In my book “Ideas on a Deadline: How To Be Creative When The Clock Is Ticking,” I highly recommend the book by Mason Currey, “Daily Rituals: How Artists Work.” I don’t often say this, but when I read it a few years ago, it really changed my life. Currey simply documented the daily schedule of 161 novelists, poets, scientists, painters, philosophers, playwrights, and other creative people of the last 200+ years.
The realization as I read the book was stunning. In almost every case, each of these remarkably creative people was virtually a slave to routine. While they all had unique and different habits and rituals that helped them be more productive, they followed those rituals rigorously. Writers he featured are a good example:
Novelist Haruki Murakami wakes up at 4am, works for 4 or 5 hours straight, then runs errands, reads, and goes to bed by 9pm. He said, “I keep to this routine every day without variation.”
William Faulkner noted, “I write when the spirit moves me, and the spirit moves me every day.”
Horror writer Stephen King writes every day of the year, including his birthday and holidays (including Christmas) and rarely allows himself to quit before his daily goal of 2,000 words.
Reading the book impressed on me what I call “The Holy Trinity of Creativity.” Those 3 pillars are find the place, schedule the time, and show up.
What’s your place?
My “go-to” creative place is my home office because I’ve customized it for everything I need. My library, references, tech gadgets, computer plugs and connectors, big monitor, and more (like my rocking chair, for instance) are all there, so I have everything at my fingertips. After doing it almost on a daily basis for so many years, it’s like a switch is flipped when the seat of my pants comes in contact with the seat of my chair.
The creative part of my brain turns on.
I always encourage young creatives to find a similar place that contains everything they need to do the job and where they are comfortable and have privacy. The importance of location can’t be overstated because great athletes will always tell you there’s a serious advantage competing in their home stadium.
What’s your time?
The second issue to face is determining what time of day are you most creative. This isn’t the place to go into the science of circadian rhythm, but I would encourage you to explore it further. What we call circadian rhythm or cycles is essentially an internal clock that regulates our sleeping and waking cycles every twenty-four hours. It’s essentially the processes happening within our body as we respond to night and day, sleeping and waking, and it’s also been observed in plants, animals, and some bacteria. That rhythm determines our peak times and our weak times.
When it comes to creativity, I join a significant part of the creative community that rocks roughly between 6 am and noon. After lunch, I’m good for meetings, phone calls, responding to email, traveling, and more, but when it comes to creativity, I don’t rise to the occasion nearly as well as I do in the morning. When I wake up, the birds are chirping, a heavenly choir is singing, and I’m ready to take on the world.
Whether you’re full-time or self-employed, how could you adjust your day in a way that would begin to honor your best creative moments? Find it, and as much as humanly possible, build a protective wall around those hours. As you develop your best location and time of day into your daily schedule, it will become a routine, and any experienced creative professional will tell you that’s the starting point to reaching your creative potential.
Finally, show up.
The final third of the holy trinity of creativity is simply showing up. Professional creatives don’t wait for the idea to come to them; they go after the idea. Novelist Jack London famously said, “You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.”
When it comes to generating great ideas, feelings can’t be in charge. Feelings come and go and will almost always lead you in the wrong direction when it comes to original thinking. Add the emotional pressure of delivering on a deadline, and things get worse. But time and again, the greatest thinkers have discovered that action breeds feelings more effectively than feelings lead to action. Which means stop waiting until you feel like it. Just start, and the feeling will come.
I discuss this in my short video tip: “How to Be Creative: The Holy Trinity of Creativity,” and I would encourage you to go deeper by getting my book “Ideas on a Deadline: How To Be Creative When the Clock is Ticking.
Find the place, schedule the time, and show up. It’s not magic, but when you start doing it on a daily basis, amazing things can happen.