Most people feel as though there is only so much they can accomplish in a day, month or year's worth of creativity. When we look at the folks who write 10 books in a year or blog five times a week, we assume that these people are more creative or they have something special about them. It's possible to match or exceed the wealth of content these creative types produce, but it's going to take two major changes on your part. First, you'll need to determine the roadblocks you've set up between yourself and your creative capacity. Second, you need to come up with a system that allows you to be consistently creative.
Who Set Your Creative Limits?
Who told you how much work you could produce? Was it an article you read in which some author said it was insane to write more than two books a year? Did a friend tell you that he tried starting a blog and it was nearly impossible to keep up with? Did you try and fail to complete and project and say something along the lines of, "I guess this creative stuff just isn't for me"? However you determined your creative limitations, you need to understand that you are the person who set this limit for yourself. No matter what you heard or read, you are the one who internalized the opinion that you can accomplish only so much and no further. Because you created these limitations, you can also destroy them.
Think back to all the times you believed you couldn't do something. You may have told yourself you were incapable of asking someone out on a date, finishing a term paper, getting a certain job, caring for a child and dozens of other challenges. It doesn't matter if you didn't succeed in all of these areas. What matters is that you thought there was no chance you could do something, but you went ahead and did it anyway. Many successful writers started out small and worked their way up. They didn't think they could sell a short story, until they tried enough times and did it. They did the best they could on several novels before a publisher or an audience took notice. They never thought they'd reach bestseller status until one book they wrote took off. Before long, the person who thought she couldn't sell a story is selling hundreds of thousands of copies.
Start creating something that's at your perceived limit of creative potential. Once you get right up to the edge of that deep end diving board, go just a little bit further. Push past that 2,500-word short story and add another 1,000 words. Instead of writing one blog post in a week, try writing two. Slowly but surely, break through these barriers you set for yourself. With every step, you'll get closer to realizing the truth. There's no limit on what you can do. I've read of an author who wrote a 50,000-word novel in a single day. He wasn't sure he could do it either, but he took the challenge head-on and achieved it. He wasn't a rich and famous author either. He was a man with a plan and a goal. Anybody who's willing to put in the work can do what he did as well.
A System That Works
Many successful writers are able to put out a lot of creative work because they've found a system that works for them. The popular myth is that writers are these magical people who bust out their laptop whenever they feel like it and words simply come tumbling out. The truth is that these writers struggled until they were able to find the right hours, computer programs and planning methods to make creativity work around their schedule. Finding a system that works for you can take years of trial and error. Once you find it, however, you'll have everything you need to produce great, consistent work.
I once read a book about entrepreneurship called The E-Myth Revisited. Author Michael Gerber talked about how McDonald's and other massive businesses work best because they have a system that can be easily replicated across stores. When you're working on your first book or blog, you're like the guy who started the first Starbucks or the flagship Wendy's. You don't have a functional system yet, and that's why you haven't been able to "expand." It's not just about making the hamburgers or the coffee. It's about making them efficiently through a process that allows you to create the products with the same quality as you did the day before.
Functional creative systems often require a few key elements: a planning period, working hours and a revision process. The planning period can take many different forms, but most of the people I know who create a great deal of content use outlines, beats or other documents that they can employ during their writing hours. By having the basic structure of a piece, creative types can focus solely on putting words on the page during the time they set aside to write. When you can make your creative work occur during the same hours every day, you'll make that writing more habitual. Some days will be better than others, but the time you put in during your working hours isn't about perfection. It's about the first draft.
You can do so much once you have the first draft completed, and so little before it's done. As a result, it's more important to write a somewhat subpar first draft than it is to take years of your life crafting it. The revision process that follows the draft typically involves other people. Many authors use beta readers to patch up any plot and character holes before sending things off to a proofreader to put on the finishing touches.
As long as your system lets you plan, work consistently and revise your work into a finished product, it can really take on any form you want. You can plan everything in a day or in a few weeks. Your working hours can be in the wee hours of the morning or right after that 2:30 feeling hits. You can get friends to revise your work or hire it all out to professionals. What's important is that you put a system in place that you can use all the time. Starbucks didn't just use its system to create one latte in one store. It found a way to make thousands of lattes in thousands of stores every day. If your system will only work once, you might need to make a few tweaks to ensure it will work for multiple books.
What Does Unlimited Creativity Really Look Like?
Unlimited creativity looks like a regular office job from the outside. If you watched most authors from a hidden camera, you would see them put in the hours of planning necessary to make their creative time efficient. You'd see them put in roughly the same hours of work in front of a computer every single day. You'd watch them do the same thing over again for the following project. Writing isn't glamorous. It takes hard work when nobody is telling you that you have to do it. Unlimited creativity requires that you're the boss of your own business doing your own thing. If you can set aside your creative limits and your preconceptions about how creative people get work accomplished, maybe you have what it takes to produce creative work on a regular basis.
Take a dive into the deep end and see how much creative work you can get done.
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Written by Bryan Cohen
Bryan Cohen is the author of more than 30 books, many of which focus on creative writing and blasting through that pesky writer's block. His books have sold more than 20,000 copies. You can find him on Google+ and Facebook.
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