Remove Imaginary Barriers to Your Work

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.

After years of learning and applying rules, you might live within these constraints even when they don’t actually apply to you. You’ll feel like you’re bumping into invisible walls. For me, a huge invisible wall was the traditional publishing system; I felt like I needed to have a book agent, write a book proposal, and build an audience, all before I could actually start to write a book. For years, I tortured myself with that idea that I needed the system’s buy-in before I could write a book. This fixation on being accepted by the traditional institutions distracted me from the clear vision of what was in front of me and the valuable experiences and ideas I already had.

The reality is, as I found out years later, I could’ve written a book at any time. A book can be as simple as 20,000 words strung together. If I stitched together 20 articles at 1,000 words each, which I was writing every week, I could’ve put a book together. (In the traditional book publishing world, some books are even just 11,500 words.) This is true for you as well. As soon as you’ve figured out the simplest elements of your craft, you can start creating. Elsewhere in this book, you’ll do exercises that involve finding new materials to work with—new lines, words, and sounds, for example—and more deliberately setting a mission and theme, which can be based on one specific element of your work.

Even before we start our creative work, it’s easy to find reasons to stop. We don’t have the equipment that the professionals use, we have no one following our work, and we’re unsure if what we’re trying to do is even “really” what we want to do. If you’ve let your craft get more complicated in your head—through the mystique and magic of creativity—it’s time to let them go. Don’t impose fictitious rules on yourself.

You might think you need all of that to get started, when in reality all of those resources and insights will come to you as you do the work.

Make Idle Time

The most important thing I noticed today was that only in stillness can we recognize movement.Marina Abramović

There is no universal creative process. But any creative process will involve various periods of incubation, or time spent not consciously thinking about the problem. You have likely experienced this phenomenon yourself when after hours at work spent agonizing over a problem, the solution pops into your head when you get home and take the dog for a walk. This is also known as The Shower Principle—ideas come to you when you’re doing something else, like taking a shower, doing the dishes, or working on another problem entirely.

As it turns out, even if you’re not concentrating on something or keeping busy, a different part of your brain activates and processes your thoughts. If you’re interested in the neuroscience at work here, I suggest reading Alex Soojung-Kim Pang’s Rest.

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