Category Archives: Creative process

How to Fail Like the World’s Most Successful Creatives

Maria Popova over at Brain Pickings wrote a wonderful post about the fear (and importance) of failure, and I liked it so much I am re-posting it here:

Embracing what is, or how to fail like the world’s most successful creatives.

While failure may be an integral prerequisite for true innovation, the fact remains that most of us harbor a deathly fear of it — the same psychological mechanisms that drive our severe aversion to being wrong, only amplified. That fear is the theme of this year’s student work exhibition at Stockholm’s Berghs School of Communication and, to launch it, they asked some of today’s most beloved creators — artists, designers, writers — to share their experiences and thoughts on the subject. While intended as advice for design students, these simple yet important insights are relevant to just about anyone with a beating heart and a head full of ideas — a much-needed reminder of what we all rationally know but have such a hard time internalizing emotionally.

Paulo Coelho – on the fear of failure. from Berghs’ Exhibition ’11 on Vimeo.

 

When you put love and enthusiasm into your work, even if people don’t see it, they realize that it is there, that you did this with all your body and soul.” ~ Paulo Coelho

 

Stefan Sagmeister – on the fear of failure. from Berghs’ Exhibition ’11 on Vimeo.

It is very important to embrace failure and to do a lot of stuff — as much stuff as possible — with as little fear as possible. It’s much, much better to wind up with a lot of crap having tried it than to overthink in the beginning and not do it.” ~Stefan Sagmeister

 

Rei Inamoto – on the fear of failure. from Berghs’ Exhibition ’11 on Vimeo.

What it comes down to is accepting the fact that many ideas and many solutions that we provide to our clients may always, or sometimes, fail. The trick, I think, is to A) accept it and B) have the courage to accept it and move forward with what you believe in.” ~ Rei Inamoto

But my favorite has to be Milton Glaser:

Milton Glaser – on the fear of failure. from Berghs’ Exhibition ’11 on Vimeo.

 

A characteristic of artistic education is for people to tell you that you’re a genius. [...] So everybody gets this idea, if you go to art school, that you’re really a genius. Sadly, it isn’t true. Genius occurs very rarely. So the real embarrassing issue about failure is your own acknowledgement that you’re not a genius, that you’re not as good as you thought you were. [...] There’s only one solution: You must embrace failure. You must admit what is. You must find out what you’re capable of doing, and what you’re not capable of doing. That is the only way to deal with the issue of success and failure because otherwise you simply would never subject yourself to the possibility that you’re not as good as you want to be, hope to be, or as others think you are.” ~ Milton Glaser

Explore all the videos on the exhibition site and feel free to share your own recipe for dealing with failure in the comments below.

via Creativity Online

12 Things You Weren’t Taught in School About Creative Thinking

Psychology Today recently published an article by creativity expert Michael Michalko entitled, “12 Things You Weren’t Taught in School About Creative Thinking.” If you’ve ever struggled with perfectionism, if you’ve ever been discouraged by negative feedback, or suffered from creative blocks—this list serves up some gentle remedies and alternative perspectives.

My two favorites:

8.      Trust your instincts. Don’t allow yourself to get discouraged. Albert Einstein was expelled from school because his attitude had a negative effect on serious students; he failed his university entrance exam and had to attend a trade school for one year before finally being admitted; and was the only one in his graduating class who did not get a teaching position because no professor would recommend him. One professor said Einstein was “the laziest dog” the university ever had. Beethoven’s parents were told he was too stupid to be a music composer. Charles Darwin’s colleagues called him a fool and what he was doing “fool’s experiments” when he worked on his theory of biological evolution. Walt Disney was fired from his first job on a newspaper because “he lacked imagination.” Thomas Edison had only two years of formal schooling, was totally deaf in one ear and was hard of hearing in the other, was fired from his first job as a newsboy and later fired from his job as a telegrapher; and still he became the most famous inventor in the history of the U.S.

