Some creative philosophies are universal

Having spent my college and then pre-publication years studying and practicing web design, I’ve been answering a certain question a lot these last few weeks: Did being a designer change and/or shape how you write?

This question has popped up in multiple interviews, and at signing events, and while I’ve answered it in those various instances, I’ve never talked about it here, on Pub Crawl. And I’d like to, because I find the topic incredibly interesting.

Design has in no way whatsoever influenced my actual writing. But my process—the way I approach the act of creating—and my general philosophies regarding it? Absolutely!

I’ve been trying to pinpoint why this might be, and I think it comes down to the simple fact that all artists are creating. Writers, designers, photographers, filmmakers, painters, musicians, you name it, are all trying to take something intangible that exists solely in their heads, and capture it in the physical world. This process, regardless of end product, is both painstakingly tedious and immensely rewarding.

etnernal struggle

Isn’t that the truth?1

When I started treating writing like a job, I approached it the exact same way I approached design. That is to say, my core process was identical: Work hard. Seek out feedback. Revise and polish. Repeat. I also found that despite vastly different end mediums (words vs visuals), my general creative philosophy overlapped both outlets. In some ways, it was almost universal.

Just take a look at this list of key lessons learned during my years as a designer (aka my creative philosophy):

1. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.

Yes, there’s a deadline, but that doesn’t mean you should work as fast and feverishly as possible. Good work takes time, dedication, and patience. Sometimes stepping away is the only way to move forward. Letting ideas marinate is not procrastination. It’s a necessity and an integral part of the creative process. And chances are it will help you meet that deadline with less strife.

2. Revision is your friend.

Your first attempt is never, ever the best you can do. Not even if it comes out of you in a a flash of inspired brilliance. Revision is where a project shines, so roll up those sleeves, get some feedback, and dig in.

3. Really, truly listen.

It’s a natural instinct to want to immediately defend your work, but resist. Instead of arguing, listen. Deeply. As Neil Gaiman so aptly suggests, “When people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.” It’s your job to hear them, and then tweak things accordingly.

4. Surround yourself with smart people.

The best way to grow is to never stop learning. So read the works you aspire to write. Watch the movies you wish you produced. Go to conferences and museum exhibitions, and fill you life with people who inspire and challenge you, who make you want to do better work. Austin Kleon gives great advice: “Find the most talented person in the room, and if it’s not you, go stand next to him. If you ever find that you’re the most talented person in the room, you need to find another room.”

5. It’s supposed to be hard. And scary.

“An essential aspect of creativity is not being afraid to fail.” –Edwin Land | You won’t get anywhere if you’re too afraid to try. Know that the fear is good, that it means you’re growing, and accept that there are no shortcuts. It will be hard, but “the hard is what makes it great.”

6. The process is personal.

Don’t ever let anyone tell you there’s only one way to go about creating something. However you work is the right way to work.

7. Keep moving.

Do the best that you can do in the time that you are given, and then move on to the next project. Growth comes from continually challenging yourself, and as Neil Gamain states, “Perfection is like chasing the horizon. Keep moving.”

Today, I apply these same basic design philosophies to my writing, although I imagine they could also be applied to film making. And painting. And photography. I think it’s safe to say that some aspects of the creative process transcend medium.

Creating is a labor of love. It’s exhausting—physically, mentally, emotionally—but it’s what makes any artist tick. It’s what we can’t live without, what we wake every morning itching to do. If you’re here reading this post, you know what I’m talking about. You are my people.

Do any of these pointers hit home for you as a writer? Anything you’d like to add to the list? Leave me your thoughts in the comments!

  1.  Artist unknown. I searched/googled high and low, so if anyone knows the creator, please let me know in the comments so I can credit them accordingly.

6 Responses to Some creative philosophies are universal

  1. Rosanna Silverlight May 1 2013 at 10:14 am #

    “Revision is where a project shines, so roll up those sleeves, get some feedback, and dig in.”

    I’m on the first round of revisions for my first completed novel and so far, I have to say, I love the process. I’ve learned so much about my novel and my own writing process as a whole by going back over my first draft and looking at it critically.

