Obsess over Details

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Updated November 3, 2022

You’re reading an excerpt of Creative Doing, by Herbert Lui. 75 practical techniques to unlock creative potential in your work, hobby, or next career. Purchase now for instant, lifetime access to the book.

Obsession is one of the core aspects of craftsmanship. Detail, perfection, and progression are all fruits of obsession, an absolutist view on the correctness, integrity, or honesty of something. These traits often provide a breeding ground for great work.

“The details are not details—they make the product just like details make the architecture. The gauge of the wire, the selection of the wood, the finish of the castings—the connections, the connections, the connections,” writes designer and architect Charles Eames. You could also make the case that a creative work is nothing more than a sum of details.

Author Robert Caro writes of his obsession with research in Working: “Whatever it is that makes me do research the way I do, it’s not something I’m proud of, and it’s not something for which I can take the credit—or the blame. It just seems to be a part of me.”

We, too, must cultivate an obsession with our work. For me, in my writing, it’s about rigorous fact-checking and correctness. It’s about speaking in my voice, and doing the work it takes to figure out what that even means. Sometimes, it’s merely about a headline or, more likely, a lede—where I constantly tweak it to try to make it better. Other times, it’s about finding a fact or verifying an apocryphal tale to support a point.

To practice your detail-orientation, try choosing one thing to focus on for thirty minutes.

Zooming in on a small part of your work is a great interpretation of this prompt. You could focus your attention on one particular corner, or a 1-inch by 1-inch, area of your artwork. Or, if you’re making a song, focus on nailing the lyrics in the opening verse, or the harmonies on the bridge.

In music or computer hardware, you could also choose to focus on the time, pace, and tempo of your work. The thing you choose to obsess over might never be noticed outright by your viewers, readers, or audience—but you will know. For example, Apple made the blinking light sleep indicators on its laptops mimic the average number of breaths a person takes. You probably never knew that, but the creators knew it would make a difference in the quality of what they made.

Obsession can create the energy that takes your work to the next level.

Or flip this prompt: Stop Obsessing

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