Microcosmographia by William Van Hecke

Creativity Hax

Microcosmographia iii: Creativity Hax

Microcosmographia is a newsletter thing about honestly trying to understand design and humanity.

Pretty tired today! I am trying segmented sleep again, and am not quite used to it yet. But I have an old email here that I sent to my dear friend Jon Bell, and I think some more folks might be interested in it. So the main text today is a lightly edited version of that!

You know I like to make jokes about how I’ve found “the difference between you and me”. You’re a screen-toucher, and I’m not. You’re the one who gets people whiteboarding and drawing on stickies to figure out design directions, and I’m the one who sends them a followup email with lists of detailed suggestions.

So here’s another one: you’re the person who relies on productivity hacks, and I’m the one who relies on creativity hacks. You’re doing purely creative stuff all the time, but I haven’t been able to do that since high school. As much as I like to think of myself as a creative person, and to imagine the completely original art projects I’d love to do (on a platter with glitter and everyone’s clapping), I don’t ship. Sure, I can build websites in service of some purpose I’m interested in, or code useful tools for myself, or oh yeah, write a book about software. But for a really long time I couldn’t bring myself to make art.

Well, right now I have got one of the biggest creative projects of my life in an active and ongoing creation process. It’s a fiction project that can continue indefinitely, based on a premise that quite literally came to me in a dream at 5:37 AM on October 16th, 2012 — one of the first times I took melatonin. And I’m actually shipping it! That is something I haven’t done since… since my webcomic died out in 2003, I guess. The process is working!!

Here’s how I hacked my creativity.

  1. Be anonymous — I probably got this from you. My project is out there on the web where anyone can read it, but it’s not connected to me in any way. Anxiety about what people will think didn’t help me ship, so I got rid of it.
  2. Write a paragraph a day — I definitely got this from you. Early on you told me to write a paragraph a day, no matter how crappy or how short. That super-low bar has me successfully writing at a consistent pace, and often quite a bit more than I thought I had in me that day. Sometimes I bash out near-nonsense just in order to get through a scene, thinking I’ll come back and fix it some day later. One person has said that they found those parts to be the most compelling in the whole work!
  3. Be ready to write anywhere — The project lives on a server that I can access from anywhere. Any time I decide I have five minutes to spend on it, I can be in the document and typing within ten seconds or so. Lots of writing gets done in bed, right before I go to sleep, with my iPad and a wireless keyboard, because it feels so casual to just pull them out and bang out a few sentences right there at the end of the day.
  4. Autoship — This is the big one. Twice a day, a cron job takes the source text file and publishes it on the web. I never have to think about whether I’ve reached some milestone that’s good enough to publish. I can’t tell myself that I’ll let the world see it once I’ve had a chance to polish it to some bogus standard. I can’t hover over a Submit button, agonizing about whether what I’ve done is good enough. It just goes. I am totally disconnected from the publishing process, so I don’t even think about it anymore — I just write.

Thank You And Be Well

Do I have to have a recommendation section in every letter? I am gonna say no. It will be better to send this out without one than to force a poor one or to wait until I have the energy to write one. Next time!!