June 7, 2021

Lock yourself in a room until something cracks open


While buying strings at the guitar store, the woman next to me asked the salesman what gift to buy for her teenage son.

She showed him a picture of this fancy learning tool that included a digital chord assisting device and finger muscle memory trainer.

The salesman scoffed and said:

That’s just a toy, it’s not going to make you a better player. Your son is better off just listening to a great album over and over.

This is the perfect advice. Unsatisfying as it may be to hear for the customer, and unprofitable as it may be for the salesman, its purity and simplicity is precisely what paves the way to creative greatness.

The challenge is, artists often want something black and white to hang their hats onto. Because we live in a world where complexity is attractive because it feels like progress. Everyone is searching for the proven system or the simple shortcut or the surefire tool to raise their creative game in sixty days or less.

But sometimes you just have to lock yourself in a room and blast a record on repeat until something inside of you cracks open.

Tweedy, one of my songwriting inspirations, once said that the thing that pushed him to start writing songs as a teenager is the same thing that still compels him to keep writing songs today. He listens to music, new records, old favorites, the radio, anything, until he feels like he can’t take it anymore, and he has to make something, or he’ll lose his mind.

Even when he believes he’ll never be able to make something even remotely as perfect or beautiful as what he’s hearing, he can’t just sit there and let that challenge go unanswered.

This approach is applicable to any creative pursuit. Anytime you find you’re having trouble exhaling, you can usually trace it to not inhaling enough.

After all, there are only three steps in ant creative process. Input, throughput and output.

When in doubt, flood your senses so you know what great art feels like.

Overwhelm yourself until you get emotional enough to make something happen.

Are you still trying to buy yourself a lower score?

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