For many creative people, this step may be the most difficult of all: Discipline.
The importance of discipline for creativity
Yet I can not underscore enough the importance of discipline. Have a schedule, and stick to it. I don’t really care what that schedule is—could be half an hour right before you go to sleep or nine-to-five. I don’t really care what the goal is, large or small. But discipline is what makes ideas become reality.
I believe that you’re always working with the same ratio of good creation to crappy creation, for example 1:10, so yes you’ll produce a lot more crap with a disciplined practice, but you’ll also create an equally greater quantity of really good stuff. You have to act consistently, with or without inspiration, whether or not what you’re creating is good, because the one-in-ten creation of value is worth it.
Doesn’t that take the fun out it?
What are you making art for? Always ask that question, “What’s the purpose?” In everything you do, “What is the purpose?” It doesn’t have to have one, but at least then you know that, and you don’t try to make it into something it is not.
If your purpose to express that impulse to make something out of nothing, to synthesize two concepts that have never before been merged, to birth something entirely novel, then stick to that purpose. Don’t let the purpose of “having fun” get in the way, because that’s never what it was about. Don’t pretend that art is supposed to make you happy, if that’s not what you do it for.
If you’re just doing it to have fun, to blow off steam, then sure, do whatever you want with your time and schedule. I wonder though, if you tried it, would it really be less fun that whatever else you’re doing with that time?
What about random inspiration?
You never have to give up those moments of inspiration, the wake-you-up-in-the-middle-of-the-night ideas of pure genius. In fact, the more you keep to a schedule, the more these “random” moments of lucidity will occur. You do them, and you stay disciplined. That way you’re producing more stuff. You’re constantly refining and improving your skills to better express whatever inspiration you have, when it naturally comes.
Rigid and Flexible
Like the aspens that keep their shape yet also turn horizontal in the winter snows of Colorado, you must maintain your rigid schedule while also being flexible. Find out what works for you, and know that at some point it will probably stop working. At that time you’ll re-evaluate, re-ask “What am I doing this for?” and figure out the new schedule. For example, if you worked really well late at night, but then you moved in a small cabin with no electricity, you’d have to maintain the discipline by changing the form.
Sometimes the change will be small, such as family vacations. Giving yourself time to rest is important, but try not to let that be an excuse. It is all too easy to come up with special circumstance after special circumstance, and never truly develop our discipline. Think of this as a sacred time—you’re giving space to invite in the creative impulse, which some call Divine.
Rumor has it that you build a habit after 21 days. Don’t bother committing to a lifetime of creative discipline—the psychology of such a commitment will keep you from ever making it. You don’t marry a girl the second you meet her, you date her for at least a couple of weeks. So if you’re interested in being more creative, commit to a disciplined schedule, and just promise yourself to keep it for a few weeks.