    One of the big things I’ll be taking from the revisions process is the need to BE ORGANISED. I was never much of a stickler for organisation (I even fail at keeping a week-per-page appointments diary) until the day I began revising my novel.

    Now, for the first time ever, my desk is clutter-free. I just wasn’t loving the idea of sitting down for several hours of work when all I had was six inches of desk space for leaning on while writing notes by hand – the rest of the surface being covered up with my manuscript, folder of revision notes, ideas notebook, pen pot, photo frames, Lego mini-figures, index cards, memo notes, desk calendar, empty cups, cookie boxes … well, you get the idea. It got to a point where I just decided I’d had enough. I tidied up my desk and started treating it as a serious workspace. It’s really helped me to get in the zone when I sit down to do some work.

    There was one moment I had when I was on a particularly gleeful bout of revisions-organisation when I started becoming somewhat paranoid about my ideas notebook … namely that I wouldn’t be able to find the ideas I actually needed within its disorganised, scrawled-over pages. So, like any good convert to organisation and colourful stationery, I went through and sticky-tabbed some of the most important pages. 😛

  2. Marc Vun Kannon May 1 2013 at 10:38 am #

    I just discovered this speech by John Cleese on the same subject yesterday. It agrees with many of your points, in different terms, except perhaps the idea that creativity is hard or scary. Using his game metaphor it should be neither. I find his discussion of the playful aspects of creativity, throughing concepts together and then seeing which combinations generate new meaning, is the most useful to me. My last two novels got their start that way.

    What distinction are you making, if any, between creativity and originality? The act of putting words on paper or images on film may be creative without being original.

  3. Alexa Y. May 1 2013 at 10:54 am #

    I love the practicality of this post. Despite being primarily a writer, I do identify with all sorts of creative people – and I can certainly agree that the process is similar for all creative types across the board. You’ve identified some great points, and I found myself nodding in agreement a lot as I read them!

    I think there are, in particular, four points I really identify with in your post: #1, #5, #6 & #7.

    #1: I used to consider writing a race. If I couldn’t churn out work as quickly, efficiently and creatively as other people I knew, I was a failure. It was this perception and fear that held me back in my writing for a couple of years, and sometimes, today, it threatens to bother me and disrupt my process. I really appreciate being reminded that it’s a marathon – that everyone has their own pace, and that sometimes it takes time to craft these incredible things.

    #5: I’m a big fat chicken! Scary and hard things aren’t normally the sort of stuff I go for. And writing is certainly scary to me in endless ways: what if nobody reads my stuff? what if nobody likes my work? what if I’m a failure at this and just deluding myself into thinking I’m any good? what if I just keep getting rejected? Honestly, it’s one of the things I’m working on – stepping past my fear and continuing on to my goal.

    #6: I know this in theory, but I often forget. It’s wonderful to get tips and suggestions from writers and other people, but I do have to remember to step back sometimes and write the way that works for me. Everyone is different and what might work for some just might not be my particular cup of tea.

    #7: I NEED TO REMEMBER THIS ONE. I always hesitate when writing, especially when I don’t “feel inspired”. I always hate feeling like I’m not getting things right the first time around (which makes drafts so hard for me), and it’s been a constant push-and-pull struggle with that. I’m doing better at it, but there’s definite room for improvement.

    Thank you for sharing such a thoughtful creative post!

  4. Claudia McCarron May 1 2013 at 5:17 pm #

    One of the things I’ve also had to learn about writing and my writing proccess is that influence is not the same as plagiarism and is one of the best things writers have going for them. Reading books that you admire, and applying what you learn to your own work is a great lesson and a great gift.

  5. Kim May 4 2013 at 12:14 am #

    I love all of these points. I could see how each of them could apply to writing. Sometimes (plenty of times), I regret not getting a more creative degree when I was in college. I particularly loved the It’s supposed to be hard. And scary point. Because writing is hard and sharing your writing is scary, but that just helps. If I’m not struggling over word choices, plot points, or character development then it’s probably to simple of writing or plot to start out with. If I’m not scared of what others might think, I won’t try my hardest either.

    Really great points. I love the quote from Edwin Land.

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