Archive for the ‘Creativity’ Category

Writers need to read and painters need to visit galleries

My friend Jeff Goins recently wrote Why Writers Need to Read if They Want to Be Good, in which he explained how important it is for anyone who writes to spend time reading, because it helps your own writing. It keeps you from using bad grammar, spelling, and the like, much less from writing something boring.

It hit me between the eyes, because I haven’t visited galleries as much as I used to, or as much as I should.

No wonder I haven’t painted in a year. The inspiration and excitement ran out. The well has run dry. Empty.

Sure, I’ve been to an Untitled show a time or two, a couple of First Saturday Art Crawls, and The Frist occasionally. All under the excuse that the quality of art in Nashville is poor compared to big art cities like New York or Los Angeles, neither of which I have ever visited.

Yep, I noticed the lack of quality local art about 4 years ago and kinda quit looking at it since then.

(Here is where I achieve total lame-o status.)

So it should come as no surprise that I haven’t done any art in the past year.

The last time I got excited about art was December 2010, when I went to see the Dali exhibit at the High Muesuem in Atlanta. Well over a year ago.

Let my experience be a warning and a lesson to you: surround yourself with art. Even if you have to travel four or five hours to see something interesting.

As a writer needs to read, an artist needs to feed his/her creativity. Restock the pond, and refill the well. Do it long before it starts to run out.

Once the water level starts to drop, it doesn’t take long for it to all evaporate.

Refilling the Well and Reigniting Creativity

In an amazing mashup between Bird by Bird and The War of Art, my friend Jeff Goins wrote week before last about what to do when you’re feeling uninspired, and how important it is to recognize the difference between “blocked” and “empty.”

  • One may be a real case of the Resistance — your own laziness, outside distractions, or some other negative force keeping you from making a difference. If that’s the case, then you only have one choice: show up, do the work.

  • However, if you’re feeling empty, be careful. You could waste hours sitting in front of a computer screen or with a guitar on your lap. If this is the case, you may need to step away and go do something that fills you up — play with your kids, listen to music, go for a run. But don’t be fooled; Resistance is still waiting to snatch you up at the earliest possible moment.

Once you’re full again, get right back at it. Start creating and continue working through the Resistance.

What do you do when you’re feeling uninspired? And how do you tell the difference between feeling blocked and being empty?

I can’t help but be reminded of the two main practices put forth in The Artist’s Way: The Morning Pages and The Artist’s Dates. The former is more about sending signals (to yourself, ultimately) and the latter is about refilling the well, restocking the pond. (The Morning Pages do a lot to get the junk out of your system so you can focus on being creative the rest of the day.) The Artist Dates leave you feeling energized.

In my experience, the artist dates are best done as something silly or childishly fun. Go buy a grape NeHi, a comic book, and sit under a tree reading on a sunny afternoon. Or spend lunch break doing nothing on a hill overlooking a pond, just enjoying the sunshine and decompressing naturally. It’s all about reconnecting with that playful inner artist-child we all have.

It’s little wonder that the creatives at ad agencies tend to have little toys all around their desk. (I once had a coworker with quite a collection of Homies.)

It’s important to take the time to nourish your creativity.

How do you refill the well?

“Wasted” creative efforts

I recently discovered that an old friend is writing a novel and blogging about it. I don’t know what his novel is about just yet, but I’m excited for him! Too many people put off writing their novel or whatever other ambitious creative project they have.

Today he approached the blank textarea of his blog with nothing in mind to write about, and apparently nothing really came to him. Yet he hit publish anyway. He shipped. Like 37Signals says in their book ReWork, “It’s better to ship a kick-ass half than a half-assed whole.”

A few months ago my friend Patrick Rhone posted Not Writing.” It’s a riff on pretty much the same thing. It may not be great writing, but you’re putting something down instead of waiting around for inspiration to strike. Luck — inspiration, in our case — favors the prepared: you prepare for inspiration by jotting stuff down. In short, embrace quantity over quality. The quality comes on its own. You’ve just gotta show the Muse you’re ready for it by working hard on your craft all the time. It’s why an artist doodles aimlessly, a musician strums random chords and makes up vulgar nonsense lyrics, and a writer jots down drivel. Because eventually, out of that comes something beautiful.

Paul McCartney and Luigi’s Alcove

Big Mountain Face

I’m sure you know Paul McCartney as a singer and song-writer. But did you know the ex-Beatle also paints?

A few years ago, I got the book Paul McCartney: Paintings. He does these big, expressive, semi-abstract pieces that have a sort of visceral effect, with lots of drips and runs. Very much influenced by Willem de Kooning’s abstract expressionism.

With all his talent, even Paul McCartney can get stuck. In Paintings, he shares a fun, creative little strategy he has devised for dealing with stuckness. Read the rest of this entry »

The Mystery Box

Note: This is a piece I published for the site earlier this week.

A plain, ordinary box. With magic inside. (Image from BoingBoing)J.J. Abrams loves boxes. As a kid he would take things apart, telephones, TVs, what have you. For a TED talk he gave a few years ago, he brought in a Kleenex box he had dismantled just to look at how it was constructed, the scoring, the printer registration, etc. In his talk he spoke about this magic mystery box he got from Lou Tannen’s magic shop when he was a kid. [Recorded March 2007 in Monterey, California. Duration: 18:02. Transcript available here.] 30 years later, he still hasn’t opened it. That’s a lot of restraint for an eager, energetic guy who ripped apart a Kleenex box in a hotel room the night before his talk.

J.J. Abrams talking about his mystery box. (Image from

Personally, I’m not sure I would have had that much self-control with such a great magic box. I probably would’ve ripped the thing open as soon as I got home. Or sooner. But what’s important here is the idea of mystery, peeling away layers slowly until one arrives at the core of the thing they’re looking at. Or the core is never found. To use a worn-out cliche, I think many times with things in our lives the journey is far more important than the destination. Slowly unveiling mysteries and living off that suspense seems to be what has driven Abrams, informing his life and his work. Aren’t his shows Lost and Alias exactly that, all about mysterious, seemingly un-knowable things that are only revealed (or further obscured) bit by bit, layer by layer? Whether you like his work or not, it’s still compelling.

Do we have to have all the answers?

Sometimes you never get to the core, but I think that’s OK. Sometimes it’s better to not have the answer handed to you. What would be the fun in that? There’s no opportunity to explore for yourself, to use your imagination and be full of wonder about the possibilities that may exist. If we had all the answers, what would compel us to dream big? You can probably think of someone (perhaps yourself!) who failed to act because they didn’t bother to consider what possibilities existed.

My takeaway

For me the biggest takeaway from Abrams’ talk is this: how can I inject what I do with suspense and mystery? Abrams talks how films like Jaws and Alien build suspense and sometimes don’t even show what the big scary thing is. And sometimes the real gold is in the small, quiet moments between the big momentous ones.

That’s what that makes great movies, books, films, artworks compelling. Even when things seem plain as day, there’s always a little more to it than just that. What can you leave “unsaid” to be more compelling?

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