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September 26, 2020

To keep on creating, get yourself a submarine

For artists and makers, the Internet is a blessing and a curse.

It is a blessing because now, more than ever, it is possible to learn anything, acquire anything, and connect with anybody from anywhere. Instantly and often for free. Never in history has this been possible. But I believe this is also a curse.

The dreaded Google search

How often, at any stage of your creative process, do you google a topic, a technique, or an artist? It always sounds like a good idea. We cannot create in a vacuum, and it’s always good to know what people are doing out there, right?

Except that it’s always a bad idea. Every time we do this, it is hundreds upon hundreds of search results. People, things, podcasts, newsletters, etc. everybody has already covered everything. And much better, it seems, than we could ever do.

That’s the curse: This is fuel for our resistance; another reason to give up or not even try.

The curse is based on a fallacy, though. A thousand creatives working with the same idea will produce a thousand different results.

That many people work on the same thing at the same time isn’t new either. Even though history remembers Thomas Edison as the inventor of the lightbulb, 22 people had already invented it before Edison filed his first patent.

So how do we make sure we don’t fall into this trap?

The submarine

A submarine travels across oceans, discovers species, fixes infrastructures, etc. And all of this underwater, with no contact with the surface world. Once in a while, the submarine comes back to shore to fuel up and grab some snacks before going back.

As creators, we have to make being in the submarine our default state: doing work, exploring ideas, journaling, etc. removed from the world. Submersion is a place of output—not of input.

A requirement is to be deliberate about how many times you come back to the surface, and how long you’re staying there:

  • How much news are you going to consume?
  • How many books are you going to read about a topic?
  • How much research is just enough to keep going?
  • Etc.

We all have a unique balance between spending time on the surface versus under the water. Our job is to figure it out through experimentation. I strongly believe that this is key to a successful creative life.

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