Monday, January 26, 2009

Setting constraints to succeed.

Hi everyone.

This is part two of my series on setting constraints for creativity and success. I am going to address some ideas that have to do with constraints that I experience in my everyday life -- however, I have never deliberately applied constraints to maximize some outcome. Instead, I have had constraints placed on me by external forces like teachers, bosses, the state, etc.  But I'm ready and wanting to change that!

However, let's brain-storm a little, flip the script a little, and see how we can take these nasty external constraints and use them to our advantage.

1. Be Your Own Teacher: In school, it is customary to be assigned tasks that have a certain due date. The teacher decides when the work product is required to be submitted to him or her. If you do not submit the work, you do not get graded, which results in a grade of F - fail. Isn't that so much like life? If we don't do something by a certain time, even if we expected a wonderful outcome, if we don't do something, we fail. We fail because we did not do anything.

Why don't we become our own teachers, and create arbitrary guidelines to work towards? A silly example comes to mind, where you take a dart and throw it at a huge desk-sized calendar. But first, choose something you want to do.  What about "go one a date with someone new and exciting," or "be able to do 200 pushups".   And then throw that dart at the calendar and that's when it has to be done by!

Now, you might think "Wow, I can't possibly get _____ done by this date.  I'll need more time!"  Talk about self-fulfilling prophecy!  Remember how in college when we were assigned 30 page essays 2 months in advance?  We would spend so much time ruminating over the task at hand, thinking "It will take so much work, I will do it later."  We didn't want to expose ourselves to the pain!  

But, by God, when we finally started working away at that paper at 2:30 AM, the night before it was due, we worked without thinking, just total focus and concentration guiding our efforts.  And we got good grades!  Yes, it was painful.  But it was finished, complete.  

What if we can do that in our own lives, being strict and requiring that a task be done at a certain time.  It doesn't have to be PERFECT!  Maybe you have to write 10 pages a day for your novel -- who cares if it is horrible.  You will get better!  Soon you'll get into the groove, knowing how to draw upon your novel-writing inspiration, but you never would have gotten there if you hadn't first set some bullshit constraint to force you to do it.  You still would be thinking about it, waiting for that "perfect" moment to come along, the muse whispering sweetly in your ear, guiding you to your computer.

No, you have to just sit down in front of the damn computer and start writing out ideas.  Don't wait for the muse.  Show that damned, yet lovable, muse that you are ready to work NOW and you will offend their refined muse-sensibilities by cranking out the worst, lowest quality writing ever until they help you out.  That will be a big enough threat for them!  

2.  Confused about what Constraints to set?  Copy from famous, successful people!  Now, a question you may be faced with is -- well, I know what activity I want completed by a certain time, but how much should I do daily, monthly hourly?

That's where Google comes in hand!  Thanks to Google, we have access to the minds of thousands of geniuses, both contemporary and classic.  So say you want to know how many pages of your novel that you should write a day, google author interviews to see what they write a day.  In terms of song writing, I know that Missy Eliot writes a song a day.  That is 365 songs a year.  That's enough for like 365/12 = approximately 30 albums.  So essentially what Missy Eliot is saying implicitly that not EVERY song she writes is going to make it onto her new album or is going to be a song she will offer another artist to sing.  But she keeps up the writing habit so she's ready for that good song.  

[ google snowflake method for writing a novel -- -- stupid safari won't let me paste the url into the browser -- this is a reminder to always use Firefox]

Anyway, yes, copy famous, successful people.  Be aware that you aren't going to copy them FOREVER.  We're just experimenting and seeing what happens.  We might realize that we work better doing one thing or method.  

I will continue this treatise tomorrow.  I will also start putting this into action.