Creativity Isn’t About Inspiration, It’s About Rituals

I love the quote by painter Chuck Close: “Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and get to work.” Real creative professionals know that creativity isn’t about a spark, or inspired moment. Sure those things happen, but they’re rare and can’t be counted on. What can be counted on is showing up.  One writer described the writing process as simply “Connecting the seat of your pants to the seat of a chair.”

Daily routines are the key to long term creative productivity.  The book “Daily Rituals,” by Mason Currey tells the story of 161 creative professionals throughout history and charts their daily routine. The result is amazing. What I discovered from the list of writers, painters, musicians, and other creatives is that the vast majority were virtual slaves to a daily routine. They created the environment, schedule, and process that worked best for them – and then stuck to it.

How about you? Certainly those of us with day jobs have to adapt, but as close as possible, do you have a regular routine for creativity?

Stop working randomly, and start developing a routine that you never stop.  Great athletes, inventors, artists, writers, and more will tell you that it’s not the creativity that matters – it’s the routine. Because once the ritual is established, the creativity naturally follows.

Do you have a ritual for creativity? Do you work randomly? I’d love to know what you’ve discovered that works.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • jessekoepke

    Spot on, Phil. Last year I focused on writing 15 minutes a day, and this year I switched to writing a certain word amount, usually at the end of the day after supper. Creativity is a muscle and exercising it regularly helps it get stronger.

  • Justen Overlander

    I’ve tried to get into a ritual for writing, but with 3 kids ages 1-9, the variables of day to day life thwart each attempt. Rather than let myself discouraged… what am I saying… I’m routinely (pun intended) discouraged! — but rather than get overly down on myself for falling out of each routine, I accept that it’s not my fault. My kids always come first and even if my screenwriting career isn’t where I’d hoped it would be at this point, I’ll accept God’s timing and cherish the routinely random writing opportunities with which I am blessed. :)

    I buy half of what I just said. ;)

    But I agree fully with your assertion that we creatives cannot wait for inspiration. So many quotes on that matter, but I think Chuck Close states it as well as anybody. Thanks for sharing, Phil!

  • I just finished that book last week. It looks at a very diverse group of people in different countries at different times. Many had a fulltime job ontop of their creative endeavours. But the one thing that’s clear is that they all did have (or still do have) a daily ritual – and they were all successful. Since reading the book I’ve been writing my own daily ritual in my journal – so far I’ve only done from 5am – 9am.

  • Simon Dillon

    I totally agree with this.

    I am a fairly anti-social, routines kind of person in any case, so writing regularly at a set time – in spite of two children, family challenges, having a full-time job, etc – actually comes very naturally to me.

    As a result my writing (mostly novels, film reviews and blog articles) is certainly prolific, though its for others to judge if it’s actually any good.

  • Lisa Pippus

    The book was an excellent reminder that I need a ritual and structure that works for me. I disagree with the quote as a generalization on how to be creative. I teach women style and confidence…just showing up doesn’t work. Women have been just showing up at shops for years…spending and accumulating yet only wearing 20%. Skills are needed…awareness, acceptance…and then blasting into creative action. Picasso showed up…with skills….broke the rules…because he knew them….

  • StevenParsons

    Thank you.

  • Pingback: When Was the Last Time You Went to a Museum? | Phil Cooke()