« The Zone of Expendability? | Main | Still listening »

Don't wait for the muse


Yet another benefit of constraint-driven creativity is that you don't have time to wait for the muse to show up. And as film critic Roger Ebert told an audience of would-be filmmakers and musicians, "The muse never shows up at the beginning." You have to start doing something and trust the muse will follow, not the other way 'round.

I came across this Federico Fellini quote today, and it seemed to echo what others have been saying about everything from software design to business ideas:

"I don't believe in total freedom for the artist. Left on his own, free to do anything he likes, the artist ends up doing nothing at all.

If there's one thing that's dangerous for an artist, it's precisely this question of total freedom, waiting for inspiration and all the rest of it."

It's from a book I'm enjoying called Hillman Curtis on Creating Short Films for the Web (there's a short review of the book on Speak Up)

My favorite tool for creativity-on-demand is still mind-mapping. You start with that one circle in the center and draw/write as quickly as you can. The more you think, the less effective it is. You'll always find things on the paper you didn't expect... things you didn't know were in your head. But whatever you use, and whether you're writing, drawing, composing, coding, designing, whatever... just DO something. Or as Ray Bradbury put it in another quote from the book:

Life is "trying things to see if they work."

You can't try things if you're waiting for the muse to show up first. And if you want inspiration, it's everywhere including:

Creative Component blog

Billy Harvey

Speed of Creativity


Hugh, of course

Evelyn Rodriguez

TED blog

DIY Planner

Vera Bass

Presentation Zen

David Seah

MAKE blog

Brand Autopsy

Josh Spear

you didn't think I'd get out of this without mentioning Signal vs. Noise, did you?

Urban Retro Lifestyle


Creative Think

Cute Overload
[visit at your own risk]

... and about 20 gazillion more.

Please comment with any website, book, movie, blog, whatever that you use for a creativity jolt. Nothing is off-limits, and PLEASE don't hesitate to do a little shameless self-promotion if you think your blog or site might help someone else (just be sure to give us a sentence about it).

Posted by Kathy on November 20, 2006 | Permalink


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Don't wait for the muse:

» This is Not a Marketing Blog from Crossroads Dispatches
Oh dear, I've dropped off the top 25 marketing blogs (yet again). I hang out with a lot of marketing bloggers and I like to write about marketing from time to time. One could argue quite effectively that Kathy's #3 [Read More]

Tracked on Dec 4, 2006 1:55:07 PM


I go to designspotter and instructables .... they have clever and fun ideas! Although this one is a bit of a time waster, sometimes it proves an inspriation Stumble Upon

Posted by: hollyster | Nov 20, 2006 10:24:37 PM

I've always found it easy to get "ideas" on business topics by reading as much and as diverse topics as I can... in that what works in this market might apply to another... thought process.

I like...
Trendwatching (http://www.trendwatching.com)
CoolBusinessIdeas (http://www.coolbusinessideas.com)
Springwise (http://srpingwise.com)

They all give me some thoughts to apply back at Marlin Creek (http://marlincreek.com)

Of course, you have to be aware that reading can be a form of procrastination... so, set some specific time frame for checking up on some information... and then go back to the mindmapping to see if any "new" thoughts come flowing out from the recent stimulation.

Posted by: Graydon | Nov 20, 2006 10:41:50 PM

I just keep a moleskin with me--or if I'm feeling more techy my Palm--at all times and when something odd, funny, interesting, different, thought provoking happens I jot down the key words to help me remember the event. Then I don't write until the mood is striking, usually early in the morning, and often I preface a writing session with re-reading old posts or journal entries to get me thinking. Works for me.

A fabulous book I read recently and reviewed at http://scribbit.blogspot.com/2006/11/midnight-disease.html called The Midnight Disease was about writing and brain function which gave me plenty to think about how I'm writing, what sparks creativity and how brain functions inhibit/promote artistic endeavors.

Posted by: Michelle | Nov 20, 2006 11:17:42 PM

This is sort of connected to...moods & emotions!
One popular perception of modern society goes like this - "oh but I am not in the mood, or I dont feel inspired" blah blah.

Is it not possible to explore, control & harness the emotions, and being in the driver's seat, rather than the other way around?

Unfortunately such an idea is blasphemy, since people would think life becomes less colorful as a result :-)

Posted by: yogi | Nov 21, 2006 12:35:13 AM

Coincidence or do you read Sinfest?

Posted by: Mårten Gustafson | Nov 21, 2006 12:57:07 AM

I think it's important to know the difference between incubation and procrastination: incubation happens AFTER some really hard work; procrastination happens BEFORE it.

Nice choices. I'd add Logic + Emotion http://darmano.typepad.com/logic_emotion/

and Creative Generalist http://www.creativegeneralist.com/

And since you ask for shameless self promotion, my blog is about creativity/business issues for creative professionals - and I include the 'suits' in that category as well as the 'creatives'.

