Two Kinds of Creative Lives

I always enjoy Austin Kleon’s writing, and this morning’s blog post on his morning routine was no exception. He’s writing about an artist’s routine for sparking daily creativity:

My method is cribbed from The Sedaris Method: write things down all day in a pocket notebook, then wake up the next morning, fill out my logbook, and then write longhand about yesterday.

When I don’t know what to write about I answer “The Best Thing” prompt or draw until I feel like writing.  (This morning I wrote about banana bread and palm trees.)

While Kleon is talking about being a writer and an artist, you might extend his recipes and routines for any sort of creative work — that could include mathematical research, making sense of a dense research literature, or problem solving. And it could even encompass learning, which I’ve long thought of as a creative act all in itself.

What are the ingredients to this sort of creative life?

  • Regularity
  • Routine
  • Dedicated time to producing something at the start of the day

… and so on.

In the world of creativity advice any excuses tend to be dismissed as just that — excuses. I have no doubt at all that this is a recipe for a happier creative life. But let’s be real for a moment: you can either have a full-time job, be an engaged parent, or spend an hour every morning with an open notebook, but I don’t see how you can do all three.

Of course, the life of the full-time writer and artist is not without its own potential distractions. I don’t mean to minimize that. And I also have no doubt that if you want to make the most of your creativity, the full-time artist is the way to go. If you want to get good at anything it takes time and sacrifice. It may not be financially comfortable.

But there’s another kind of creative life out there that many of us live on the margins of our family and work life. Art or learning never gets to take priority in this life. So what sorts of habits and routines support a creative life that’s spent between the cracks of work and family?

I don’t know. I mean, I have the dumb advice that I could give a younger version of myself. (Write on the subway. The family never owes you time for art. Leave things behind. Let yourself get obsessed and bored. Yes, keep a journal. Take the long view. Skip a day. Skip a week. Skip a month. Skip a year.) But my point is not that I have any advice on how to live this sort of life — it’s just that full-time artists are in no position to offer it.

I’d like to hear more about creativity from the part-time poets, the bus-ride novelists, the teacher painters, the subway mathematicians and Saturday night musicians. Because when it comes to life and creativity, that’s most of us.

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