My methodology is not knowing what I’m doing and making that work for me. – Stone Gossard
All work, arguably, is creative. The process of putting together flat-pack furniture, we are reminded by Robert Pirsig, has its roots in the art of sculpture separated by a few centuries of intellectual wrong turns.
Chuck Palahniuk, the author of Fight Club explains his approach to writing in Consider this: Moments in my writing life after which everything was different. The books is full of suggestions and pointers and ideas that you have to read again and again to get. But there are two images, both borrowed, that stuck with me.
As artists – and I include writers and programmers and business people and everyone else who wants to do good work in that category – we are obsessed by method. We like to know how successful people did their work so that we can try their way and see if it works for us as well. Roald Dahl wrote on yellow legal pads with yellow Tixon Diconderoga #2 pencils. Neil Gaiman writes with a fountain pen in a bound notebook. And you will find hundreds of websites listing the habits and routines of famous people. And more than a few books.
Palahnuik is told a story by another writer about a man with a very long beard. Nothing bothers him until one day someone asks him whether he sleeps with his beard above the covers or below them. He’s never thought about this before – and that night he tries it above and tries it below and nothing works. And he never sleeps again.
Sometimes the breaking down of something, looking for process and method destroys the thing itself that you’re looking for. Mark Twain wrote about this – about how once he had learned how to pilot the Mississippi he lost the ability to see its beauty. But still we try because we hope that there is a secret that will get us to the end faster – something that means we don’t need to put in the work.
To do good work, unfortunately, there is no shortcut. Because you aren’t really working on the work – you’re working on yourself and until you’re ready the work isn’t ready. That’s why, if you’re lucky, you’ll find what you want to do early in life. Because it’s going to take you decades to develop yourself – ten years to learn your craft and another ten to master yourself. And there aren’t enough lifetimes to do it all so you have to decide what you want to do and get on with doing it.
The other point Palanhuik remembers is about a Buddhist monk who says, “If you cannot be happy doing the dishes, you cannot be happy.” Many people write about how some of the unhappiest people they know are also the wealthiest. There’s a book I never finished called Affluenza that starts with this premise. It’s like the phrase “first you own stuff, and then stuff owns you.”
Still, even with all that, we will still remain fascinated with how other people work. We jump at the chance to look behind the curtain and see what goes on. And if doing that helps you work out your own process and start to create your own work – perhaps that’s good too.