The Path of Least Persistence

It has been said that the path to hell is paved with good intentions. And I know from personal experience as well as observing the lives of others that the same can be said of the creative process. Whether or not we are willing to admit it, “the best laid plans of mice and men” often come to naught if we are not willing to press past the resistance to creativity. So I have identified at least three characteristics that pave the path of least persistence: perfectionism, procrastination and people pleasing.

Of the three, I think the most insidious one is people pleasing, because it masquerades as a positive attribute but corrodes our relationships and contributes to the other two issues. Chances are that if we strive to please people it also will lead to procrastination and perfectionism, which feed off each other as well. All three are part of a negative feedback loop that threaten to mire all of us—but especially creative types—in the paralysis of analysis, and result in a state of inertia.

In an effort to create art, whether through writing, photography, music or another medium, it can be tempting to procrastinate in the form of “waiting for the muse,” but that is a recipe for regrets. And insisting on perfection before releasing our art into the wild is likewise not helpful. We may fancy ourselves geniuses but unless we reach our audiences we are simply legends in our own minds. As the saying goes, if no one is following our leading, then we are simply out for a stroll.

So what are the antidotes to people pleasing, procrastination and perfectionism? I have found that affirmation, action and acceptance help to counter each of these enemies to the creative process. Affirmation from loved ones inoculates us from the need to please other people. Our action by very definition neutralizes the power of procrastination. And the acceptance of progress rather than perfection saves us from striving after an impossible ideal. Only by defining success on our terms can we truly succeed.

Happy Wife, Happy Life

I had an epiphany that I thought I’d share here in the hope that it’ll help others. I was thinking earlier about this year drawing to a close and how I hadn’t yet finished the book I am writing. While I am proud of what I’ve written of the book and the articles I wrote this year, not to mention the editing and speaking I did, I was ruminating about what was left unfinished when I asked myself: What are you most proud of creating? And the answer that sprang to mind was: My lifestyle!

Of course, I owe my very life and any creative ability to The Creator, God, but within that overall context, I am very intentional about designing a lifestyle that I love and that is ultimately a reflection of God’s good gifts to me. Besides that I can think of no better barometer of how I’m living than that old adage: “happy wife, happy life.” It blesses me no end that my wife is happy, which in turn makes me very happy. As another saying goes: “if momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.”

As I posted yesterday, we recently returned from a dream vacation to our former home of Nantucket and it was wonderful to celebrate my wife’s birthday with friends while we were there. What made it all the more special for me was to see how much my wife was enjoying herself, whether it was seeing all our friends at church, mailing Christmas cards from the island, or seeing snow on the beach, she was having the time of her life.

You can see the smile on my wife’s face in the above photo speaks for itself. We were about to board the ten-seat “puddle jumper” of an airplane just before witnessing a gorgeous sunset over the ocean as we approached the spit of land that is Nantucket Island. It all contributed to a memorable homecoming for us and it’s one that neither my wife nor I will soon forget.

Poke the Box

Best-selling author Seth Godin has earned a reputation as an out-of-the-box thinker and his latest book called Poke the Box is no exception. The book is the first title from The Domino Project, his paradigm-shifting attempt to revolutionize publishing by simplifying the process of connecting books and readers.

Powered by Amazon, Godin’s electronic book venture is designed to be a game-changer, and while it may be too early to comment on that, Poke the Box is indeed a provocative “manifesto about starting,” as he calls it.

Godin’s mantra is start it and ship it, suggesting that he who hesitates is lost. In his own words, “soon is not as good as now.” He points out that not all flux is necessarily risky and insists that not flowing with flux may be the riskiest move of all.

“It’s easy to fall so in love with the idea of starting that we never actually start,” writes Godin in a line that hits all too close to home. According to him, when the cost of poking the box is less than the cost of doing nothing, then you should poke. And I could not agree more!

Making Sweet Music

One of my very favorite quotes is from Oliver Wendell Holmes: “Don’t die with the music still in you.” It speaks to me of the need to live life in such a way as to allow the creative gift that lies within each of us to find its voice. Whether it is through the actual playing of music or not, we are each gifted with creative ability meant to be shared with others and designed to enrich our own lives.

On that note, if you’ll pardon the pun, today I came across another musical quote attributed to William Henry Channing: “To live content with small means; to seek elegance rather than luxury, and refinement rather than fashion; to be worthy, not respectable, and wealthy, not rich; to listen to stars and birds, babes and sages, with open heart; to study hard; to think quietly, act frankly, talk gently, await occasions, hurry never; in a word, to let the spiritual, unbidden and unconscious, grow up through the common–this is my symphony.”