10.   You do not see things as they are; you see them as you are. Interpret your own experiences. All experiences are neutral. They have no meaning. You give them meaning by the way you choose to interpret them. If you are a priest, you see evidence of God everywhere. If you are an atheist, you see the absence of God everywhere. IBM observed that no one in the world had a personal computer. IBM interpreted this to mean there was no market. College dropouts, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, looked at the same absence of personal computers and saw a massive opportunity. Once Thomas Edison was approached by an assistant while working on the filament for the light bulb. The assistant asked Edison why he didn’t give up. “After all,” he said, “you have failed 5000 times.” Edison looked at him and told him that he didn’t understand what the assistant meant by failure, because, Edison said, “I have discovered 5000 things that don’t work.” You construct your own reality by how you choose to interpret your experiences.

Read the other 10 things you weren’t taught in school about creative thinking.

James Altucher’s 33 Unusual Tips for Being a Better Writer

There are millions of tips out there for being a better writer, but James Altucher’s list is one of my favorites. In fact, James Altucher is one of my all-time favorite bloggers. You could do worse than to follow him in your reader.

James Altucher’s 33 Unusual Tips for Being a Better Writer

Back in college, Sanket and I would hang out in bars and try to talk to women but I was horrible at it. Nobody would talk to me for more than thirty seconds and every woman would laugh at all his jokes for what seemed like hours. Even decades later I think they are still laughing at his jokes. One time he turned to me, “the girls are getting bored when you talk. Your stories go on too long. From now on, you need to leave out every other sentence when you tell a story.”  We were both undergrads in Computer Science. I haven’t seen him since but that’s the most important writing (and communicating) advice I ever got.

33 other tips to be a better writer.

–          Write whatever you want. Then take out the first paragraph and last paragraph. Here’s the funny thing about this rule. It’s sort of like knowing the future. You still can’t change it. In other words, even if you know this rule and write the article, the article will still be better if you take out the first paragraph and the last paragraph.

–          Take a huge bowel movement every day. And you won’t see that on any other list on how to be a better writer. If your body doesn’t flow then your brain won’t flow. Eat more fruit if you have to.

–          Bleed in the first line. We’re all human. A computer can win Jeopardy but still not write a novel. You want people to relate to you, then you have to be human. Penelope Trunk started a post a few weeks ago: “I smashed a lamp over my head. There was blood everywhere. And glass. And I took a picture.” That’s real bleeding. My wife recently put up a post where the first line was so painful she had to take it down. Too many people were crying.

–          Don’t ask for permission. In other words, never say “in my opinion” (or worse “IMHO”). We know it’s your opinion. You’re writing it.

–          Write a lot. I spent the entire 90s writing bad fiction. 5 bad novels. Dozens of bad stories. But I learned to handle massive rejection. And how to put two words together. In my head, I won the Pulitzer prize. But in my hand, over 100 rejection letters.

–          Read a lot. You can’t write without first reading. A lot. When I was writing five bad novels in a row I would read all day long whenever I wasn’t writing (I had a job as a programmer, which I would do for about five minutes a day because my programs all worked and I just had to “maintain” them). I read everything I could get my hands on.

–          Read before you write. Before I write every day I spend 30-60 minutes reading high quality short stories poetry, or essays.  Books by Denis Johnson, Miranda July, David Foster Wallace, Ariel Leve, William Vollmann, Raymond Carver, etc. All of the writers are in the top 1/1000 of 1% of writers. It has to be at that level or else it won’t lift up your writing at all.

–          Coffee. I go through three cups at least before I even begin to write. No coffee, no creativity.

–          Break the laws of physics. There’s no time in text. Nothing has to go in order. Don’t make it nonsense. But don’t be beholden to the laws of physics. Advice I Want to Tell My Daughters is an example.

–          Be Honest. Tell people the stuff they all think but nobody ever says. Some people will be angry you let out the secret. But most people will be grateful. Else you aren’t delivering value. Be the little boy in the “Emperor’s New Clothes.” If you can’t do this, don’t write.

