- This was originally published at Ebita.dk, but I am reposting it below for a slightly different audience, namely you. This was sparked by Merlin Mann’s clever-as-usual thoughts on the subject over at 43folders.
Creativity is always a fascinating topic to ponder and discuss, and what has me thinking about it most recently is one of Merlin Mann’s recent posts on 43folders, titled The Problem with Feeling Creative. In particular, I was struck by this sentence:
“Creative work only seems like a magic trick to people who don’t understand that it’s ultimately still work.”
After that bullet, Mann goes on to say that many people want to learn how to feel creative, or to feel successful, or to feel like an artist. But they overlook the part about putting in the work.
We bear witness to this all the time. It’s so easy to flip the pages of a glossy design or photography magazine promising “inspiration”, then walk away from it unchanged. That new Top Ten Tips blog article on your RSS feed is just a click away. It’s an easy sell, this promise of stirring creativity. But it’s not easy to sell someone on the amount of hard work it takes to be successful at being creative.
So let’s all say it together: Creativity is work. It’s just one kind of many.
Creative work is not the kind of work one can escape from easily. It’s one thing to walk out of a shop at closing time and forget about it until the morning. It’s a luxury of sorts. But when your job or career rides on your ability to listen to clients’ goals or challenges, their problems become your problems, and the problems often sink deep into the mind to reach the richest soils of creativity. Once they are in there, those problems don’t go away — until they sprout into a solution. Such is the life of the contemporary creative. Solutions, ideas and inpsiration often arrive unpredicatably, not always conveniently between 9 and 5 when one is in the office or at his/her workspace. This is why architects have scribbled some of their best ideas on cocktail napkins, and why designers end up taking twenty minute showers discovering they can use the grid of ceramic tiles to solve layout problems. These Eureka! moments can seem magical, but they are the logical effect of causes, a receptive mind and changing stimuli from the environment. Learning to identify these causes and later to nurture the type of environment where they can thrive is to lay the foundation for a successful creative career.
The western world has fallen in love with a false image, this romantic myth that creativity is magic. It can be magical in part, but that part is rare and precious, like finding gold nuggets in a stream bed. Ninety-nine percent of the time, creativity is a tool, a method to solve a problem, a sustained effort to overcome obstacles, an activity requiring resources and the applied exertion of energy. In short, creativity is work: it always has been and it always will be.
But when done well, it is the most rewarding kind of work many people have ever known. Like an addict, it becomes all about the next fix — the next problem, the next project.
And so it is perfectly reasonable to forget about the tips lists, to ignore the pretty inspirational self-help books and the glossy magazines, to forget those inspiration websites exist. I am not saying creativity comes out of a vacuum. But I am saying once you identity your problem and state your goal, reach for some blank paper and a pen, roll up your sleeves and get to work. For chances are, once you’ve solved that problem with a creative solution, you’ll be ready to find a new problem and do it all over again… and again… and again.
It’s called the creative process, and it can go on forever.