The creativity blueprint
Most days, I follow a very set routine.
I schedule time for writing every single day. It doesn’t matter if it is a work day or a weekend. It doesn’t matter if I’m in one part of the world or another. I always schedule time to write.
But then, I don’t always see it through. There are days when I sit down to write and less than half an hour later, I’m done, I hit publish and I move on to the next thing I have to do for the day. And some other days, I sit down to write, and I spend close to an hour just staring blankly at my blank screen, typing words and erasing them, before eventually calling it a day and moving on to do something else. Other days, I sit down to write and then start reading an article or scrolling through my Facebook or Instagram feed or my email and before I know it, I’ve made no progress on my writing, but more than an hour has elapsed, and I move on to something else, not having managed to even think about what I had originally sat down to do.
But these outcomes aren’t randomly distributed though. They have a more skewed pattern and each outcome correlates with the things I do during the rest of my day.
On any given day, everything I do can be classified into two kinds of activities — ones that I enjoy doing, and ones that I don’t really enjoy doing but end up doing nonetheless. The more I do of the latter, the higher the probability that I will fail at writing something meaningful for that day.
Most days, I follow a very set routine — I take the same path to my office and back, I meet and talk to the same people, I read about the same things I usually read about, I watch the same shows that I always watch. All this leaves very little room for new thoughts to take form. The higher the deviation from the routine, the higher the probability of creating something new. But this is a difficult one. Deliberately stepping out of the routine frequently is like investing a large portion of your portfolio in risky stocks — high returns but also high risk. So, I try to manage this risk by introducing some deviation and not tolerating a lot of it.
The more of something I do, the easier it gets to do it again the next day. If I wake up at 7 three days in a row, I find it easier to do it again the next day. If I write three days in a row, I find it easier to do it again the next day. But this is in conflict with the previous point about deviating from the routine. While both these conflicting points are equally valuable in helping me stay creative and productive, it is crucial to keep them in balance and not tilt too much to one of them or I end up seeing a drop in creativity (again, from experience).
I had been falling behind on my reading. So, last week, I changed the way I schedule my days to dedicate more time to my reading tasks. And as a consequence, I can notice a boost in my writing as well. This has historically been the case. I tend to read about ten times the amount I write on any given day. The more I read, the more I write. And the more is in terms of ideas rather than words.
Nearly everything I write is advice to myself. In that sense, I’m always trying to put in words what I would tell myself to do in a situation that I’m currently facing or have faced in the past. I generally don’t like taking advice from others. I’d rather have them explain their thinking and leave it to me to draw conclusions than give me a map or an instruction list and say — do this! Which means I don’t particularly like to give advice either. All I can say is what I have tried and what has worked (and not worked) for me. So the more problems I try to solve, the more I write.
Also, I take breaks. Despite the famous hare and the tortoise story where the hare sprinted ahead and then took a nap, inadvertently allowing the tortoise to finish first, I tend to slow down when I find that I’m ahead and dedicate that time to other things that need it (and if that other thing is a nap, then so be it). Because, at the end of the day, it isn’t a race, and I’m not trying to outrun anyone. I’m just getting better as I go along.
Next time you’re having a creative block, it could be because of one of these correlations.
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