–          Don’t Hurt Anyone. This goes against the above rule. But I never like to hurt people. And I don’t respect people who get pageviews by breaking this rule. Don’t be a bad guy.  Was Buddha a Bad Father? addresses this.

–          Don’t be afraid of what people think. For each single person you worry about, deduct 1% in quality from your writing. Everyone has deductions. I have to deduct about 10% right off the top. Maybe there’s 10 people I’m worried about. Some of them are evil people. Some of them are people I just don’t want to offend. So my writing is only about 90% of what it could be. But I think most people write at about 20% of what it could be. Believe it or not, clients, customers, friends, family, will love you more if you are honest with them.  So we all have our boundaries. But try this: for the next ten things you write, tell people something that nobody knows about you.

Read the rest of the list…

Learn About Creativity and Productivity from Tom Ford

Oprah is running a series on OWN (her network) called Visionaries, in which she features brilliant, creative people and shows them off to us, the hoi polloi. Tom Ford is the star of this particular episode, and I’m posting it because Tom Ford is a fucking genius. After climbing to the top (and I mean the TOP) of the fashion world, he took a sabbatical to write, produce, and direct a little movie (his first) that went on to be nominated for an OSCAR. And then he went back to fashion.

He’s a personal hero of mine. I hope you find him as inspiring as I do. His passion is multi-disciplinary and omnivorous, and he reminds me to follow my curiosity and my fascinations no matter whether you can draw a straight line between them. In this video he talks intelligently about culture, materialism, age, the creative process, the nature of self, the meaning of life, and a lot of other smart things you wouldn’t expect to hear from a fashion director famous for (ahem) bringing sexy back.

I apologize for the Vimeo format – I couldn’t find it on YouTube. Also, it’s about 40 minutes long. Just so you know.

Maurice Sendak Speaks

via Open Culture by way of Brain Pickings:

There are very few creators alive today truly worthy of being called “creative genius.” Children’s book author and illustrator Maurice Sendak, beloved forWhere The Wild Things Are and other gems, is certainly one of them. This affectionate 5-minute micro-documentary from Tate Modern zooms in on the iconic creator, uncompromising and idiosyncratic and brilliant as ever at the age of 83, to reveal the creatively restless and lovably grumpy workings of his heart and mind.

 

“My books are really books that are impressed and in love with the memory of comics and how important they were to me as a child… I didn’t live near any famous person, I didn’t see Michelangelo go to work in the morning. I just lived in Brooklyn, where everything was ordinary — and yet, enticing and exciting and bewildering. The magic of childhood, the strangeness of childhood, the uniqueness that makes us see things that other people don’t see…”

For more Sendak gold, see his rare Velveteen Rabbit illustrations circa 1960.


How to Finish Projects

Flo Jo takes it home

Finishing anything at all is a total win

There are three key steps to finishing any project:

  1. Make it a distinct task, separate from your initial creative impulse
  2. Define what “finished” means before you start, so you know when you’re done
  3. Adjust your expectations down to realistic levels

The dirty secret that keeps people from finishing things: They don’t want to. Finishing things is no fun. That’s why you have to treat finishing as a separate activity, distinct from your initial creative impulse.

Finishing has nothing to do with starting. It’s like doing your taxes, or taking out the trash. When you get to the end of a project, the most useful thing you can do is reframe it as a brand-new thing, with a brand-new set of expectations and assumptions attached to it.

The least popular of my classes is the last session of Intro to Writing Fairy Tales. Everyone has heard the same stories at least once/week for five straight weeks. They’ve listened to endless iterations, struggled with intractable characters or plot points that never quite resolved to satisfaction, watched with frustration as the delicate soufflés of their literary ambition slowly deflate (every once in a while a story turns out better than anyone expected, but that’s rare). And they hate it. The only reason they stay is because I trick them into signing up for a public reading while their enthusiasm is still high, and we use the last class to polish the stories for the performance. There is so much sighing and grumbling in the last Intro to Writing Fairy Tales class. (“Finished” for them means “ready to read to a room full of strangers.”)

