Every artist gets asked the question, “Where do you get your ideas?” The honest artist answers: “I steal them.”
When you look at the world this way , you stop worrying about what’s “ good ” and what’s “ bad ” — there’s only stuff worth stealing , and stuff that’s not worth stealing .
What is originality? Undetected plagiarism.
Everything that needs to be said has already been said. But, since no one was listening, everything must be said again.
You are, in fact, a mashup of what you choose to let into your life. You are the sum of your influences. The German writer Goethe said:
“We are shaped and fashioned by what we love. We were kids without fathers... so we found our fathers on wax and on the streets and in history. We got to pick and choose the ancestors who would inspire the world we were going to make for ourselves.”
The artist is a collector. Not a hoarder, mind you, there’s a difference: Hoarders collect indiscriminately, artists collect selectively. They only collect things that they really love.
I hang pictures of my favorite artists in my studio. They’re like friendly ghosts. I can almost feel them pushing me forward as I’m hunched over my desk. The great thing about dead or remote masters is that they can’t refuse you as an apprentice.
Google everything. I mean everything. Google your dreams, Google your problems. Don’t ask a question before you Google it. You’ll either find the answer or you’ll come up with a better question.
Always be reading. Go to the library. There’s magic in being surrounded by books. Get lost in the stacks. Read bibliographies. It’s not the book you start with, it’s the book that book leads you to. Collect books, even if you don’t plan on reading them right away.
Carry a notebook and a pen with you wherever you go. Get used to pulling it out and jotting down your thoughts and observations. Copy your favorite passages out of books. Record overheard conversations.
Doodle when you’re on the phone. Go to whatever lengths necessary to make sure you always have paper on you. Artist David Hockney had all the inside pockets of his suit jackets tailored to fit a sketchbook. The musician Arthur Russell liked to wear shirts with two front pockets so he could fill them with scraps of score sheets.
Keep a swipe file. It’s just what it sounds like — a file to keep track of the stuff you’ve swiped from others . It can be digital or analog — it doesn’t matter what form it takes , as long as it works. You can keep a scrapbook and cut and paste things into it, or you can just take pictures of things with your camera phone. See something worth stealing? Put it in the swipe file. Need a little inspiration? Open up the swipe file.
Start copying what you love . Copy copy copy copy. At the end of the copy you will find your self.
Nobody is born with a style or a voice. We don’t come out of the womb knowing who we are. In the beginning, we learn by pretending to be our heroes. We learn by copying. We’re talking about practice here, not plagiarism — plagiarism is trying to pass someone else’s work off as your own. Copying is about reverse - engineering. It’s like a mechanic taking apart a car to see how it works.
We learn to write by copying down the alphabet. Musicians learn to play by practicing scales. Painters learn to paint by reproducing masterpieces. Remember: Even The Beatles started as a cover band. Paul McCartney has said, “I emulated Buddy Holly, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis . We all did. ”McCartney and his partner John Lennon became one of the greatest songwriting teams in history, but as McCartney recalls, they only started writing their own songs“ as a way to avoid other bands being able to play our set. ”As Salvador Dalí said, “Those who do not want to imitate anything , produce nothing.”
Take $ 10, go to the school supply aisle of your local store, and pick up some paper, pens, and sticky notes. When you get back to your analog station, pretend it’s craft time. Scribble on paper, cut it up, and tape the pieces back together. Stand up while you’re working. Pin things on the walls and look for patterns. Spread things around your space and sort through them . Once you start getting your ideas, then you can move over to your digital station and use the computer to help you execute and publish them. When you start to lose steam, head back to the analog station and play.
The work you do while you procrastinate is probably the work you should be doing for the rest of your life.
Get a calendar. Fill the boxes. Don’t break the chain.
