how to be a skilled creator

This is not original.

Let’s get one thing straight from the get-go: this is replicative content. I read a nifty blog article about “How the Internet, Dopamine, and Your Brain are Working Together to Screw Your Potential“, and it inspired the content in this post.

But that’s ok.

There Are Two Kinds of Creation…

Well, ok, actually there’s a lot more than two. And there’s also no such thing as creating in a vacuum, so anything “original” has pieces of other things in it. But for the purposes of the article, Anthony Richardson divides the world into two parts: Replication Creators and Skilled Creators. What’s the difference?

If you’re on stage at a conference, you’re likely the SC. If you’re in the audience, you’re likely the RC. Same goes for blogs, YouTube, Wikipedia and so on. The way that you are facing easily indicates your position.

Anthony then goes into a very enjoyable tangent talking about brain chemistry (aka “awesome sauce“) and how our reward system gets tricked into believing that replication is a better high than skilled creation. In his opinion, it’s not, and I have to admit he’s probably right. Frankly, part of the reason I enjoyed the article so much was because it highlighted some of my own particular foibles in terms of overworking.

“But I Didn’t Get Anything DONE!”

I don’t have a problem with being a Skilled Creator (as Anthony defines it). In fact, I have the opposite problem: my brain craves the reward of original creation so much that it often won’t let me relax.

I have a schedule, and a to-do list. There have been days when I’ve risen before dawn, done morning protocols, blog posts, worked on my book, worked out, spent time with my family, produced a podcast, and then realize it’s 7pm, I’m hungry for dinner, but I don’t think I’ve earned it.

I’ve learned, to some extent, the skill of stepping outside myself and saying “If you knew someone else who’d done this stuff, would you think they deserved a break?” Usually that’s enough to get things done. I’ve also finally started playing video games – spent 45 minutes on “Batman: Arkham Asylum” the other day! I’m inordinately proud of that enforced leisure time.

However, while I seem to compulsively want to do source work (skilled is a little too elitist for me) I also understand the craving to do more. So I’m going to put down my top 5 Habits of “Original” Creation, on the off chance they might help you get out of some replicative rut you might not want to be in:

  1. Write It Down. That idea you have. The one you’re thinking of right now, as you read this, maybe with thoughts like “Oh, I wonder if he’s talking about…” YES. I am. Write that idea down, be it story, outfit, color, song, or performance sushi. Cast your net wide, and when it’s time to create, then you’ll have a huge catch to pick from. Which brings me to the second thing…
  2. Make the Time. My assistant has been given the task of setting apart 90-120 minutes a day for writing. That’s my content time. Sometimes it’s content for clients, which is not quite as satisfying as content for me, but the money does help. I also have an hour here and there for “Other Work” which gives me a chance to do…well, whatever I may think needs doing. Now, I realize that’s a huge privilege to have that kind of time – but I also know exactly what I’ve done in my life to create that space. Now, it’s just a matter of doing something with it.
  3. Courtesy of ABMann, who is always cooler than me.
    Courtesy of ABMann, who is always cooler than me.

    Do Other Things. We love hearing stories about how other writers do their work. One of my favorites was about how Thom Jones worked as a janitor and therefore spent much time in his mind – so when it came time to create, he was more than ready. One of the benefits I get from volunteering at the VA Hospital is boredom – I spend most of my time just standing there, waiting for something to do. By the time my shift is done, I’m so eager to get back to the work I love that I practically leap at the keyboard. So try doing things that make you bored, so you want to create instead.

  4. Take Small Bites. This was a hard one to learn, and I’m still working on it. I like to sit down, ride the rush of creation, and have the product spring fully-formed and perfect like Athena from the head of Zeus! Unfortunately, that’s not really how it works. I envy people like my friend ABMann who is not only working on writing – he’s working on penmanshipNow that’s some careful crafting. I am learning to take things a bit at a time, incrementally creating, editing, polishing, and finally even timing the release.
  5. Make Stuff You Want. I’m sure there are people out there who create things, original things, knowing that they are creating crap (how else could you explain Batman & Robin?). But I also know that the times I’ve used my skills purely for money – designing web sites to sell time shares, for example, or trying to write romance stories under a pen name – I was miserable, and my work, frankly, was crap. I get much more satisfaction writing about stuff that I would want to read, working on causes I believe in.

That’s my top five. What do you use to create?

1 thought on “how to be a skilled creator”

  1. I think 1 & 2 are really important. When you capture ideas you can spent these set times to chew over them. I actually call my idea list in EverNote “The Chew” list.

    A liberal dash of 3 which includes encountering other ideas is huge especially when you’ve chewed on your ideas, even a little. When you can butt brains with other people and see their insight or thought process about something you’re chewing on, that’s where you get New Idead.

    Have you read Where Good Ideas Come From? I think you’d enjoy it. I have a copy to lend if you like.

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