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Random Thoughts on Creativity

Hugh McCleod's gaping void cartoon

Artist Hugh McCleod has written a list of tips for creativity. Read below for my thoughts: (McCleod’s ideas mentioned in the article are in bold).

Ignore Everybody. Amen to that. I find that family members and close friends give the most awful advice about creative projects. Most of the time the advice is discouraging, and by definition, if an idea is worth doing, people will try to discourage you from doing it. You just have to assume that people will be discouraging from Day One and maybe hopefully they’ll turn around.

Put the Hours in: While I agree with the sentiment, one of the most important tasks of project management and creative thinking is planning where to devote your time. You need to recognize when you are spinning your wheels and when you are spending your time learning skills that may not turn out to be critical for the success of your project. In the fast world of software and application tools, your time may be better spent learning about other people’s projects and tools than trying to develop custom tools on your own. Time is always a finite resource. It’s easy to be distracted by tasks and activities that simply fritter away your time.

If your biz plan depends on you suddenly being “discovered” by some big shot, your plan will probably fail. This is great, but I find I have the opposite problem. I am so dedicated to producing an end product that I end up having no time to do basic promotion. I’ll put off marketing for a while, but at some point you have to do it.

My rule: Have a realistic sense of your audience. Genres and entertainment mediums are rapidly changing; people want video games, not novels, movies, not epic poems. Undershooting your estimate of potential audience is probably better than overshooting, but you need to understand why you cannot find an audience and think very hard about why this obstacle exists. You may find that switching to more accessible mediums and genres may involve fewer compromises than you originally thought. You need to have a good sense of what your ideal audience does, how much time they have for things, and why they are doing the things they do.

The “No pain, no gain” concept. Well, every great effort involves sacrifices. But you need to have a realistic expectation of what could result from it. If you’re making a movie in the hope that some random producer will surf to your website to see it, then you’re probably going to fail. In this case the smaller victories may be better than acheiving that home run.

More importantly, one needs to avoid the masochistic part of the creative process. I’m sorry to report that many of the more successful artists these days are not necessarily the most talented; they may be the most physically attractive or have the most time to spare on idle pursuits; they may have aspects to their personality (quite apart from creativity) that make it easy to command attention. It may be that those qualities that make an artist successful may also make them unlikeable or bad family members or lovers. You have to ask yourself: how can I live up to my artistic values without compromising my humanitarian values? If you have written a lovely fairy tale, but alienated your entire family, how have you enriched the world?

Finally, the artist-as-hermit idea may work for some (and especially cartooning), but it’s worth asking whether some projects require some knowledge of how to use a community or social network to get a project going. The Memepool or “distributed stories” (see Raspil’s fragments) are leveraging the power of online communities. In many cases, it may be easier for the artist to go it alone, but at least the artist should have considered alternate ways of getting the community involved in their endeavors.

Funny, the money thing (Keep your day job, etc), it is necessary to have the proper perspective. Having a day job limits the number of creative projects you can handle. You need to be very picky about what projects you spend your time on. Also, when you are a weekend artist, you need to be doubly sure that your creative output is damn near brilliant. You can’t afford to mess around on projects where a successful outcome is uncertain. That is a fact of life. If you are living off an inheritance or a publisher’s royalty or a grant, well, perhaps you can try new experiments or play around with ideas you are only half-serious about. Weekend artists don’t have that luxury; every single thing they work on must be brilliant, original, creative, perfect and utterly bold.

The advantage that weekend artists have is lack of deadlines. Use this advantage wisely. Make your project great no matter how long it takes. Ironically, it is the lack of time that makes it all the more imperative to produce without fear of deadlines.

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