Just Put It On the Set List …

When you do anything creative, you will encounter forces inside you that strive to get you do something—anything—other than execute, to finish, to “ship”. Stephen Pressfield calls this force “The Resistance”; Seth Godin and Merlin Mann will tell you it comes from your “Lizard Brain.” At any rate they have one goal in mind:

To keep you safe, lazy, and content right where you are:

  • “Don’t write; it’s not worth it…”
  • “No one will like it anyway…”
  • “Didn’t FIFA 2011 come out today…”
  • “I think I’m hungry…”
  • “I wonder if anyone re-tweeted me…”

No matter what the form, the Resistance/Lizard Brain wants you to not create, not to butt heads with bringing something into the world, not “to ship.” Furthermore, we need to understand that “shipping” is a lot more than producing the obvious kinds of art (visual, musical, etc). Creativity is about bringing something to the world that wasn’t there before, and to that extent we are all artists; we are all creating our lives, moment-to-moment, and bringing them to the world.

What can you do?

Last week, I had the idea of writing a song for our weekly gathering. I started an idea (which, we all know, is NO guarantee of finishing said idea), and almost immediately began feeling the Resistance kick in. I was almost instantly rationalizing how to not get the song done.

So I fought back; before the song was 50% done, I put it on the set list, essentially committing myself either to finish it or to face a half dozen conversations about what the song was and “Where were the chords?” and “What are the lyrics?” I knew I either had to finish it, or inconvenience myself with a lot of explanations. By Tuesday afternoon the song was 60% done, with a skeleton format; by Thursday (rehearsal) night it was 90% there and was gaining momentum.

We played it Sunday.

Sometimes the best “hack” for doing creative work is to publicly commit yourself to it:

  • “I’m going to paint something for you; I’ll have it by Friday…”
  • “I’ll write the article this week…”
  • “I’m going to send you a poem to look at this week…”

By making commitments that are somewhat timely and specific, we can trigger our “put-up-or-shut-up” reflex and get around the Resistance. It holds us accountable to something, and we need that because—let’s face it—creative work is really easy to be lazy with. No one expects anything from most of us: if we don’t blog no one is going to send us angry e-mails. If we don’t work on lyrics no one is going to talk about us at the water cooler. It’s too easy to let stuff fall off our plate. But to the degree that being an artist is about doing art, we need to find ways to get ourselves to produce.

What can you commit to this week? What can you ship?

… Just put it on the set list.


4 thoughts on “Just Put It On the Set List …

  1. I loved it; it spoke volumns to me. I knew it had to be an original. Thank you for that creativity, and for staying the course! I know you have a different term but that’s what I call it.

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