:
One of my favorite ways that creative people communicate is by “working with their garage door up,” to steal Robin Sloan’s phrase. This is the opposite of the Twitter account which mostly posts announcements of finished work: it’s Screenshot Saturday; it’s giving a lecture about the problems you’re pondering in the shower; it’s thinking out loud about the ways in which your project doesn’t work at all. It’s so much of Twitch. I want to see the process. I want to see you trim the artichoke. I want to see you choose the color palette.
I love this kind of communication personally, but I suspect it also creates more invested, interesting followings over the long term.
Yes! I too love it, and I’ll be doing more of it here from now on. (I think long ago I used to do it to some degree, but somewhere along the way a fit of self-consciousness took it out of me.) No luck yet finding the original Robin Sloan source, but if any of you come across it, let me know.
I’ve also enjoyed reading through the rest of Andy’s notes, by the way. Itching to do something similar here. More to come. (I’ve already been planning to rewrite the backend engine for this site — it’s old and decrepit — so this is a fortuitous time to come across this idea.)
I recently came across this quote from Martha Graham (which according to Wikiquote is from page 264 of Agnes de Mille’s The Life and Work of Martha Graham) and it’s been in my thoughts often since then (italics mine):
There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open.
When impostor syndrome is railing at me about my art or my writing, the italicized portion is what comes to mind. I find it reassuring.
Brief update: still alive, doing fine, just staying home with my wife and kids in the hope of helping stop the spread (and ideally not getting COVID-19 either — one of our kids has a heart condition which makes this scarier for us than it would otherwise be).
I haven’t really worked on any art lately (not in the right headspace for it lately), but I have gotten back into writing, and that’s going well. Hoping to have some new fiction to post before too long. And new art, too.
Stay home and stay healthy, y’all.
There are two quotes that have been in my mind a lot lately. First, by Christopher McQuarrie (via the Daring Fireball post where I read it):
After twenty five years in the craft, I’ve learned the secret to making movies is making movies—starting with little movies no one will ever see.
The secret to knowledge is doing and failing—often and painfully—and letting everyone see.
The second quote, by Robert Greene in his book Mastery, is in a similar vein:
There are two kinds of failure. The first comes from never trying out your ideas because you are afraid, or because you are waiting for the perfect time. This kind of failure you can never learn from, and such timidity will destroy you. The second kind comes from a bold and venturesome spirit. If you fail in this way, the hit that you take to your reputation is greatly outweighed by what you learn. Repeated failure will toughen your spirit and show you with absolute clarity how things must be done.
Amen to both. Make stuff, post it, and it’s okay if it flops as long as you learn from it. (I say this as if I’m already doing that, but ha, no, I’ve let fear of failure strangle my creative work far, far too often. You have no idea how often. Here’s hoping this time the lesson sticks, though.)
Continuing along the lines of what I wrote on Friday: I’ve gotten into a bad habit of releasing new work the moment it’s finished. While I like getting feedback immediately (which can absolutely be useful in some cases), for me I’m finding that a slightly more delayed approach is better.
More specifically, there’ve been several times where I’ve released a painting and then shortly thereafter regretted it, suddenly seeing flaws in the work that I hadn’t noticed when I was in the thick of it. (I tend to take those paintings down.)
My new rule: wait at least a week.
A week gives me enough time to see the work with (somewhat) new eyes and to fix any newly evident dealbreaker flaws. If the piece still looks good after a week, then it’s ready for release.
One thing I often tend to forget (and really need to remember) is that the first few drafts of something — a painting, a story, whatever it is — are usually imperfect, and that that’s okay. I forget that and get discouraged and give up, but I’m fairly certain in hindsight that many of those abandoned projects would have turned out fine if I’d stuck with it and iterated a few more times. (Especially if I had let things sit for a short while and then reviewed the work to figure out the specific things I needed to fix.)
Moral of the story: Keep calm and carry on.