Aristotle wrote about creativity, back in 300 BC. So did Cicero and Freud, Thomas Hobbes and da Vinci. And now, me.
Why in god’s name would you listen to me?
Sorry to disappoint, but you have more in common with me than with da Vinci. We’re both alive. We’re both inhabitants of the 21st century. And we both have access to the net.
Most ancient wisdom on “being creative” assumes you already have the space necessary to be creative in.
I am not referring to physical space, such as a desk, a canvas, or a soundboard. I don’t mean temporal space, either. Uninterrupted time and a clean area to work in are useful, but not essential.
We’ve all sat in the cramped little table of a coffeeshop, within earshot of the inane banter of the barrista, yet managed to be productive despite it all. Resident café writers, like Hemingway in La Rotonde, have always been there to prove that where you choose to be creative doesn’t matter much.
But however much you want to feel like Hemingway when you’re typing away at your favorite cafe, one thing above all others separates you. It is this: WiFi.
You think you know what I am going to say, don’t you? “No internet = more productivity”.
Well, you were right, cause I just said it. To put it in perspective, imagine Hemingway sitting in a vast library, where his every thought and every mental hiccup causes a semi-relevant page of a fascinating book to fly at his face. He can see and hear and read more, sitting there, than anyone before him ever has.
But that is not all. The internet is only the most obvious way that the way we think and work has changed. There are more books in print today than at any other time. There’s always a magazine or newspaper lying around, a TV on, a book in your bag (or a hundred, if you Kindle).
At some point in the last decade, it became far easier to consume content than to create. You’d have to try very very hard to avoid other people’s words, thoughts, art, and music.
But you should try. All of this content, no matter how beautiful, inspiring, or relevant it might be, is a product of someone else’s mind. These ideas and creations surround you and use up your attention, until there is no space left for your own thoughts.
Like any background noise, we hardly notice it until it’s gone. You might think it doesn’t bother you, or doesn’t affect the way to think or act or create. You would be wrong.
To be creative, you need space. Physical space is optional, temporal space is recommended, and attention space is essential. To create a space in your mind, you need to shut off all inputs. At least one full day a week. On Sundays, say.
No email or twitter, no internet at all. No music. No books. No inputs at all. Your laptop becomes a typewriter. If you are a programmer, you could write code, but you shouldn’t read other’s code. If you are a musician, you can make music, but not listen to the music of others. Anything that is the product of someone else’s mind, leave for another day.
When your mind has no inputs, not only is it free to create, it is compelled to create. If you do this right, it should feel like discovering a new kind of silence.