Creativity is the byproduct of work

I really like Christoph’s new website. It has everything: great visual hierarchy, great subdivision of space on big screens (something I struggle with!), and also great choice of GT Alpina for headings (I spotted that wonky, almost-falling-over lowercase a in less than a heartbeat).

Clicking around, enjoying his website, I spotted this post where Christoph quotes Jürgen Geuter:

You are not creative and then create something, you become creative by working on something, creativity is a byproduct of work.


This reminds me that a few weeks I was stuck on a design problem. So I did what I always do: I kept slamming my head into the wall, over and over again and made fifty iterations and tried every bad idea possible. Then—after weeks of slamming—it all clicked. I found a creative (maybe innovative!) way of solving this particular problem and felt a huge wave of relief. But, after I figured it all out, I realized that I never would’ve had this idea if I had just waited for it.

Great ideas don’t come to me if I wait for them, they happen whilst I’m bouncing my head off the wall.

With my design work I know this to be true: just keep iterating and eventually a novel approach will accidentally happen. My cursor will slip or I’ll click the wrong button and it will lead to a cascade of changes and improvements that eventually turn into something resembling good. With my career in design, I’ve got to the point that if you give me a project I’m confident I’ll figure out a solution, given enough time.

I treat writing so very differently though!

Right now I’m working on something, a big piece with no clear edge. I don’t really know what it is yet — or where it’s going — but for days I’ll leave it alone and wait for inspiration to strike. I’ll wait for a character’s name or an event to tumble out of the ether or hop right into my lap. I’ll wait for a scene to take shape or a paragraph to be whittled down. But progress has been glacially slow on this project because that’s just not how work works.

So if design has taught me anything it’s this: Don’t wait. Just keep noodling. Creativity isn’t a thing that you are, or a thing that you will be temporarily in the future. Creativity isn’t luck, either.

Creativity is simply a byproduct of work.