In my last post I discussed why I’ve concluded that I need to make more. This post looks forward, and it will explain how I plan to start and continue creating.
In that pile of articles I’ve saved up, I can find a lot of advice about habits, systems, workflows, etc. But I’m mostly drawing from the work of Cal Newport, whose Deep Work and So Good They Can’t Ignore You both changed my outlook on work within the last year or two.
I’d note that all, some, or none of this may be broadly applicable:
- If you’re already hold a job where making is what you do from 9-5 (the sort of job I’d like to have!), this probably won’t be especially useful.
- Since this is a post about getting started in a creative habit, it’s also focused on projects conducted by an individual, not a team. The patterns in those two kinds of work are different.
- I’m posting this mostly as a public expression of a private commitment to myself.
- This is by no means binding. I’ll be revisiting this list in the future and adjusting my methods based on how well it actually works for me.
The short version, as I currently imagine it, is this:
- Clear distractions.
- Make the time and space.
- Do the work.
- Share it, with 0 or more people.
Details follow on how to go from that design to an implementation that can last.
0. Clear distractions.
This is item 0 because it’s not actually part of the creative process. That’s very important to say: clearing distractions is about getting out of your own way, not a method of creating. By itself it does not add value (economic, social, personal, spiritual, etc.) to the world. It’s about making space for what you actually want.
- Freedom: Run the Freedom app. I’ve experimented with it for a year now, and the way that works best for me is to run a fairly strict blocker on a repeating schedule – but not to disable quit during sessions. This lets me look things up if, say, I’ve blocked Reddit but there might be good information on /r/learnprogramming about something I’m learning. I recommend blocking social media, news, and all sites you mindlessly click to when you want to waste time while you’re working.
- Pick simple tools or tools you know well. Choosing the “perfect” tools can easily chew up a lot of your time. (Of course, if there is a tool that is THE tool for what you’re doing, learn that.)
- Have your environment ready. The time to pick your instrumental Spotify playlist for audio while you’re working is before the work session, not during it. Ditto lighting, seating, temperature, colors in your terminal, choice of word processor, etc.
1. Before making anything else, make time and space.
Put creating on your calendar. If necessary, consider it an appointment. A creative work session is a time during which you are unavailable except in emergencies. No email, no phone, etc.
Actions to take:
- Add it to the calendar. I’m going to start with 30 to 60 minutes each day, longer when I need more depth. I’d like to go for 90 on, say, weekends. If you can do this in such a way that it accomplishes tasks for your job, that’s excellent and you could probably do it during work hours. If not, make sure to reserve the time outside work, at least a few days a week. Either way, add it to your calendar and stick to that appointment.
- Be prepared to fill that time. Don’t arrive unprepared to make. “Write”, for example, might be on the calendar, but if you don’t know what to write, the path of least resistance is to hem and haw and not do anything. Prevent that by knowing what you’re going to work on in advance.
2. Do the work.
This is the only stage that counts. It’s the only non-subjective item on this list.
None of the rest of this matters, for purposes of this project, if it doesn’t ultimately help make this happen.
At the chosen time, in the chosen environment, and for the duration of the chosen time, create. Words and drawings onto paper and screen. Code into editor. Sound waves into air.
- If you have 60 to 90 minutes, use the time to do deep work: focusing on a single cognitively-demanding task for an extended period of time to improve your own skillset. This may require a little more advance planning in the previous step.
3. Share your work, with 0 or more people.
For me, this is the hardest stage. Part of my motivation for publishing this list is to let me isolate it, in my mind, from the other stages.
All those questions I listed in my previous post about managing feedback, responses, comments, traffic, etc.? They all crop up now, when you “put it out there” for others to see.
This is also the most difficult stage to turn into action steps, because it varies so much by your medium. But here’s my attempt:
- Create a site or blog for each part of your work. I’ve got my personal digital home right here, a developer blog hosted at GitHub, both private and public code repos on different platforms, and a blog for my writing.
- Automate sharing tools, if you’d like. I’d rather pick and choose as I go, but the option to share across social networking accounts exists on most web tools you’d want to use.
There are a ton of lifestyle factors that matter to making as well: manage time well, stay healthy, exercise, get outside away from screens, etc. But for the specific work of making, this is the path that makes most sense to me: clear, schedule, work, share.
I also believe readers ought to willfully disregard any of this that won’t work for them because of personality, lifestyle, schedule, etc. But if you’re wondering how to start putting in the work, this is one possible framework that might at least provide some useful tactics.