There Are No Shortcuts To Creativity

You have to put in the work.

Shane Parrish tweeted yesterday something that stuck with me.

“You can't buy wisdom. You have to earn it. A conversation, tweet, or book isn't going to make you smarter. What makes you smarter is the lonely work of chewing on it, digesting it, and making it yours.”

I’d be lying if I said I don’t care how much money I make writing, or that I don’t care about my follower growth. I do. I care about both of these things. After all, bills don’t pay themselves – and a “platform” isn’t built by merely planning for it.

But just like in Shane’s quote, writing for more than a year every single day taught me something important about the creative process. I didn’t read about it; I didn’t hear it on the podcast. I lived through it; I earned it. There is a big difference between the two.

I learned a simple lesson that can be phrases eloquently as “this too shall pass” (Remember that Persian adage?)

When I am having a blast – i.e., making a lot of money, or my following is growing at a rate of 100 subs per day (true story) – it will pass. And when I am having a shitty period, when I can’t make enough money to pay the bills or my following isn’t growing at all for seven consecutive days, this too, will pass.

That’s the reality of a creative life. It’s the price we – writers, podcasters, creatives, filmmakers, entrepreneurs, anyone who wants to live their own life – pay for freedom.

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We can always resort to a steady paycheck and the mental peace that comes with it, but if we do – we’d have to give up everything else too. The creative freedom, the inspiration, the thrill, the feeling of “flow” early in the morning when you make yourself a cup of tea and sit down to write… these things are worth more than a steady paycheck, I assure you.

As I am re-reading what I wrote above, I noticed that it seems like I am having a rough time and decided to use this newsletter to calm myself down. No. I am actually having a good time – in fact, last month, I made more money on Medium than I ever did doing anything creative (i.e., not on a job). I also reached an important milestone – 5,000 followers. Many people write for years without making $100 or 1,000 followers.

This newsletter is something different: it’s a reminder to myself – and to those who’d like to hear it – that this too shall pass. That next month might be a bad one. And that we shouldn’t allow success to get into our heads. We shouldn’t internalize it. Neither should we internalize our failures, however big.

The nature of the creative life is like a roller-coaster, up and down, down and up.

No wonder so many ancient creatives (Socrates, for example) talked about the presence of “daimon” – an inner force that guides the creative. It allowed them to distance themselves not just from their work, but from the results of their work.

Our natural instinct is to hate that. We want stability. We want things to be understandable, predictable, logical. But they aren’t – and they’ll never be. So we might as well let go of this desire, as much as we can, and just do what matters.

And what matters is that we put in the work. Daily. Consistently. Regularly. Indefinitely.

I can’t even calculate the number of “models” I’ve tried living by to make my writing better.

I’ve tried timing myself. I’ve tried writing for 1 hour. I’ve tried writing for the whole day. I’ve tried publishing daily, weekly, monthly. I’ve even tried writing a book a month…that didn’t work out very well.

Eventually, I gave up.

I realized that I am doing nothing useful for myself. I was merely searching for a shortcut – as we always do – to help me work less, but more effectively. That might work for business – by the famous Pareto distribution, 20% of actions give you 80% of results – but it doesn’t in the creative areas.

You can’t trick yourself to creativity.

You can’t calculate it; make it “more efficient.” You can’t play more efficiently, can you? Same here. It’s like trying to make the red color longer. It just doesn’t make sense.

In anything creative that you do, there is no way around the fact that you must put in the daily effort. As I always say, “if you want it to become a full-time job, you’ve got to start treating it as such.”

Of course, I am not saying you should write 10,000 words per day for 8 hours. That’s not sustainable – and just plain stupid. Nothing good happens north of the 4th hour of writing. Nobody – not even Stephen King or Ernest Hemingway (who, with all his pernicious habits, was a very disciplined man) wrote for longer than 3-4 hours per day.

The important thing is not in the number of hours you write, nor is it in the number of words you type – but in the consistent action. That’s how you fight those ups and downs that come with doing creative work.

That’s how you ride a roller-coaster: by simply going forward.

So pick a routine that works for you. It depends on whether you’re a morning person or a night person (if there’s such a thing), and whether you have a full-time job or work remotely, like me.

I can tell you how I did it - after many months of searching for the “shortcut,” I gave up and went to the very routine I started with in the beginning: writing for 3 hours straight before breakfast. It works for me, and so far – I like it.

Although I have to push myself to wake up earlier than usual.

The important thing, I guess, with any discipline, is to remind yourself why you’re doing this.

You are not a sheep – you can’t just tell yourself to do something and do it. Not consistently anyway, and that’s what we’re aiming for.

Personally, I remind myself that this little habit – writing for 3 hours per day – is what will give me everything else I want: a “platform,” money, following, fame, book deals, so on, so forth. It’s the “point of entry”: the action that gives the biggest ROI.

And then I also tell myself that once I write for 3 hours and have a one-hour workout, I am done for the day.

This doesn’t mean I don’t do anything else (I do have commitments, like the rest of us), it just means I allow myself to slack if I wanted to. Because I already gave my most important effort to something that matters.

Simplifying your life in this way is very beneficial for creativity. Not only will you keep creating consistently – and allow creativity to compound on itself, producing better and better work – but you’ll be a happier person, too.

But all of this, I had to figure out for myself. No matter how many books on creativity or “time management for writers” articles (sounds disgusting, I know) I read, none of them helped me as much as going through the process of looking for something better than I had, only to realize that what I was searching for is right here.

And yes, I know that this sounds just like the plot of The Alchemist.

Shane Parrish was right. You can’t outsource wisdom. You can’t shortcut your way into understanding. You have to live through it; I’d say struggle through it as well.

The importance of reading something insightful is not in understanding – but in obtaining a map.

You’ll still have to walk the territory though on your own.

The map is not the territory.

Go do something meaningful.


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In case you’ve missed, I had some new articles published on Medium over the past week:

When I get really inspired, I write something short and insightful on Twitter. Let’s become friends there. I am: @faldin_sergey


We have a Discord server for creatives. Feel free to join here.

And we have a publication, where you can share your story of being a creative person. You can find it here. (In case you want to submit, just email me at faldin.sergey@gmail.com)