Howto: sustain long-haul creativity

With New Year's Resolution season on the doorstep, it's time for end-of-year articles about self-improvement, and despite the cliche and improbability of that species of endeavor, I'm recommending that everyone read "Secrets to Long Haul Creativity."

It's easy to be creative in short bursts, but sustained (and sustainable) creative endeavor is hard and often tedious, and requires a bunch of habits that are damned hard to get into and easy to slip out of. In my own writing life, the transition from someone who could only write under inspiration to someone who wrote even when having "writers' block" (which just means that you don't like the words you're writing, and the answer is to write them anyway) was the most important thing that ever happened to me, professionally speaking.

The advice in this column is mostly of the sort that I try to give to my students, about cultivating modest habits that emphasize doing things regularly, rather than heroically. I'm especially fond of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's method for sustaining momentum:

Marquez said that the key was to have quit working at the point you’re most excited. In other words, once Marquez really starts to cook, he shuts down the stove. This seems counter-intuitive. Creativity is an emergent property. Quitting when most excited — when ideas are really emerging — seems like the exact opposite of what you should do.

Yet Marquez is exactly right. Creativity isn’t a single battle; it’s an ongoing war. By quitting when you’re most excited, you’re carrying momentum into the next day’s work session. Momentum is the key. When you realize that you left off someplace both exciting and familiar — someplace where you know the idea that comes next — you dive right back in, no time wasted, no time to let fear creep back into the equation, and far less time to get up to speed.

Secrets to Long Haul Creativity
[Steven Kolter/Singuarlity Hub]

(Image: Long Road to Monument Valley, Russavia, CC-BY)