Once upon a time, I graduated college with a degree in broadcasting communications and stepped into the world with eyes as wide as my pockets were empty—which is to say my eyes were very, very wide.
It was time to make my way. It was going to be so much fun! And then I slammed into the reality of what it meant to be a “creative” person who was subjected to pesky little things like “deadlines” and “regular office hours” and “employer expectations.” Suddenly, comfort-food-ideas like “creative inspiration” and “the right timing” were getting in the way of my “creative process” and cramping my “style.” (Please free up both hands and re-read those last two sentences while making huge quotation fingers for the full effect).
I—like so many naive creators who had gone before me—had become intoxicated by the myth that great art comes from inspiration alone, so much so that I dangerously slipped into believing that the wait was actually the process itself (it isn’t). The truth was, I had yet to learn some of the greatest lessons that every master creator must eventually know—that creativity is actually more about showing up to do the work, about making a plan, and about perseverance than it is about luck.
To make this more interesting, I reached out to several professional creator friends of mine for a little insight. Not surprisingly, a couple of them had already written some ideas specifically related to my chosen subject. Not only did this save them the trouble of having to come up with something from scratch, it carried the added benefit of making my point for me also. With that efficiency duly noted, let’s get to the 3 Habits That Are Guaranteed to Maximize Your Creativity and Keep You Moving.
HABIT 1 – DREAM LESS. EXECUTE MORE.
Ideas just aren’t enough. They never were. They never will be. If you want to arrive at your intended destination, you’d better get ready for some good old-fashioned hard work. This habit is wonderfully explained by friend and writer/director, Cory Edwards (Hoodwinked):
“Lots of people have great ideas that turn into forgettable art, and some great ideas never see the light of day. A great idea isn’t enough. And carrying that great idea around in your head like a precious treasure doesn’t get it made. Many of my friends are artists who have big dreams and some truly fantastic ideas that the world should enjoy. But somewhere between that spark and the final product is the deadly uphill battle called EXECUTION.
Making the idea a viable product and the best version of itself involves work that very few are willing to endure. It’s long hours of doing it wrong. It’s countless failures, or being rejected by those who don’t get it. It’s doing all the thousands of little tasks that must be done: raising the money, filling out the paperwork, plotting out the details. There are so many tiny steps between the big, fun milestones that you can be worn down and abandon the idea before it is complete… or before it is the best it can be. If you skip some of the steps out of sheer impatience or end up saying “good enough,” your idea falls short. And then it may not be successful at all, even if it’s a “great idea.”
Masterful execution is the only way to a great piece of art. Anything else is just another cool thing you told somebody in a coffee shop.” You can catch Cory’s continued thoughts on the subject here:
HABIT 2 – SET MANAGEABLE (AND FLEXIBLE) GOALS.
If you haven’t seen the Academy Award Winning film, ‘The Cove,’ you owe it to yourself to do so right away. Louie Psihoyos, Executive Director of the Oceanic Preservation Society and Director of ‘The Cove’ and ‘Racing Extinction’ had this to say to me about what it takes to move from ideas to completed works.
“I have dozens of ideas I think have potential to be great but they remain in the imagination state until I bring the discipline to give them wings. In the case of lighting up the Empire State Building with endangered species (watch here), it took four years from idea to implementation and required inspiring 100’s of other key people to make it happen, from the mayor of New York to dozens of artists, photographers, filmmakers and funders. For four years I know many people thought I was insane, but in the end we raised the bar for what it means to go viral; within the first week we had over a billion media impressions. And then the Pope asked us to light up the Vatican with endangered species during COP 21 and we had over 4 ½ billion impressions, and that was just in the English language.”
“To creat projects like that requires massive amounts of energy and resources. You can burn out and the idea fizzles if you don’t have short, medium and long term goals and be able to adjust them as circumstances change. I’d love to think that a great idea alone is worth it to be brought into the world but the reality is that without dogged determination, nothing happens. Elon Musk told me before Tesla really took off that building electric cars was like dealing with shit bricks, every day they piled up and his job was to clear them off his desk. His long-term goal was not just to make electric cars but to make the best car in the world, but in the meantime, he said, every day he dealt with piles of shit bricks. To the rest of the world though, they don’t see his determination. They think that he’s just lucky and rich. But when I filmed him Tesla was on the verge of going bankrupt.”
HABIT 3 – DON’T HUSTLE, PERSEVERE.
Jeff Goins is a bestselling author who uses his writing ability to—among other things—inspire, push, and help others to get off their asses and create. Whether it’s ‘You Are A Writer (So Start Acting Like One),’ ‘The Art of Work: A Proven Path to Discovering What You Were Meant To Do,’ or his upcoming, ‘Real Artists Don’t Starve: Timeless Strategies for Thriving in the New Creative Age,’ Goins has his finger squarely on the pulse of what takes people from wannabes to gonnabes to ares. In a recent article for Fast Company (here), Jeff points out that it’s working smarter, not necessarily harder, that will generate the best results.
As Jeff points out, “Working endlessly on a project for 10 hours straight isn’t nearly as effective as working on the same project by using sporadic bursts of energy, taking brief but regular breaks. A 2010 study at the University of Illinois found that not taking breaks while pursuing a specific goal actually slows down how quickly it’s reached. On the other hand, in a separate study, people who took 15-minute breaks in their work had more stamina overall—they could stay focused longer, allowing them to do deeper and better work.
Working at high speed and at a continuous energy level just isn’t realistic, and it ultimately hurts our output when we try it. It’s much smarter to take your time and move with intention. After all, hustle is an impatient person’s game. And winning always takes patience. I’m not saying go after it only when you feel like it—that’s laziness. You do have to put in daily effort. But I’d much rather exchange “hustle” with “perseverance.” It’s a better word because it’s a much more accurate description of what it takes to succeed.”
I love trying to crack the code of getting shit done. Only now, as I creep slowly past 41 and ever-closer to death’s door, can I say that I have found my way into some of the most useful habits, processes and disciplines that are resulting in real progress for myself. And wouldn’t you know, in most cases, the secrets I was looking for lie inside of hard work.
Make no mistake, the greatest artists—the legitimate masters—are not lazy or apathetic about what they do. It’s true that inspiration does come and, when it does, it can be profound… but even those rare and wonderful moments are often the result of a much longer, more committed process. The truth is, the greats are not great at being lucky. They are masters of their craft. They are great workers. They excel at trying and failing until they get something that stands up in the wind.
Luke Renner is a Co-Founder of The Story Shop.