The Under-Appreciated Benefits of Creative Consistency
With the many landmines out there, ready to derail even the most talented of people, “showing up” regularly offers undeniable benefits.
Some of these perks often go overlooked.
For those excited to make progress this year, let’s keep in mind all of the advantages at our disposal when we have an enviable attendance record:
Consistency begets consistency. A person in motion stays in motion, unless acted upon by a Netflix binge session. The creative mind is much like machinery. Too much work and you overload it, too little and a decrepit state of rusty thinking awaits you. Keep the process humming by allowing the steady flow of work to never let the mental cobwebs settle.
When you’re consistent, it means never having to restart. “I’m getting back into the swing of things,” famous last words uttered by countless people with schedules as reliable as the weather. Constant progress keeps morale high, keeps enthusiasm brimming, and increases your investment in a project—nobody wants to break the chain once it’s gotten results.
Consistency trumps goal setting. When Scott Adams declared that “Goals are for losers,” the web went into a frenzy. The point he was trying to make was that the process is more important than the goal—what you do everyday matters more than what you plan to accomplish.
You can aim to become a famous author, or you can bleed a thousand words per day onto the page come hell or high water. You can aim to play Für Elise on the piano by March, or you can design the habit that regularly gets you in front of the keys for thirty minutes after work.
Consistency is integral to creativity. Writing doesn’t just transfer ideas, it creates them. The same can be said for all creative work. There is a risk, as Bruce Lee says, that “If you spend too much time thinking about a thing, you’ll never get it done.” The inverse is rarely true, as doing something requires thinking about it. Consistent work puts you where the good ideas can find you.
With constant work comes constant inspiration. Ideas are not a predefined bucket that you should live in fear of drying up. Work creates a state that connects new ideas. Often called the creative ear, when you’re regularly working on things you enjoy, the walls come down and seemingly insignificant moments spark inspiration. Just be sure to give yourself some space. Fires only burn when they have room to breathe.
Consistency lightens the pressure to be brilliant. Bearing a burden that even Atlas wouldn’t envy, creative folks allow their flaky routines to trap them into a mindset that demands each work be luminous. Expectations weigh heavy when they aren’t continually reset—not only from your audience (“This had better be worth the wait…”) but for the ones you set yourself.
Create something once in a blue moon and people will expect something as novel and awe-inspiring as a blue moon. Consistency relieves you of this burden. The more you create, the more you have to throw away or release to the world; as Hemingway would put it: “I write one page of masterpiece to ninety-one pages of shit. I try to put the shit in the wastebasket.” I hope you’re creating enough to have material to trash, because even genius produces a few duds.
Consistency forms needed constraints. Succumbing to “George Lucas Syndrome” starts with having too large of a canvas. When you have to work backwards from your schedule, consistent creation naturally forms constraints—you better have a system in place to finish work at regular intervals.
You can’t schedule insight, so the worry is that this will make your work repetitive. The mistake here is believing that a common theme, style, or process forces work to be mundane—creativity thrives on constraints. I love the videos from ASAPscience even though they all use a whiteboard and are always about science (here’s one). When done right, consistency cultivates something that’s repeatable, not repetitive.
Finding Your Average Speed
Whenever the word “you” appears in my writing, know that I am talking to myself.
Last year, I stumbled into many of the pitfalls above. My writing at SparringMind.com slowed to a snail’s pace, and I published less than ten essays.
To be fair, I was creating very consistently at Help Scout. But everything I’ve mentioned impeded on my ability to write personal essays: I felt pressure to always publish a “big one,” I had no schedule and no template, and the work wasn’t being done to give me additional ideas.
The writing I did publish was well received, but I began to stress myself out by working at manic speeds and depressive speeds—I’d write a long essay with dozens of research studies in a blur of motion, only to later come down from the high and not publish anything for months.
What I should have cared about was my average speed.
On average, my progress for writing last year was slow. Compounding interest produces more meaningful results than individual swings, but I was chasing the metaphorical “blue moon” mentioned above.
It’s easy to make excuses when we don’t commit to a realistic average speed. Grand, spasmodic effort won’t achieve lasting results—consistency will.
If you set any resolutions this year, I hope you’ll join me in committing to a simple objective: show up consistently. I’ll be here, will you?
A version of this article first appeared at SparringMind.com.