Tag Archives: creativity

how to say no

26 Oct

My friend Derek and I have talked long into the night—and in the early morning before our friends wake up—about limits. Commitment. Smallness. About “traveling widely in Providence,” which is a line that’s stuck with me all these years, even if I’m getting it wrong. With so many people advocating for saying yesyes to everything—we need to know we can still say no. Liz Danzico says we not only can but should.

“Something a friend said to me several years ago has stayed with me,” she writes in The Manual. “‘It’s easy to say no if you love something.’ Wrong. Wrong, I thought at the time. If you love something, say yes. Say yes to everything. Yet what did he mean about loving something, I quietly wondered on the side. Did he mean to imply having a focus for one’s passion was another tool to help make better choices?”

She apparently comes around. Her final thought is this: “No matter what it is—be it a business, a person, a piece of art, a career, a song, a family, a way of life, or a pursuit of any kind—it’s easy to say no to all the choices that will present themselves if you love something. Finding that thing is the hardest part. But that’s another lesson.”

Alongside her post, she ran this quote from the late Steve Jobs, which is a timely and poignant conclusion to all this:

“People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the 100 other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of the many things we haven’t done as the things we have done.” 

Chaplin sketch

16 Apr

Google just keeps outdoing itself with these honorary homepage designs.


get out your scissors

4 Mar

Speaking of getting back to simpler methods in creative projects, Frank Chimero wrote last year for Thinking for a Living about the value of scissors:

In the boom of digital tools for designers, the humble scissors have been forgotten. Our poor scissors sit in our desk drawers, waiting for the next non-creative task we require them for. It wasn’t always like this. Scissors used to be used as a primary means to capture likenesses, create art, and even make movies. One could perceive cutting paper for a creative task as a juvenile activity, but some of the finest creative specimens have been created with no more than a modest sheet of paper and sheers.

And he goes on to show some incredible, scissor-produced artworks, many from the ’40s and ’50s.

It reminded me of a morning here at work. We were running a 3-part series on green design in museums around the world, and the writer, notoriously wordy, had turned in a horridly jumbled thing, unreadable and impossible to follow. So, remembering something my brother had advised a number of years ago, I printed it and spread the pages out over our conference table. Quickly, I cut apart every section: every museum, every trend, every sidebar. And I began to rearrange them, fitting the flimsy slips of paper together like puzzle pieces, adding short strips onto fat chunks and toying with order again and again until something close to readable emerged.

And I knew then what Frank meant about the scissors. For my latest story for Alarm, I did same thing, playing with the arrangement of quotes and prose until I had a better idea of what precisely I had on my hands. Sometimes, especially when writing on the computer, it’s easy to become deaf to what they’ve said, and what you’ve said, and what you’re trying to say. Blind to what you have in front of you, and what it could become.

Scissors are one way to see again.

concentrate, monkey, concentrate

4 Mar

Not usually a fan of gadgets and gizmos from the tech world—they’re just more artificial solutions to problems caused by earlier artificial solutions to yet earlier problems. But: a team from Spain has created something that immediately changed the way I write—the entire writing experience actually.

HerraizSoto&Co., from Barcelona, created the OmmWriter, a free word processor that completely takes over your computer, blanks out your screen, and stops your notifications. No chimes when someone gchats you, no tones when a new email pops up. No constantly being distracted by that news story you have pulled up behind your current window. No seeing other programs in your dock and remembering something you were going to do. This is a program that offers simplicity again. “Welcome back to concentrating,” it says as it opens. And it feels good.

It’s precisely because the OmmWriter disables the technology we’ve surrounded ourselves with that it actually serves a positive purpose in creative pursuits. From the team that created it:

OmmWriter Dana is a humble attempt to recapture what technology has snatched away from us today: our capacity to concentrate. OmmWriter is a simple text processor that firmly believes in making writing a pleasure once again, vindicating the close relationship between writer and paper. The more intimate the relation, the smoother the flow of inspiration.

The default screen is a snowy scene, a few trees near the horizon, clear, fresh, and white, like paper. Ambient music is available, as is silence. You can choose a plain white or gray screen as well. And from the moment I downloaded it, it was a pleasure to write. It was more intimate. And smooth. Somehow the designers had stumbled onto something new and yet simple and intuitive. Perhaps this was because it was never meant to be a product.

OmmWriter emerged as an internal tool to help transport us away from the humdrum noise; allowing us to be at one with ourselves and our ideas. All said and done, after having created something so valuable, we figured that OmmWriter was just too good to keep to ourselves.

In describing OmmWriter, the creative team quotes an anonymous wiseman who said, “We are all at the mercy of our wild monkey minds.” And so, when you’ve had your fill of writing, or, by necessity, you must re-enter the world, the program reminds you: “Restarting notifications. Your mind, a wild monkey.”

17 of 30

22 Feb

In response to some entrepreneur‘s blog post on drawing an owl, a commenter stumbled onto the best guide for creative projects I’ve ever read.

1. Start
2. Keep going.
3. You think you’re starting to get the hang of it.
4. You see someone else’s work and feel undeniable misery.
5. Keep going.
6. Keep going.
7. You feel like maybe, possibly, you kinda got it now.
8. You don’t.
9. Keep going.
10. You ask for someone else’s opinion—their response is standoffish, though polite.
11. Depression.
12. Keep going.
13. Keep going.
14. You ask someone else’s opinion—their response is favorable.
15. They have no idea what they’re talking about.
16. Keep going.
17. You feel semi-kinda favorable and maybe even a little proud of what you can do now.
18. Self-loathing chastisement.
19. Depression
20. Keep going.
21. You ask someone else’s opinion—they respond quite favorably.
22. They’re still wrong.
23. Depression.
24. Keep going though you can’t possibly imagine why.
25. Become restless.
26. Receive some measure of praise from a trustworthy opinion.
27. They’re still fucking wrong (Right?).
28. Keep going just because there’s nothing else to do.
29. Mastery arrives, you mistake it for a gust of wind.
30. Keep. Fucking. Going.

I think I’m at or around #17. Not looking forward to the next two.

be less tall

7 Feb

More practical is less practical sometimes, and being tall and connected and well-read and traveled can dull the edges of a good question. If questions aren’t coming easily, make yourself less so. Take something away. Give something away. Be less tall.

This works in the abstract. It’s beautiful, and it’s very much my “line of thinking,” as such lines go. But my mind—or my hands, eyes, and lungs, rather—struggle with what it really looks like. Anecdotes and/or hypothetical scenarios welcome.