“I think I need to keep being creative, not to prove anything but because it makes me happy just to do it . . . I think trying to be creative, keeping busy, has a lot to do with keeping you alive.” —Willie Nelson
- Life is short and art is long.
“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
Other than death, there is no finish line or retirement for the creative person.
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.
The creative journey is not one in which you’re crowned the triumphant hero and live happily ever after. The real creative journey is one in which you wake up every day with more work to do.
“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” —Annie Dillard
“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
- A daily routine will get you through the day and help you make the most of it.
“A schedule defends from chaos and whim,” - Annie Dillard.
- To establish your own routine, you have to spend some time observing your days and your moods.
“My hangovers are scheduled a year in advance.” —John Waters
“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
- A list gets all your ideas out of your head and clears the mental space so you’re actually able to do something about them.
“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
“Finish every day and be done with it. You have done what you could; some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; you shall begin it well and serenely, and with too high a spirit to be cumbered with your old nonsense.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson
- 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.
“Every day is a new deal. Keep workin’ and maybe sump’n’ll turn up.” —Harvey Pekar
“It’s hard to find anything to say about life without immersing yourself in the world, but it’s also just about impossible to figure out what it might be, or how to best say it, without getting the hell out of it again.” —Tim Kreider
“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
“Everybody gets so much information all day long that they lose their common sense.” —Gertrude Stein
“Keep your eye on your inner world and keep away from ads and idiots and movie stars.” —Dorothea Tanning
“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
“Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes—including you.” —Anne Lamott
“I must decline, for secret reasons.” —E. B. White
- Saying “no” to the world can be really hard, but sometimes it’s the only way to say “yes” to your art and your sanity.
“I paint with my back to the world.” —Agnes Martin
“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
- 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 someplace further and far more interesting.
“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
“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
“God walks out of the room when you’re thinking about money.” —Quincy Jones
“It’s always good to have a hobby where there’s no way to monetize it . . . So follow your dreams, but right up to the point where they become your job, and then run in the other direction.” —David Rees
“Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.” —William Bruce Cameron
- When you ignore quantitative measurements for a bit, you can get back to qualitative measurements.
“No artist can work simply for results; he must also like the work of getting them.” —Robert Farrar Capon
“Don’t make stuff because you want to make money—it will never make you enough money. And don’t make stuff because you want to get famous—because you will never feel famous enough. Make gifts for people—and work hard on making those gifts in the hope that those people will notice and like the gifts.” —John Green
- Making gifts puts us in touch with our gifts.
“What I’m really concerned about is reaching one person.” —Jorge Luis Borges
“It’s as true today as it ever was: He who seeks beauty will find it.” —Bill Cunningham
You do not need to have an extraordinary life to make extraordinary work. Everything you need to make extraordinary art can be found in your everyday life.
The first step toward transforming your life into art is to start paying more attention to it.
“It’s always been my philosophy to try to make art out of the everyday and ordinary . . . it never occurred to me to leave home to make art.” —Sally Mann
“Let’s slow down, not in pace or wordage but in nerves.” —John Steinbeck
- You don’t have to be an artist to draw. You just need an eye or two.
“Drawing is the discipline by which I constantly rediscover the world. I have learned that what I have not drawn, I have never really seen, and that when I start drawing an ordinary thing, I realize how extraordinary it is, sheer miracle.” —Frederick Franck
“For anyone trying to discern what to do with their life: PAY ATTENTION TO WHAT YOU PAY ATTENTION TO. That’s pretty much all the info you need.” —Amy Krouse Rosenthal
“To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work.” —Mary Oliver
“Tell me to what you pay attention and I will tell you who you are.” —José Ortega y Gassett
“However glorious the history of art, the history of artists is quite another matter.” —Ben Shahn
“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function. One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless and yet be determined to make them otherwise.” —F. Scott Fitzgerald
“I’m making explorations. I don’t know where they’re going to take me.” —Marshall McLuhan
“The world needs you at the party starting real conversations, saying, ‘I don’t know,’ and being kind.” —Charlie Kaufman
- Interacting with people who don’t share our perspective forces us to rethink our ideas, strengthen our ideas, or trade our ideas for better ones.
“The disorder of the desk, the floor; the yellow Post-it notes everywhere; the whiteboards covered with scrawl: all this is the outward manifestation of the messiness of human thought.” —Ellen Ullman
- You’re often most creative when you’re the least productive.
“I can never find what I want, but the benefit is that I always find something else.” —Irvine Welsh
- When in doubt, tidy up.
“Naps are essential to my process. Not dreams, but that state adjacent to sleep, the mind on waking.” —William Gibson
“Go out and walk. That is the glory of life.” —Maira Kalman
- Like a tree, creative work has seasons. Part of the work is to know which season you’re in, and act accordingly. In winter, “the tree looks dead, but we know it is beginning a very deep process, out of which will come spring and summer.”
“Imitate the trees. Learn to lose in order to recover, and remember that nothing stays the same for long.” —May Sarton
“There is no measuring with time, no year matters, and ten years are nothing. Being an artist means, not reckoning and counting, but ripening like the tree which does not force its sap and stands confident in the storms of spring without the fear that after them may come no summer. It does come. But it comes only to the patient, who are there as though eternity lay before them, so unconcernedly still and wide. I learn it daily, learn it with pain to which I am grateful: patience is everything!” —Rainer Maria Rilke