Plain is the most boring flavor. Or, rather, it’s a complete lack of flavor. Nobody—or near as dammit—starts out wanting to make their thing in plain (i.e., flavorless). We want flash, darkness, vibrancy, intensity, pizzazz, orange pekoe. But it’s eminently valuable to start out plain and work from there.
The bare bones can be stark or even boring to look at on their own. But the bones are the structure that hold the thing upright, and allow movement and expression. With a solid, plain base to work from, everything else gets easier to add and to tweak.
For many years, I’ve kept to using plain text as a basic unit of writing format. It works on pretty much any platform and can be imported to just about any program or app. Plain is flexibility as well as simplicity. If we think of it as a starting point, a universe of startling and unusual flavors can be chosen to augment it, and even changed if it isn’t as tasty as we thought.
And for the record, vanilla isn’t a default or synonym for plain. It is, verily, the finest of the flavors.
So, I woke up to find yesterday’s post didn’t get through the publish cycle, it just stayed in the drafts pile. Things fall apart.
Lessons again, always lessons. It matters that your work gets done, not that it publishes to the world, clocklike, or that you always make the deadline—although plenty of editors will love you for that—and get eyeballs on each daily bit.
Practice, and the habit, isn’t just to get creating. It’s also to act as a bulwark for your soul, so that when it does all go horribly wrong, somehow, it won’t matter in the grand scheme. I mean, you’ll have a grand scheme of some kind to keep it all in perspective. Looking back, you can see that a little gap in the pieces you’ve laid out doesn’t change the overall path.
Really, it’s “what’s important?”
The question is yours to answer, we’ll all have a different list, sometimes several things, sometimes one.
But as social feeds get better at gaming your very human instincts and desires, it’s ever more incumbent to decide how much time is too much to spend with them. To that end, writing down the one or three things you view as “important” could be a useful reminder to spend most of your free time on them, and not digital minutiae.
Title: “What’s Important?”
And then use that to focus your attention and daily habit.
I’m a fan of doing things you’ve never done before. Not always, but on a regular basis. It’s a good spark generator for ideas and for work.
Paint with your non-dominant hand for an entire canvas. Use a drawing tool you’re unfamiliar with. Write some non-fiction. Play a different instrument, especially one you’ve NEVER held or messed with. Bake a dessert. Buy a book at random in the bookstore because the color is appealing, and start reading it.
Listen to minimalism, avant garde, or a tiny niche metal genre for an album or so and don’t do anything else until it’s finished. Paying attention to the unfamiliar can unlock new doors for you.
Creative work as regular practice takes on a sort of agricultural ethos. Instead of “making a thing,” you start to think of an ongoing group of things you’re growing over time.
It doesn’t look like much at first, but at some point you see things are as big as you are. Then they get bigger, as you add to them. A bit like Lego or Minecraft, piling element on top of element until something takes shape.
It’s easy to get caught in the thought that we aren’t really doing art, but it all grows if we keep steadily feeding—and watering—the ground.
One of the things you have to discuss in any conversation about Prince is his staggering capacity to create music. He seemingly never stopped. There’s up to 100 albums’ worth of music he left behind, in addition to the 39 studio albums—and smaller projects—he actually released. And he was really, really good.
For me, it’s an unbroken string of brilliance from Dirty Mind all the way through the Love Symbol Album. And even the worst Prince record is pretty good.
What can you do in the face of such awe-inspiring making? Some people say they feel like giving up, confronted with any such prolific master. But I hope we’re inspired. It does help to be a genius, that’s for sure. But the faucet is always there, even if the pipes are not as big for most of us.
Listen to some Prince and make some things of your own.
Following on from yesterday, it brings to mind a common reason I have for being discouraged: not knowing where to start when things go wrong. When you have the habit, you’re swimming strongly, maybe you don’t know quite where you’re going, but you’ll know when you get there, and you feel confident. Then something happens, and the feeling that you’re lost comes to the fore.
But the only thing you can do, really, is start again, right where you are. It doesn’t matter where you were, or where you wanted to be. It only matters that you, in the words of the mighty DEVO, “get straight, go forward, move ahead […], it’s not too late”.
Now that I’ve put that song in your head for the foreseeable, go do your daily thing.
Song title parade continues! Getting low on enthusiasm is dangerous to the habit. So, too, is getting low on ideas of any kind.
Ideas are rightly thought of as easy to come by. It takes lots of work to transform one into a finished piece. But it also takes time and experiences to stoke the furnace they come from. Getting out of the house, trying a new path (to work, in routine, with your job), getting bored, even.
We’re working very hard at the moment to rid ourselves of boredom at every turn. There are emails to answer, texts to send, and games to maintain. Ideas tend to come faster and weirder—and you want those weird ones, for sure—if we let ourselves slip into boredom regularly. Try putting your phone in your pocket, closing your laptop, and giving yourself at least a half hour of, well, nothing.
I’ve done this a few times, and am trying for regularity. It works. It helps perspective, to lower stress, and to give your brain room to start musing. Try it out.
Forging ahead with all speed is great for productivity. But productivity is beginning to seem like an end goal, rather than a means to an end.
Along with checking in with yourself, now and again, to see how you’re feeling and catch bigger emotional issues before they start affecting the rest of your life, we should check in on our creative work.
Stepping back, getting the big picture, seeing the forest . . . whatever metaphor you’d like, make sure you’re going in a direction you like and building toward a thing that matches your vision for it.
Along the digital hygiene self-examination track I’ve roared into headlong, I made my way slowly through Dan Hon’s newsletter (worth subscribing to, if you’re interested in informed ruminations on tech and its intersection with human life) wherein he talks about the difficulty in discerning whether social media corps. are engineering quirks of our brain reward system to get us addicted to the feeds they dangle, or if it’s just a coincidence of their format.
Basically, I wondered, is it just easier to make a decision about what we value? Do we value our time to make things and—even the precious moments we rarely find to just sit and do nothing—more than the endless stream of discrete information that’s overloading us?
Sorry, leading question your honor, withdrawn.
As creators, makers, we probably want our work to be valued. But if we don’t carve out time for it—probably more than we think we need—it doesn’t receive the raw input that imbues much of that potential value. In my opinion.
The Feed takes value from us. It takes it in the form of our time, our focus, and our personal data. We’re attempting to put value back into the world. Perhaps we should consider if we need a lot more of our own raw value to be able to do that.