Keep Going: 10 Ways to Stay Creative in Good Times and Bad
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Read between October 19, 2019 - January 11, 2020
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I Wrote this Book Because I Needed to Read It 1 Every Day is Ground Hog Day 2 Build a Bliss Station 3 Forget the Noun, Do the Verb 4 Make Gifts 5 The Ordinary + Extra Attention = the Extraordinary
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Slay the Art Monsters 7 You Are Allowed to Change Your Mind 8 When In Doubt, Tidy Up. 9 Demons Hate Fresh Air 10 Plant Your Garden
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This book is a list of ten things that have helped me. I wrote it primarily for writers and artists,
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Many of the points are things I’ve stolen from others. I hope you’ll find some things worth stealing, too.
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There are no rules, of course. Life is an art, not a science. Your mileage may vary. Take what you need and leave the rest.
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“None of us know what will happen. Don’t spend time worrying about it. Make the most beautiful thing you can. Try to do that every day. That’s it.” —Laurie Anderson
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“What would you do if you were stuck in one place, and every day was exactly the same, and nothing that you did mattered?”
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how you answer this question is your art.
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The creative life is not linear. It’s not a straight line from point A to point B. It’s more like a loop, or a spiral, in which you keep coming back to a new starting point after every project.
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No matter how successful you get, no matter what level of achievement you reach, you will never really “arrive.”
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The truly prolific artists I know always have that question answered, because they have figured out a daily practice—a repeatable way of working that insulates them from success, failure, and the chaos of the outside world.
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We have so little control over our lives. The only thing we can really control is what we spend our days on. What we work on and how hard we work on it. It might seem like a stretch, but I really think the best thing you can do if you want to make art is to pretend you’re starring in your own remake of Groundhog Day: Yesterday’s over, tomorrow may never come, there’s just today and what you can do with it.
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“Any man can fight the battles of just one day,” begins a passage collected in Richmond Walker’s book of meditations for recovering alcoholics, Twenty-Four Hours a Day. “It is only when you and I add the burden of those two awful eternities, yesterday and tomorrow, that we break down. It is not the experience of today that drives men mad. It is remorse or bitterness for something which happened yesterday or the dread of what tomorrow may bring. Let us therefore do our best to live but one day at a time.”
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“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” —Annie Dillard
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“Relying on craft and routine is a lot less sexy than being an artistic genius. But it is an excellent strategy for not going insane.” —Christoph Niemann
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When you don’t have much time, a routine helps you make the little time you have count. When you have all the time in the world, a routine helps you make sure you don’t waste it. I’ve written while holding down a day job, written full-time from home, and written while caring for small children. The secret to writing under all those conditions was having a schedule and sticking to it.
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A little imprisonment—if it’s of your own making—can set you free. Rather than restricting your freedom, a routine gives you freedom by protecting you from the ups and downs of life and helping you take advantage of your limited time, energy, and talent. A routine establishes good habits that can lead to your best work.
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What your daily routine consists of is not that important. What’s important is that the routine exists.
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“My hangovers are scheduled a year in advance.” —John Waters
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“I make lists to keep my anxiety level down. If I write down fifteen things to be done, I lose that vague, nagging sense that there are an overwhelming number of things to be done, all of which are on the brink of being forgotten.” —Mary Roach
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Lists bring order to the chaotic universe.
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Leonardo da Vinci made “to-learn” lists. He’d get up in the morning and write down everything he wanted to learn that day.
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Sometimes it’s important to make a list of what you won’t do.
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When I’m stuck in the morning and I don’t know what to write about in my diary, I’ll modify the pros-and-cons list. I’ll draw a line down the middle of the page, and in one column I’ll list what I’m thankful for, and in the other column, I’ll write down what I need help with. It’s a paper prayer.
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“Your list is your past and your future. Carry at all times. Prioritize: today, this week, and eventually. You will someday die with items still on your list, but for now, while you live, your list helps prioritize what can be done in your limited time.” —Tom Sachs
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Before you go to bed, make a list of anything you did accomplish, and write down a list of what you want to get done tomorrow. Then forget about it. Hit the pillow with a clear mind. Let your subconscious work on stuff while you’re sleeping.
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Every day is like a blank page: When you’re finished filling it, you can save it, you can crumple it up, or you can slide it into the recycling bin and let it be. Only time will tell you what it was worth.
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“Every day is a new deal. Keep workin’ and maybe sump’n’ll turn up.” —Harvey Pekar
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Creativity is about connection—you must be connected to others in order to be inspired and share your own work—but it is also about disconnection. You must retreat from the world long enough to think, practice your art, and bring forth something worth sharing with others. You must play a little hide-and-seek in order to produce something worth being found.
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“The greatest need of our time is to clean out the enormous mass of mental and emotional rubbish that clutters our minds and makes of all political and social life a mass illness. Without this housecleaning, we cannot begin to see. Unless we see, we cannot think.” —Thomas Merton
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“Everybody gets so much information all day long that they lose their common sense.” —Gertrude Stein
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The easiest way I get my feelings hurt is by turning on my phone first thing in the morning. Even on the rare occasion I don’t get my feelings hurt, my time is gone and my brains are scattered.
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“The phone gives us a lot but it takes away three key elements of discovery: loneliness, uncertainty, and boredom. Those have always been where creative ideas come from.” —Lynda Barry
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Airplane mode is not just a setting on your phone: It can be a whole way of life.
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“Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes—including you.” —Anne Lamott
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Social media has created a human phenomenon called FOMO: the Fear Of Missing Out.
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The only antidote is JOMO: the Joy Of Missing Out.
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“You have to have done something before you can be said to have done something. The title of artist or architect or musician needs to somehow be earned.” —Dave Hickey
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Lots of people want to be the noun without doing the verb. They want the job title without the work.
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Let go of the thing that you’re trying to be (the noun), and focus on the actual work you need to be doing (the verb). Doing the verb will take you s...
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Job titles can mess you up. Job titles, if they’re taken too seriously, will make you feel like you need to work in a way that befits the title, not the way that fits the actual work.
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Forget the nouns altogether. Do the verbs.
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“I don’t know what I am. I know that I am not a category. I am not a thing—a noun. I seem to be a verb, an evolutionary process.” —R. Buckminster Fuller
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All children learn about the world through play.
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“Play is the work of the child,” as Maria Montessori put it.
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When they can’t get their materials to do what they want them to do, they throw epic tantrums.
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I noticed that he cared not one bit about the actual finished drawing (the noun)—all his energy was focused on drawing (the verb).
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Musicians can jam without making a recording. Writers and artists can type or draw out a page and throw it away. Photographers can take photos and immediately delete them.
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Nothing makes play more fun than some new toys. Seek out unfamiliar tools and materials. Find something new to fiddle with.
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“You must practice being stupid, dumb, unthinking, empty. Then you will be able to DO . . . Try to do some BAD work—the worst you can think of and see what happens but mainly relax and let everything go to hell—you are not responsible for the world—you are only responsible for your work—so DO IT.” —Sol LeWitt to Eva Hesse
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