Yesterday, over dinner, I looked across the table to my wife and said, “Never let me forget the importance of just ‘doing the work,’ okay?”
She nodded lovingly.
I wasn’t convinced she understood what I meant, so without any prompting I expanded on my statement.
“What I mean when I say ‘doing the work’ is waking up everyday and just creating. Even if it feels like there’s no juice, no gas, no fire. Just having a routine, you know?”
She nodded again.
W.H. Auden, the Anglo-American poet, said, “Routine, in an intelligent man, is a sign of ambition.” This is an unsettling creative paradox I’ve found to be true. Routine births innovation. Repetition begets discovery. Out of perpetual sameness comes new perspective.
A personal goal of mine in 2016 is to learn as much as I can about the art of storytelling. On multiple occasions this goal has brought me back to a company called StoryBrand, started by New York Times bestselling author Donald Miller. You may know him from his book, Blue Like Jazz.
StoryBrand’s website is nice. Strikingly nice. It relies mainly on a popular font called Brandon Grotesque. Brandon Grotesque is so popular some would say it’s overused. The StoryBrand site features Brandon Grotesque in black and white and grey and italic and in various line heights and sizes and overlaid on various backgrounds.
Along with this single main font, StoryBrand also uses a single main color: seafoam green. The simplicity of the site is almost alarming. Shouldn’t there be more than this? On the surface, the confines of the design seem needlessly restrictive.
Yet this is the paradox at work. In design, in film, in music, and in speaking, consistency and simplicity inevitably lend themselves to better work. In practice, this restrictive approach to creativity is realized in routine: Waking up before the crack of dawn (Benjamin Franklin). Exercising daily (Dickens/Beethoven). Wearing the same uniform to work each day (Zuckerberg/Jobs).
Your routine doesn’t need to look the same as others’. To me, the notion of a daily uniform isn’t even remotely appealing. I do, however, practice the discipline of waking up at 5:00 AM six days out of seven.
Here’s a question to ask yourself: What do you want your body of work to look like in 5 years? This question is tremendously helpful for me because it forces me to look beyond whatever project I’m currently staring at and see the long-term perspective. In 5 years, what do I want my body of work to look like? What have I contributed to the world in terms of art and creativity?
The specifics notwithstanding, I want my body of work to be robust, diverse, and in a perpetual state of improvement. Stated simply, I want to create a lot of great stuff across a wide variety of platforms. And I want to get better at creating this stuff every single day.
I think this is an aim I share with many others. Perhaps with you. If this is the case, I contend the best way for both you and I to accomplish our goals is to practice the discipline of a creative routine. Here are a few practical examples of what I mean:
- Wake up at the same time everyday and write—even if it hurts.
- Tell a story on Snapchat every single day—even if your life feels boring. (And maybe find a way for it not to be boring.)
- Go for a walk each day—even if it’s cold outside.
I want to circle back to StoryBrand and their website. The site succeeds masterfully because of imposed design restrictions. Imposed restrictions are a good thing. In design, they help your church develop a precise brand. In story, they ensure you follow the progression of a story arc. And in all creative pursuits, restrictions are realized in the form of routine and practiced disciplines.
StoryBrand’s approach to marketing and design is the most creative I’ve seen this year. The irony here is that it’s also one of the most simple and restrictive I’ve seen this year. It might seem that using the same font and color pairing over and over again gets boring. Maybe it does. But if you want to create a robust body of work in the years to come, going out of your way to escape boredom isn’t the way to do it. Instead, find a creative routine that works for you and practice the disciplines you’ve set out for yourself.
And never let me forget the importance of just ‘doing the work,’ okay?