Skip to content

Build a creative discipline

Rob Drilea
Rob Drilea
3 min read
Build a creative discipline
"Most postponements are excuses for a lack of creative discipline." - David Deida

There is no excuse for me to not write an hour everyday.

I've made excuses for years now. I didn't use to. In my early teens, I would spend hours and hours writing every day. Mostly junk, sure, but I loved the practice. I wrote poetry, I wrote plays, I wrote novellas, I even wrote a book as a birthday gift to my high school crush.

College took the love out of writing for me. I can't really blame the system, it was mostly my emotional inadequacy and insecurities about writing in English. But having to write on assignment made me love it less and less. And it took away the time to write for pleasure.

(No it didn't. I squandered plenty of time in college too. The truth is I just didn't have the guts to sit down in front of an empty page. I didn't have a discipline.)

A $70K/year film degree gives you many things (chiefly, a sense of cultural superiority over your sellout peers who went for the employable degrees). But one thing it doesn't give you is a creative discipline.

You know what else won't give it to you?

- Cheap online courses

- Expensive online courses

- An MFA

- Any successful creative you ever ask for advice.

The first three are plenty obvious, and they do work for some, so your mileage may vary.

The fourth is true because no good advice is universally applicable. I think, when it comes to something so uniquely personal as creativity, imparting wisdom doesn't work well for two reasons:

- Our individual set of circumstances is particular, and generic advice is no more useful than a prayer is to an agnostic (I know there are words and I know I should be saying them but I don't know who I'm praying to or what for);

- Many creatives don't necessarily have enough self-knowledge to distinguish the things that really worked from them from advice they've heard and sounds like good advice to pass on, so they pass on the latter.

By and large, the excuses that become the most common stumbling blocks fit in two buckets: lack of inspiration, and lack of time.

The first is a fallacy based on the assumption that muses and creativity fairies exist, and we should be so lucky to be visited by them. If we aren't, oh well, it's not for me, I guess.

The second bucket has many ramifications, but essentially they can all be reduced to time.

I can't afford to do what I want.

Take the time.

But I have kids.

Make the time.

But I don't have the time.

No one does. Including everyone who has made the time.

Capitalism wrung all the joy and creativity out of me and I have no energy to make anything.

Okay, that's a good one. It's true that we are all trapped to some degree in systems that mandate us to do things we don't want to do. But you know what else is true? No one owes you anything.

And guess what - no one will ever owe you anything unless you build something of your own.

So, how do I do it? How do I build the discipline?

There is no way but your own way.

But there are clues.

David Deida says: "Spend at least one hour a day doing whatever you simply love to do—what you deeply feel you need to do, in your heart—in spite of the daily duties that seem to constrain you. However, be forewarned: you may discover that you don’t, or can’t, do it; that in fact, your fantasy of your future life is simply a fantasy."

Julia Cameron would tell you to write morning pages, in longhand, every day.

I can tell you to write immediately as you wake up, before your inner censor catches up to you. Or write right before you sleep, so you can slow down and capture the wealth of moments you just experienced. Or, do both.

James Clear says:

Your concern is to do the work, not to judge it. Your concern is to fall in love with the process, not to grade the outcome. Keep your eyes on your own paper.

Whether you want a part of it or not, creativity holds everything you know together.

Life is creative.

You can float by, or swim along.

Rob Drilea

On creativity & work