Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Learn To Work Modular

I once heard a famous comedian reveal that his secret for writing material was, he didn’t write jokes, he wrote moments.

And that’s why he’s so prolific.

He works modular.

In his process, each thought is an uncategorized chunk of creative material. An objective, portable piece content that accumulates and categorizes into its own structure. It’s not a bit or a skit or a story or routine, it’s just a moment.

This man is onto something.

Because he knows that all ideas bring with them their own individuality.

And as creators, we have to respect that. We have to consciously step back from the work and think, who am I to say what this moment might become?

Because it’s not our job to decide what to write.

Only to listen to what wants to be written.

And in the initial stages of the creative process, we owe it to ourselves to temporarily suspend the need to categorize. To be incrementalists.

Otherwise, our work falls victim to premature cognitive commitment.

This is a term social psychologists use for people become emotionally or intellectually bound to a course of action. It’s the mindlessness that results after a single exposure.

For example, if we assign labels to our ideas too early­­––perhaps that this new piece of writing needs to become a chapter in our next book––we’ve just prejudged that idea’s quality and value. We’ve forced premature cognitive commitment. And since we’ve already decided exactly what we’re making, and our work can only be as good as that.

On the other hand, if we want our creativity to expand into unexpected territory, to be truly prolific in the things that we made, we have to keep the process objective for as long as possible.

We have to work modular.

And here’s why:

Working modular detaches from outcomes. Which keeps us focused on the writing process, not what the writing produces.  It helps us maintain a casual, relaxed attitude toward our material. 

Working modular objectifies our creative process. Which creates a sense of detachment and ensures we don’t fall in love with our ideas. Which opens us to criticism and feedback and possibility.

Working modular keeps the creative process open ended. Which allows material to be created within an unfinished, open loop. Which means we can always go back to add another piece to make it richer. Because good art is never finished.

Working modular makes it easy to work on multiple projects simultaneously. Which creates thought bridges, subconscious connections and integrations between seemingly unrelated ideas. Which helps us notice natural relationships and structures in our writings. 

Working modular breeds consistency. Which helps us execute themes, so we’re less random and our work is more a representation of our feelings and ideas. By taking a long view approach to the creative process, we’re less derailed by rejection and more confident in our work.

Working modular allows our work to mature. Which allows us to remake our work as we grow and as the world changes, keeping our creative output in permanent beta, aligning ourselves with the flow of process and allowing the work to adapt and evolve.

In fact, when I consider my body of work, I’ve written songs, albums, sermons, cartoons, stories, books, speeches, articles, blogs, case studies, manifestos, training modules, thinkmaps, creative briefs, business strategies, affirmations, meditations, mission statements, personal constitutions, consulting programs, educational curricula and most recently, a documentary.

But the thing is, they all started as modules.

That’s why the granular process of adding, organizing, updating, tweaking and fortifying our creative inventories is so exciting.

Because with every new sentence or note or moment that we write down, we’re multiplying our intellectual reservoir and creating a constant surplus position.

And that’s where prolificacy lives.