Duke Ellington writing music.  Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

Duke Ellington writing music. Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

Many people like to assert that creative endeavors, such as writing music or watercolor painting or graphic design, are simply work and should be treated the same as any other job.

Those people are wrong.

The act of creating, which is ‘creativity’ in its truest sense, requires a much longer period of incubation than, say, spreadsheet revisions or database entries. The shuffling of papers and carrying out of daily tasks in an office are routines, and are work only insofar as they take up time and earn money for the doer. That’s not to downplay their importance or relevance, or disrespect those whose work matches that description (I happen to be one of them at times), but those tasks can often be executed with little regard paid to attention.

By contrast, Guitarist Carlos Santana once said that when he practices at night the first two hours are spent going through chords, scales, modes, exploring noise and effects, essentially doodling with sound… until he finally breaks into a groove and a spirit where inspiration takes over and he actually begins creating. This is when he starts recording his ideas, building on them, and adding to them later in an organic and diligent act of creation.

Note that creative work is engendered by a slow and steady method of focused attention. Your habits and routines need to respect this necessity. Though original flashes of insight can occur quickly, the actual creation of an enduring work of art or writing or design takes time… the kind of time you cannot glean from commercial breaks or the 20 minutes before a night out. If you attempt to create within the spaces of your day you will be left with work that is equally as disjointed.

Be methodical. Create routine. And use plenty of time!

Incubate your ideas.


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