Posted by: Mark McGuinness | Nov 21, 2006 1:02:25 AM

Well, Kathy, you asked for it ;-) My own blog, edu.blogs.com, clearly has an educational focus - not just on technology but also on how marketing, management, business, art, culture and so forth could lend something to educationalists by making us look at things sideways.

Funnily enough, it's sometimes the marketers, managers, businesspeople, artists and culture journos who have got some insipiration from the educationalists I write about every day.

The feed also provides extra delicious goodness so that I can push others' ideas, too.

Very shameless. Mea culpa.

Posted by: Ewan McIntosh | Nov 21, 2006 1:40:39 AM

Howies, or better still, one of their catalogues.

Posted by: Jon Vaughan | Nov 21, 2006 2:28:13 AM

I'd definitely second Jon's nomination of the Howies catalogues - genius.

My work is about creative spirituality, and one of the other 'tricks' I'm learning is to pay as much attention to stuff that irritates me as the more immediately fun/inspiring. Guess it's obvious, but the muse often chooses to wear clothes I dislike.

Posted by: richard | Nov 21, 2006 2:48:05 AM

Thanks Kathy, for allowing the "shameless promotion" thing :-)
My blog http://www.adaptivelearningonline.net is my attempt to help developers with continuous learning. In the process of doing some research and by working with clients, I am coming to the conclusion that learning (in software development and probably other fields) is best done in continuous mode rather than in spurts.

My blog is an attempt to enable learning through conversations using blogs and podcasts. I also plan to start screencasting soon.

The primary focus of the blog is to help people with 0 - 2 years of software development experience, improve their coding and object oriented design skills.

Any feedback will be really appreciated. Over time I want this be a real "kick ass" site... but I am limited by my own perceptions of how learning can happen and what people will find useful. I hope to overcome that with user feedback and refactorings to the site, material, and mode of offering learning sessions.


Posted by: Parag Shah | Nov 21, 2006 2:59:25 AM

Yes kind of agree.

Path keeps opening in front as you walk!!

Posted by: Guru Tech | Nov 21, 2006 3:15:36 AM

I make inspiration happen by forcing myself to do projects. It seems forcing myself into unknown/uncomfortable situations gets the creative juices flowing. And it gets others' flowing as well, apparently, as I'm inspiring people know, which is inspiring to myself. :)

Shameless? Yes. My commercial is all about my passion for photography, as an amateur, as a blogger, as a music lover. This came out of nowhere and I think the marketing behind it is genius. I've (voluntarily!) become a Canon poster boy, because they've showed me they CARE, and they UNDERSTAND what drives me.

Posted by: Onno | Nov 21, 2006 3:30:29 AM

I'm not sure I totally agree Kathy. For sure, waiting for the muse to strike is a thankless task but, while you have to be disciplined in your approach and while perspiration begets inspiration as Ebert suggests, I'm not sure that the muse can be cajoled into appearance.

Based on no knowledge whatsoever, I always see the muse as the upshot of the percolation of all that stuff floating around our brain. Thus, all the blogs and resources you list should indeed be part of one's daily/weekly/monthly ritual that feed said brain and said muse, but there are times when you just have to walk away and use that time for the more mundane stuff which your brain is telling you it's up for. Or am I simply justifying my indolence?

Posted by: John Dodds | Nov 21, 2006 3:31:21 AM

I think one way is to keep your radar screen on. Using something like Bloglines on news feeds that interest you is one way. Google Alerts for some important keywords or phrases is another. Providing 'you're looking around' it's amazing what's going on out there.

Posted by: Barry Welford | Nov 21, 2006 3:48:05 AM

To me this view seems "in tune" with what is expressed in the mistake number 5 (Obstinacy) of Paul Graham's essay about mistakes that kill startups (http://www.paulgraham.com/startupmistakes.html).

I usually find my daily dose of inspiration in the following sites:
1. Seth Godin's blog - http://sethgodin.typepad.com
2. Guy Kawasaki's blog - http://blog.guykawasaki.com
3. Chief Happiness Officer blog - http://www.positivesharing.com
4. (Surprise!!!) Kathy Sierra's blog - http://headrush.typepad.com (So now you can call it "Creating Inspired Users"!)
5. Manifestos at http://www.changethis.com/

Posted by: Harish | Nov 21, 2006 5:28:07 AM

Good point Kathy, I experience the benefits of time constraint and just starting every day at the moment. I take on stuff I'm not 100% sure I can do and I usually have to do them in a very short amount of time. It forces me to be creative and to push the boundaries I come up against.
However I agree with John Dodds as well. I often have the best ideas in the shower, while commuting, shopping, baking, cleaning or while just sitting in my favorite chair or over a glass of wine with some friends.
If your brain is relaxed or challenged it comes up with the most interesting things.