To give credit where it’s due, I discovered Channing’s quote at a minimalist blog I’ve been reading lately called Miss Minimalist. And lest readers assume it is simply another “decluttering” site, while it does cover personal organization it is much more than that. It is an excellent resource for anyone desiring to live a life less encumbered with STUFF and movingly portrays minimalism as the meaningful lifestyle that it is.

Content is King

In his book ©ontent: Selected Essays on Technology, Creativity, Copyright, and the Future of the Future, author Cory Doctorow argues that digital rights management (DRM) is bad for artists, not the least of which are writers.

He feels that such measures meant to liberate artistic creativity instead manage to limit it. In the age of the iPad and similar devices designed to facilitate the digital reading experience, his commentary is made all the more compelling.

According to Doctorow, “New media don’t succeed because they’re like the old media, only better: they succeed because they’re worse than the old media at the stuff the old media is good at, and better at the stuff the old media are bad at.”

The point he makes is that content is king and thus made to morph: “Books are good at being paperwhite, high-resolution, low-infrastructure, cheap and disposable. Ebooks are good at being everywhere in the world at the same time for free in a form that is so malleable that you can just pastebomb it.”

I don’t know that I’m on the exact same page as Doctorow but I do find myself agreeing with his overall thesis: “New technology always gives us more art with a wider reach: that’s what tech is for. Tech gives us bigger pies that more artists can get a bite out of.”

Creative Corner

While online the other day I came across a picture of the actual desk where my wife’s favorite author, Jane Austen, is reported to have created her bestselling novels. What struck me about it was its diminutive size. No larger than a tea table, it looked barely large enough to eat scones at, much less create the literary masterpieces for which Austen is known.

What I can’t help thinking is whether Austen didn’t need as much exterior space because she had adequate interior space as a result of the time and place she lived. She not only lived during a kinder, gentler period, but she also wrote from a place more attuned to the reflective pace necessary to think and create.

One of the highlights during my and my wife’s holiday vacation to New York City was our visit to the Morgan Library, where there happened to be an exhibit of Jane Austen’s original writings. It was inspiring to see firsthand the handwriting of a genius and to witness the fruits of her creative labor.

And here at home, my wife and I recently sampled several movies via Netflix that adapt Austen’s trademark wit to the big screen. Nearly two hundred years later, it is readily apparent that she had an innate understanding of the human condition. What’s more, it is amazing how much creativity she was able to conjure up in her creative corner of the world.

Free for a Fee

Whether you are a producer or a consumer of media content or both, you cannot afford to not read Free: The Future of a Radical Price by Chris Anderson. The editor of Wired and author of The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More, Anderson has his finger on the pulse of creativity and commerce like few others.

As Anderson writes, “The new form of Free is based on the economics of bits, not atoms. It is a unique quality of the digital age that once something becomes [digitized], it inevitably becomes free—in cost, certainly, and often in price. And it’s creating a multibillion dollar economy—the first in history—where the primary price is zero.”

“The rise of ‘freeconomics’ is being driven by the underlying technologies of the digital age. Just as Moore’s Law dictates that a unit of computer processing power halves in price every two years, the price of bandwidth and storage is dropping even faster. What the Internet does is combine all three, compounding the price declines with a triple play of technology: processors, bandwidth, and storage,” Anderson continues.

Anderson is quick to point out the difference between free as in “freedom” (libre) and free as in “price-less” (gratis), i.e. free speech versus free lunch. Of the types of free (gratis) models, perhaps the most familiar one to readers is the “freemium” model, which is free to basic users and offers a premium paid version (think Flickr and Flickr Pro). The key to freemium is the Five Percent Rule: five percent of online users support all the rest.

To clarify an often-misquoted axiom, Anderson writes, “Commodity information (everybody gets the same version) wants to be free. Customized information (you get something unique and meaningful to you) wants to be expensive.” In other words, as long as there is a fee associated with its creation, information needs to be subsidized somehow.

The Plenitude

While on a business trip a couple months ago I picked up an intriguing book in the MIT Press “Simplicity” series called The Plenitude: Creativity, Innovation, and Making Stuff by Rich Gold. For the uninitiated, “plenitude” means “the abundance or plentiful supply of something.” In terms of the text, it refers to all of the “stuff” we each create and consume on a daily basis.

One particularly golden gem of insight that I gleaned from the book had to do with the concept of creative artistry: “The art flows from personal vision and from a unique sense of self. To many artists, art is more a calling than a profession, though one still needs to be trained in it, and there is certainly a business side.”

That statement liberated my thinking by giving me permission to create as an artist with a uniquely personal perspective and interpretation of life as I see it and not simply as a producer of commodity. As Gold suggests, “Without artistic vision stuff tends to…commodity…and…if you are merely producing commodity, you’re dead.”