A paradigm shift in the creative process: work when you can’t create. | 49/100

It’s never easy.

There are days my fingers feel like they’re made of lead, my brain composed mostly of compost and my spirit absolutely broken. Nothing works, nothing feels right – therefore, I’m absolutely useless, I should shut The Ink down forever, never attempt to draw or write again, and consign myself to a life of mediocrity.

Joe Hart - 1
Initially, I tore the sketch that would become this drawing out my sketchbook, disgusted at my efforts. I went back to it, worked on it some more. Now it’s one of my favourites.

For years, this feeling defeated me. It stopped me from sharing my work. Pressfield dubs this feeling ‘The Resistance’ (his magnum opus, The War of Art, is a must-read by the way).

Something clicked around October of last year, though, and I finally managed to overcome my self-imposed creative blockages. My new ethos comes from the masterful Henry Miller:

“When you can’t create,  you can work.”

I realised I’d been applying this principle physically for years – of course, I’m not excited to go and lift weights, or on a long run every time. But I go through the motions anyway. I get it done. It doesn’t matter if I don’t feel ‘inspired’ to pump iron. Come to think of it, we all brush our teeth every day – does that require the muse to descend from the heavens and bless us with energy? No. We do it anyway.

You don’t need to be a genius.

Why should we treat the creative process any differently? Some artists love to romanticise what they do. I hate that – it erects unnecessary barriers to ‘creativity’. It shuts off something which everyone should be able to benefit from, restricts the supply to a select pool of ‘arty’ types. If I believed only these special, blessed few had the genius required to create good work, I wouldn’t have managed to publish a blog post every day, for 49 days in a row (and counting). I’m not saying they are all great. But they exist. I got them done.

Fuck ‘writer’s block’. We can all code, build businesses, write books, record music – we don’t need to wait for permission. We can’t wait for inspiration.

When we can’t create, we can work. So let’s waste no time waiting for the perfect moment to get going – in the words of Jack London, one of my favourite authors, we must ‘go after inspiration with a club’.

You’ll find all you need in the pages of your favourite books. Maybe with a cup of coffee or two to lubricate things.

Three ways you can get to work – even when you don’t feel like it:

  • Set a timer. Don’t stop for the duration. Start slow – even 5 minutes is better than nothing. Chances are you’ll want to carry on once you’ve started. Noislii is a useful, in-browser app I often use for this. You can choose ambient music or a variety of background noises (rainfall, the tide, thunder etc.) until the time is up.
  • ‘Just one shitty page’. This advice comes from Tim Ferriss, author of The Four Hour Workweek, Tools of Titans, Tribe of Mentors and various other excellent books. Don’t expect greatness – just say to yourself my only goal for today is one, terrible page of work. You could use words as a goal if that’s easier. 500 words is a good starting point, but set the bar wherever you want. Reaching it is what’s important -and getting it done consistently. It quickly adds up.
  • Work to music. Queue up maybe five of your favourite songs. Drown out all your fears, doubts and concerns, and only stop once it’s all over. I’ve written before about the restorative power of music – more here.

Let me know your thoughts and ideas. What are your tactics? How do you get stuff done in the face of self-doubt?


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