One of my most stable sources for inspiration is Goodie (http://www.goodie.org). It's a small magazine featuring one interview per issue. The people they interview are invariably like no one I've ever met; unique, original and occasionally weird.

Posted by: Naomi | Nov 21, 2006 5:43:24 AM

Way fun!

Posted by: Sheamus | Nov 21, 2006 5:45:41 AM

Creativity Tools:
Walking, Showering, Talking to others about the problem, Talking to others about something other than the problem, MindMapping, Freewriting, doodling, jotting down notes, structuring and re-structuring the notes, switch from verbal to visual, switch from visual to verbal, take a step back to see the bigger picture (aka context), sleeping, switching the medium (from computer to pen&paper and vice versa), creating outlines (in Word or on paper), reviewing outlines, fleshing out outlines, reinventing outlines, getting something to eat or to drink, washing up, reading up on a wide variety of topics, ...

And not to forget: the precious moment after you sent out the (e)mail which detailed your problem and why you can’t possibly solve it at the moment – which invariably (OK, often) results in having The Right Idea(TM).

Kathy, keep up the good work!

Posted by: Jens | Nov 21, 2006 6:34:18 AM

I don't believe in "the muse". I believe in filling the well regularly, cross-pollinating from different fields, directed daydreaming, mind-mapping, and just getting down to work. Once you get started, the ideas come. I wonder sometimes if I'm the only artist in the world who *doesn't* believe I have a "muse"...hmmm...

I try to regularly provide mini online artist dates for my readers at http://www.layersuponlayers.com/ by pointing them to sites and projects that will help with filling the creative well with new ideas. And my jewelry blog provides many tutorials and tips for those who feel they need a nudge in being creative http://mazeltovjewelry.blogspot.com/

Kathy, I hope that someone, anyone, will find one of these sites helpful, because I feel that techie people can benefit from the arts just like I benefit from exposure to tech-world :-)

Posted by: Cyndi L | Nov 21, 2006 6:40:47 AM

Kathy, I find the same thing is true with podcast topics, for example. A lot of times I hear people say things like, "But we don't have enough to talk about for 50 podcasts!" Once they're conditioned to look around them for potential topics, of course, they find 100 topics without breaking a sweat. It's what Barry Welford called "keeping the radar screen on."

I can't do self-promotion without a little shame, but I'll do it nonetheless. My blog comes from the perspective of a 'new media' guy in a an 'old media' company, helping people see that they can now produce the same kinds of programming that has been reserved for big media companies in the past.

Posted by: David Brazeal | Nov 21, 2006 7:24:01 AM

Spot-on about the creative process, Kathy. Unless it's just a hobby, one needs to keep moving (literally or figuratively) to create the space for inspiration to happen.

As for my bit to share, I write The YouBlog -- practical ideas on presentations, persuasion, selling and communications. It's kind of a cross between Creating Passionate Users and Presentation Zen. You can find it at http://youblog.typepad.com.

Thanks for all you share with us!

Posted by: John Windsor | Nov 21, 2006 7:24:59 AM

I have found plenty of ideas here (blog entries and links to other resources).

I don't sit around waiting for the muse. I read as much as I can, explore the Web, talk to friends and coworker. I also make sure that I have always got a pen and paper nearby, because you never know when the muse will pop into your head. I also make sure that I get away from the computer and the office. Outdoor activities and exercise are great creativity boosters. My business partner taught me about "idea quotas." If you force (constrain) yourself to write down 10 ideas a day (they won't all be good), then, by the end of the week you will have 70 things to sort through...at least one will be decent, or can be the seed of a great idea.

Thanks for the self-promotion opportunity.
Our company is building a "Global Nation for Creatives." We are creating a place where people can showcase their talents. Our "Muzeum" will be a place that people can visit for inspiration, or to break through the dreaded creativity block. Our community site will be live in mid-December. In the meantime, you might find some ideas here oddpodz

Posted by: jocelyn | Nov 21, 2006 8:15:01 AM

http://buzz.stumbleupon.com gives a nice snapshot of what people are interested in at this moment.

As is this: http://technorati.com/pop/

Posted by: engtech | Nov 21, 2006 8:55:08 AM

Thanks for inviting shameless self-promotion. Here's mine: http://extra-cubicular.blogspot.com. Creativity & innovation applied to technology.

Posted by: Allen Unrau | Nov 21, 2006 9:17:04 AM

The War of Art, by Steven Pressfield. Brief, trenchant, and BS-free.

Dave Edwards.
Log Buffer

Posted by: Dave Edwards | Nov 21, 2006 9:57:50 AM

The comments to this entry are closed.