But you know what? The ones who hang in there, who honestly consider feedback on their second and third revisions, then go home to revise those hateful, lumpy passages again and again? When the time comes for the reading, they stand up in front of the microphone, read their fairy tales to a fresh group of listeners, and their stories shine like diamonds. Their stories are not only better than the stories of their less persistent classmates, they’re overall better than they realized!

By the end of the night they forget how much they hated their stories, and they’re practically drunk on praise, satisfaction, and the pleasure of showing up and doing their best. It’s amazing.

It’s easy to lose perspective when you’re working on the sixteenth version of something. You think it sucks, your [classmates, friends, family, pets, etc.] are starting to act like they’ll die if they hear/see it again. You can’t remember why you’re working so hard on something you’re probably not getting paid for.

By the time you’re finishing something, you’re usually sick to death of it, yourself, and everything associated with it—and you’re nose to nose with your limitations, which is often unpleasant. (This is why it helps to have low expectations. Don’t try to write a masterpiece. Just write a story with a beginning, middle, and end that you’re not ashamed to read to some strangers in a bar.)

But if you can make it to the finish line, you’ll be rewarded with a sense of satisfaction that’s bigger than the castle in the sky that got you started in the first place. Starting is about sparkles and fairy dust, tangerine-colored splashes of creative juice running down your chin, worlds of possibility opening before you—each more perfect than the last. Finishing is about sandpaper and touch-up paint, obsessive attention to detail and, finally, compromise—reconciling your real-life abilities with your ambitions. It’s also about having a real thing to show off. It sets you apart. Lots of people start. Finishing things makes you kind of a rock star. That’s worth a little discomfort, isn’t it?

 

 

Sick Day! And Resulting TED Video

I had a great blog post planned for today, all about the difficult task of finishing projects. But, ironically enough, I made a terrific start of it, got sick, and now can’t bring myself to finish it.

So I’m taking the easy way out: TED talks. While this video has nothing to do with fairy tales (unless you, like me, see fairy tales in all things, especially mythically charged animals like crows), it has everything to do with creativity and inspiration. When you’re stuck on a problem, whether it’s a plot line or a blog post or painting the bathroom, our natural impulse is to feel frustrated and blast ourselves with a double-barreled shot of mean-spirited self talk. But instead of drill sergeant sadism, our stuck selves deserve our compassion and tenderness. And a little indulgence. Sometimes the best solutions come when we give ourselves permission to stop hammering on the problem, and instead do something else entirely, something playful and distracting and engaging. Then we can come back to our problem refreshed with a brand, new perspective. (The caveat here is that you do have to come back to the problem eventually.)

Speaking of new perspectives, I hope you enjoy this video. It’s about reframing a problem and realizing that it might not be a problem at all, but an incredibly powerful solution.

Barbara Sher on Raising Horses in the Basement

Barbara Sher changed my life. I mean, I changed my life, really. But Barbara Sher helped me figure out how. I was between jobs, lost and aimless, and making lists of business ideas, story ideas, project ideas, ideas ideas ideas. I felt crappy about having so many ideas. Why couldn’t I pick a single project? Why couldn’t I focus? No wonder I was unemployed. Again. Clearly, I was a loser who would never fulfill her potential because she couldn’t pick something and stick with it from beginning to end.

So there I was, moping around my local bookstore feeling like a total loser, when I glanced at one of the shelves and felt my heart give a hopeful little thrill. There facing out at me was Babara Sher’s amazing handbook for the omni-directionally interested: Refuse to Choose. I read the first two chapters standing up in the store, then took it home and devoured it in a night. I even did every exercise. Which is how the Fairy Tale Factory was born while I simultaneously completed a photo-essay, renovated my garden, and found the best day job I ever had.

If you’ll pardon my French, Barbara Sher is the shit. But don’t take my word for it. See for yourself: