I previously read the book Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon. I’m working on reviewing the follow-up book “Show Your Work. Inspired by Kleon’s discussion of his inspirations, I think the creative ethic of Tina Fey is pretty great. So I’m going to discuss some of her ideas and how to apply them to be creative. One thing I love is that her ideas inspire having humor about art. Humor has been linked to idea generation.
Make sure to write and even sketch your answers to these questions. Writing a powerful way to take action.
What are you resisting?
“Do your thing and don’t care if they like it.” Tina Fey
Carl Jung would say that “what you resist not only persists but will grow.” This resistance connects to the psychological effect of priming. When we’re exposed to one thing, how we respond to other things changes. We often dwell on other people’s thoughts. These are real or imagined as worry. We’ll worry to the point where we’re less focused on our own goals and ideas. That’s natural. We have to counter balance the effect.
Ask yourself: What are you resisting? Notice your resistance. Be gentle without self and write something kind about the issue, Then refocus your attention back to your goals. We can counteract priming with “kindness priming”. When exposed to kindness, we tend to be more kind.
Is this information true and relevant?
When people say, “You really, really must” do something, it means you don’t really have to. No one ever says, “You really, really must deliver the baby during labor.” When it’s true, it doesn’t need to be said.” Tina Fey
This ties into a logic problem. There are various names for this including genetic fallacy, the fallacy of origins or fallacy of virtue. We can’t conclude based solely on history, origin, or source. We have to consider context. If you don’t want to do something and can live with that, it’s really all you need to know.
Ask yourself: Is this information true and relevant? If they say you must try yoga, do they really mean that they are think that it’ll help you? If you don’t think it’ll help you, thank them for being so thoughtful and move on.
What’s the next action?
“You can’t be that kid standing at the top of the waterslide, overthinking it. You have to go down the chute.” Tina Fey
We call this analysis paralysis. We seek more and more clarity and not action. .One of my favorite poems Archaic Torso of Apollo describes in detail a headless statue. We can still imagine the head and arms, how intense this statue once was. Then we’re hit with one last detail: “You must change your life.” You know everything you need to act. Seek to balance seeking information with real creation. Small action leads to clarity.
Ask yourself: What’s the next action? Then do it. Make “Next Action” lists, not to do lists. David Allen describes next actions in detail in his book Getting Things Done. (To help you remember, print out my Getting Things Done cheat sheet.) This kind of list is specific verbs, places, and things. Avoid even broad goals like “Draw comics”. Instead try “Drawing in my sketchbook every day.” “Pencil a single comic panel every night”. Take action!
What can I do about this situation?
“Whatever the problem, be part of the solution. Don’t just sit around raising questions and pointing out obstacles.” Tina Fey
Expressing negativity doesn’t make us feel better according to psychologist Jeffrey Lohr who studies venting. We just create a habit of venting. The issues you’re expressing are real. We often complain when we feel helpless. Acknowledge that we feel helpless and prepare to deal with that feeling.
Ask yourself: What can I do about this situation? As I discussed in the episode on Creative Optimism, helplessness comes from seeing problems as being an issue with who we are. We’ll see them as long-lasting. The story we tell us is that they will impact other parts of our lives. Once we’ve noticed a question or an obstacle, write a few actions. It’s great that we’re observant! Now put that power of observation to use on a task.
How can I turn mistakes into opportunities?
“THERE ARE NO MISTAKES, only opportunities.” Tina Fey
Scott Berkin writer of Mindfire: Big Ideas for Curious Minds says that making a mistake means that you’ve created a situation where you make interesting mistakes. Once you gain confidence to accept yourself, you’ll learn by being courageous about making changes.
According to Scott Berk, there are four kinds of mistakes. Stupid, Simple, Involved, and Complex.
- A Stupid Mistake happens when we stub or toe. Just an accident of everyday humanity.
- A Simple Mistake involves missing something in an everyday process.
- An Involved Mistake involves becoming conscious of a pattern. Figuring out what makes us late for a deadline on a regular basis, for example.
- A Complex Mistake might involve all of these plus unforeseeable issues and difficult information, even when we care the outcome.
Ask yourself: How can I turn mistakes into opportunities? Even a complex mistake is really mostly a series of Stupid, Simple, and Involved mistakes. Identify the simple low hanging fruit. As babies, we had to fall a lot so that we could stand. Mistakes happen. The biggest opportunity is finding ways to laugh at it.
What can I do to keep my promises?
“The show doesn’t go on because it’s ready; it goes on because it’s 11:30.” Tina Fey
Creativity doesn’t just happen. We make it happen. It’s about making. Otherwise, we’d be trapped within the realm of thought and imagination.
Jon Stewart discussed with The Daily Beast how deadlines helped the Daily Show’s success. He made a promise to treat ideas as welcome from all staff members, not just writers. Stewarted created an environment where everyone felt comfortable sharing ideas remained important.
With this overall friendly environment, he could set a firm meeting with writers and producers at 9 am, first drafts of scripts due by noon with rewrites due by 2 o’clock. With his name and voice on the show, he felt free to rewrite drafts in his own voice which could frustrate others.
Ask yourself: What can I do to keep my promises? Notice how you’ve met deadlines in the past. If you had someone checking in on you, you might ask someone you trust to keep you accountable. You might be better with scheduled dedicated alone time. Find ways to make it super easy to finish what you start.
Brian E. Young is a graphic designer and artist in Baltimore, MD.
Uncanny Creativity: Art & Design Productivity
Also published on Medium.