The benefits of a side project
One thing I’ve learned in my brief career: It’s the side projects that really take off. By side projects I mean the stuff that you thought was just messing around. Stuff that’s just play. That’s actually the good stuff. That’s when the magic happens. I think it’s good to have a lot of projects going at once so you can bounce between them. When you get sick of one project, move over to another, and when you’re sick of that one, move back to the project you left. Practice productive procrastination.
Take time to be bored.
One time I heard a coworker say, “When I get busy, I get stupid.” Ain’t that the truth. Creative people need time to just sit around and do nothing. I get some of my best ideas when I’m bored, which is why I never take my shirts to the cleaners. I love ironing my shirts—it’s so boring, I almost always get good ideas. If you’re out of ideas, wash the dishes. Take a really long walk. Stare at a spot on the wall for as long as you can. As the artist Maira Kalman says, “Avoiding work is the way to focus my mind.”
You don’t put yourself online only because you have something to say—you can put yourself online to find something to say.
Learn to code.
Figure out how to make a website. Figure out blogging. Figure out Twitter and social media and all that other stuff. Find people on the Internet who love the same things as you and connect with them. Share things with them.
If you’re worried about giving your secrets away, you can share your dots without connecting them.
Surround yourself with books and objects that you love. Tape things up on the wall. Create your own world.
Your brain gets too comfortable in your everyday surroundings. You need to make it uncomfortable. You need to spend some time in another land, among people that do things differently than you. Travel makes the world look new, and when the world looks new, our brains work harder.
Find the most talented person in the room, and if it’s not you, go stand next to him. Hang out with him. Try to be helpful. If you ever find that you’re the most talented person in the room, you need to find another room.
Complain about the way other people make software by making software.
Write a blog post about someone’s work that you admire and link to their site. Make something and dedicate it to your hero. Answer a question they’ve asked, solve a problem for them, or improve on their work and share it online.
Ironically, really good work often appears to be effortless. People will say, “Why didn’t I think of that?” They won’t see the years of toil and sweat that went into it. Not everybody will get it.
It takes a lot of energy to be creative. You don’t have that energy if you waste it on other stuff. It’s best to assume that you’ll be alive for a while. (It’s for this reason that Patti Smith tells young artists to go to the dentist.) Eat breakfast. Do some push-ups. Go for long walks. Get plenty of sleep.
Most people I know hate to think about money. Do yourself a favor: Learn about money as soon as you can.
Make yourself a budget. Live within your means. Pack your lunch. Pinch pennies. Save as much as you can. Get the education you need for as cheap as you can get it. The art of holding on to money is all about saying no to consumer culture. Saying no to takeout, $4 lattes, and that shiny new computer when the old one still works fine.
A day job gives you money, a connection to the world, and a routine. Freedom from financial stress also means freedom in your art.
I’ve tried to take jobs where I can learn things that I can use in my work later—my library job taught me how to do research, my Web design job taught me how to build websites, and my copywriting job taught me how to sell things with words.
The worst thing a day job does is take time away from you, but it makes up for that by giving you a daily routine in which you can schedule a regular time for your creative pursuits.
The solution is really simple: Figure out what time you can carve out, what time you can steal, and stick to your routine. Do the work every day, no matter what. No holidays, no sick days. Don’t stop. What you’ll probably find is that the corollary to Parkinson’s Law is usually true: Work gets done in the time available.
The trick is to find a day job that pays decently, doesn’t make you want to vomit, and leaves you with enough energy to make things in your spare time. Good day jobs aren’t necessarily easy to find, but they’re out there.
In this age of information abundance and overload, those who get ahead will be the folks who figure out what to leave out, so they can concentrate on what’s really important to them. Nothing is more paralyzing than the idea of limitless possibilities.
Paint a painting with only one color. Start a business without any start-up capital. Shoot a movie with your iPhone and a few of your friends. Build a machine out of spare parts.
Talk and walk
Start your your swipe file
Go to the library
Buy a notebook and use it
Get yourself a calendar
Start your logbook
Give a copy of this book away
Start a blog
Take a nap