A way to breathtaking truth and discovery

A way to breathtaking truth and discovery

Header image source: Unsplash

So often the daily practice of writing can seem frustrating and lack purpose. There are the days that the words flow and there are the days that my brain goes missing in action. One of the ways that I jolt my writing into action is by typing up my post it notes from the books I read. The process serves many purposes. I re-engage with the ideas of great authors and do so at a pace that allows the words to percolate as I type them. I start to see patterns between ideas from one author and another and from there I start to create new meaning. I use the great thinking of others to look further.

Continuing my sticky note addiction

If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders [sic] of Giants
Isaac Newton

Newton’s statement is pretty famous and one I thought was his own original quote. It comes from the latin “nanos gigantum humeris insidentes which means “discovering truth by building on previous discoveries“. This is exactly what I try to do with my writing process. I try to discover truth by building on the previous discoveries of intellectual giants. So much of what we learn starts with riffing on the ideas of others. In education, intellectual giants like John Dewey, Maria Montessori and Seymour Papert, still influence modern day thinking on pedagogy, curriculum and technology. This “copying” of thinking is not plagiarism. Austin Kleon calls this “reverse engineering”. There is a reason the words and thinking of giants jump out at us. There is a reason I sticky note particular passages in the books I read. The words are speaking to me. Unpacking the words is the first step towards new truth and discovery. Copying is our mirror neurons in action. We imitate when we first start creating.

“Start copying what you love. Copy, copy, copy, copy. At the end of the copy, you will find yourself.”
Yohji Yamamoto

Being a guitar player, I copy riffs that I love. I learn them not to pass them off as my own but to influence my own style. I learn them because they connect with me musically and emotionally. These discoveries are allowing me to discover new truths, and to see further. Once you have seen further, then it is your duty to allow others to stand on your shoulders and see further. This is the often the part where imposter syndrome kicks in and start to think like the two wise men below.

Image source: http://www.okmoviequotes.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/3-Waynes-World-quotes.jpg

Creating starts with copying. Our influences drive our initial thinking. The key part is to delve deeper and to explore those who influenced your influences. Read the books they quote or the research they highlight. Delve deeper into the giants they stood upon. Doing this will allow you to develop your own voice.

Just remember…

If you copy from one author, it’s plagiarism, If you copy from many, it’s research.
Wilson Mizner

Enjoy the research. Enjoy the view. You are worthy.

Finding your true authentic creative voice

Finding your true authentic creative voice

“If you take the process of creativity seriously, it has no shortcuts. You need to wait for authenticity. The discomfort is always there.”
Jad Abumrad – Founder of Radiolab

We all have our heroes. Creative individuals who make the creating of art seem easy. The quality of their work inspires you in one breath and stalls you with another. We see them way up at the top of the creative mountain and we’re stuck right down the bottom. The gap is enough to deflate you. Enough to make you not want to start the climb.

But don’t walk away.

Just start.

Megan McArdle writes in her book, “Up and Down”, that “it is easy to begin once you have accepted that what you produce may not be very good, and that is normal”. Giving in to the idea that your first attempts at climbing the creative mountain won’t be very good is liberating. Every first iteration needs work. Think of the work your students hand you. How often is the first draft a masterpiece? Pixar is an incredibly creative organisation and they say that ALL their movies are terrible when they first begin. It takes time and dedication to make the beauty appear from a first draft. It is step by step with no shortcuts. “Ask anybody doing truly creative work, and they’ll tell you the truth: They don’t know where the good stuff comes from,” Austin Kleon writes in Show your work, “they just show up to do their thing. Every day.” If you are wanting to do creative work, you need to do it every day.

The challenge with truly creative work is that the journey can be a lonely road. You toil away every day and there seems to be little interest. You have days where you question why you continue to pursue it. You have days where the creative work just doesn’t flow. It is not as good as you want it to be. Don’t fret.

“The first couple of years that you are making stuff, the stuff you are making is disappointing. Most everyone who does interesting creative work, the most important is to do a large volume of work. The work you create will then be as good as your ambitions”
Ira Glass – The Gap

A study conducted by Professor Dean Simonton shared by Adam Grant in the Originals supports this.

“Simonton finds on average, creative geniuses weren’t qualitatively better in their fields than their peers. They simply produced a greater volume of work, which gave them more variation and a higher chance of originality. “The odds of producing an influential or successful idea,” Simonton notes are a “positive function of the total number of ideas generated.”
Adam Grant – Originals

The key is to produce more work.

Every day, create more work. I can attest to this. I have written so much lately (over 50,000 words in two and a half months) and a large amount of that is just crap. Straight up garbage. Amongst the garbage though are ideas worth iterating on. Good starts. This post alone has been rewritten about 7 or 8 times. To get it right, I just had to keep going. One move at a time.

Creative work is as much a battle against ourselves as it is a battle against the generation of original thought. Everyone is their own toughest critic. We all face insecurity. Feel like a fraud, an imposter at times. Being in our own heads all the time can stunt your creative output. Get out of your head and get your idea/s out there. Do as Seth Godin says and “ship it”. Talk outside of your head with someone on that idea. It is this process that helps you improve it. Constant self-editing and analysing stunts growth. Create, share, feedback, create, share, feedback. A great story or artwork is hardly ever created in one sitting. It is an ongoing dance.

To help you develop your ideas, take Austin Kleon’s advice

“Chew on one thinker – writer, artist, activist, role model – you really love. Study everything there to know about that thinker. Then find three people that thinker loved, and find out everything about them. Climb up the tree as far as you can go. Once you build your tree, it’s time to start your own branch”

Everyone starts out as a cover band. We are the product of our influences. The key is to continue to do it. Day in and day out. The great ideas aren’t gifts from the heavens above. They are the product of dedication and hard work. While you may feel like the top of the creative mountain is too far away, the journey to the top is the same for everyone. One move at a time.


“Don’t walk away from the mountain”

Srinivas Rao – Unmistakeable Creative

Your voice will come.