Not everyone will be capable of shouldering this task of personal responsibility or of being a good example for their children. But the heroes of the next generation will be those who can calm the buzzing and jigging of outside distraction long enough to listen to the sound of their own hearts, those who will follow their own path until they learn to walk erect—not hunched over like a Neanderthal, palm-gazing. Into traffic. You have a choice in where to direct your attention. Choose wisely. The world will wait. And if it’s important, they’ll call back. “When was the last time you made something that someone wasn’t paying you for, and looking over your shoulder to make sure you got it right?” When I ask creatives his question, the answer that comes back all too often is, “I can’t remember.” It’s so easy for creativity to become a means to a very practical end—earning a paycheck and pleasing your client or manager. But that type of work only uses a small spectrum of your abilities. To truly excel, you must also continue to create for the most important audience of all: yourself. In her book The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron discusses a now well-known practice that she calls “morning pages.” She suggests writing three pages of free-flowing thought first thing in the morning as a way to explore latent ideas, breakthrough the voice of the censor in your head, and get your creative juices flowing.
July 2020 Calendar
While there is nothing immediately practical or efficient about the exercise, Cameron argues that it’s been the key to unlocking brilliant insights for the many people who have adopted it as a ritual. I’ve seen similar benefits of this kind of “Unnecessary Creation” in the lives of creative professionals across the board. From gardening to painting with watercolors to chipping away at the next great American novel on your weekends, something about engaging in the creative act on our own terms seems to unleash latent passions and insights. I believe Unnecessary Creation is essential for anyone who works with his or her mind.
Unnecessary Creation gives you the freedom to explore new possibilities and follow impractical curiosities. Some of the most frustrating creative pros I’ve encountered are those who expect their day job to allow them to fully express their creativity and satisfy their curiosity. They push against the boundaries set by their manager or client and fret continuously that their best work never finds its way into the end product because of restrictions and compromises. A 2012 survey sponsored by Adobe revealed that nearly 75 percent of workers in the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, France, and Japan felt they weren’t living up to their creative potential. (In the United States, the number was closer to 82 percent!) Obviously, there’s a gap between what many creatives actually do each day and what they feel they are capable of doing given more resources or less bureaucracy. But those limitations aren’t likely to change in the context of an organization, where there is little tolerance for risk and resources are scarcer than ever. If day-to-day project work is the only work that you are engaging in, it follows that you’re going to get frustrated.
To break the cycle, keep a running list of projects you’d like to attempt in your spare time, and set aside a specific time each week (or each day) to make progress on that list. Sometimes this feels very inefficient at the moment, especially when there are so many other urgent priorities screaming for your attention, but it can be a key part of keeping your creative energy flowing for your day-to-day work. You’ll also want to get a notebook to record questions that you’d like to pursue, ideas that you have, or experiments that you’d like to try. Then you can use your pre-defined Unnecessary Creation time to play with these ideas. As Steven Johnson explains in his book Where Good Ideas Come From, “A good idea is a network. A specific constellation of neurons—thousands of them—fire in sync with each other for the first time in your brain, and an idea pops into your consciousness. A new idea is a network of cells exploring the adjacent possible of connections that they can make in your mind. When you give yourself frequent permission to explore the “adjacent possible” with no restrictions on where it leads, you increase the likelihood of a creative breakthrough in all areas of your life and work.