“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.”
- Leo Tolstoy
Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910) is best known for his two longest works, War and Peace and Anna Karenina.
Fyodor Dostoyevsky regarded him at the time as the greatest of all living novelists. British poet and critic Matthew Arnold said; “A novel by Tolstoy is not a work of art but a piece of life.”
Renouncing his aristocratic lifestyle later in life, Tolstoy's funeral procession saw thousands of peasants lining the streets.
Tolstoy’s Journal of Daily Activities
In 1846, at aged 18, Tolstoy began writing what he called the Journal of Daily Activities in which he would set out exactly how many hours to devote to various activities in his life (e.g., studying, writing, leisure), as well as leaving space to comment on his performance.
Here are three rules from that journal that can teach us a lot about Tolstoy's creative process, his productivity levels (War and Peace is well known as one of the longest books ever written), and his thoughts about being a creative.
Wake Up at 5 o’clock
Five a.m. may be a bit early for some, but what this emphasises is that a daily routine from is essential to creativity from the start.
Studies have shown that our brains are most creative just after waking up, when the prefrontal cortex (often regarded as the ‘seat of creativity’), is most active and when we haven’t been distracted by the distractions and comings and goings of the day.
Novelist Haruki Murakami is well known for running, an activity that forms an essential part of his routine.
"When I’m in writing mode for a novel, I get up at four a.m. and work for five to six hours. In the afternoon, I run for ten kilometres or swim for fifteen hundred meters (or do both), then I read a bit and listen to some music. I go to bed at nine p.m. I keep to this routine every day without variation. The repetition itself becomes the important thing; it’s a form of mesmerism. I mesmerise myself to reach a deeper state of mind."
As Gustave Flaubert said; “Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work.”
If you can’t work first thing at morning, make sure you schedule when you can and stick to it as much as possible.
Nothing gets created without commitment and hard work.
No matter what time you work, make sure you dedicate time to it each day.
There’s no such thing as the best schedule for creativity, each is personal.
Stop Caring About Other People’s Opinion of Himself
The great Finnish composer Jean Sibelius once said; “Never listen to critic, no statue has ever been erected in honour of critic.“ And it’s true (unless someone knows of one otherwise!).
On the one hand it’s important to work with an audience in mind - these are the people who buy your work, use your product, invest in your company, etc.
On the other hand, the worrying that you have of other peoples opinions its mostly a projection. That is, you are projecting your own fears and a self-judgement that don’t actually exist in your audience.
Andrei Tarkovsky, the great Soviet filmmaker responded to criticism over his 1979 film Stalker with; “I am only interested in the views of two people: one is called Bresson and one called Bergman" (Robert Bresson and Ingmar Bergman - themselves both highly regarded and influential filmmakers).
Be aware of what others are creating, but stop comparing.
Everyone's journeys and artistic paths are different.
Hold yourself accountable to achieving your goals .
Only Do One Thing at a Time
Creative people come up with ideas - that’s the nature of what they do. Sometimes though, it’s hard to focus on the one thing or the most important thing that we should be working on, particularly today where there is so much more stimulus and distractions than they were in Tolstoy’s day (Facebook, email, televsion, etc.).
So many people regularly complain of being overwhelmed and burned out, yet do nothing to seek solutions to their problem.
Splitting your attention is a key factor in ineffective productivity. Partially engaging in many activities rather than focusing on one will only lead to overwhelm and burnout.
Doing more isn't the answer to key productivity and success - focus and discipline is.
Doing multiple things at one time leads to overstimulation.
Working on a single task (single-tasking), allows us to enter more deeply into our work. The most successful people always work from a sense of priority.
Writer and computer scientist (and non-user of social media), Cal Newport writes that: “Clarity about what matters provides clarity about what does not.”
If you are guilty of multitasking, try this simple exercise: set a timer for 20 minute and work on just one thing.
Figure out what matters most, what the most important work you need to do is and give it your undivided attention.
“Knocking out a hundred tasks for whatever the reason is a poor substitute for doing even one task that’s meaningful.” - Gary Keller (author of 'The One Thing')
It’s very easy to become overexcited by an idea, particularly in its early stages.
If you find yourself overenthusiastic to begin with, stop, put it away, and revisit it at a later date - it will still be there waiting for you when you get back.
When you return to it, you’ll see it with fresh eyes and be more objective about your idea.
Each Friday, I shall be posting a micro-article - a short paragraph on creativity or productivity.
Sometimes, when we get stuck in a creative rut, it's often the simplest advice that can help. Below are quotes from some of history's greatest painters, writers, entrepreneurs, scientists, etc. guaranteed to give you a sharp shift in your thinking.
If you find one that catches your attention, considering copying it out and keeping it in a place where you can see it daily.
“Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.” - Pablo Picasso
“When I say artist I mean the one who is building things … some with a brush – some with a shovel – some choose a pen.” - Jackson Pollock
“Great things are done by a series of small things brought together.” - Vincent Van Gogh
“Art doesn’t have to be pretty. It has to be meaningful.” - Duane Hanson
“I am interested in art as a means of living a life; not as a means of making a living.” - Robert Henri
”Creative work is not a selfish act or a bid for attention on the part of the actor. It’s a gift to the world and every being in it. Don’t cheat us of your contribution. Give us what you’ve got.” - Steven Pressfield
“Art is the act of navigating without a map.” - Seth Godin
“Don’t try to be different. Just be good. To be good is different enough.” - Arthur Freed
“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.” - Oscar Wilde
“Be yourself — not your idea of what you think somebody else’s idea of yourself should be.” - Henry David Thoreau
“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.” - Steve Jobs
“Sometimes you gotta create what you want to be part of.” - Geri Weitzman
“Don’t think. Thinking is the enemy of creativity. It’s self-conscious, and anything self-conscious is lousy. You can’t try to do things. You simply must do things.” - Ray Bradbury
“I invent nothing, I rediscover.” - Auguste Rodin
“If I create from the heart, nearly everything works; if from the head, almost nothing.” - Marc Chagall
“Find something only you can say” - James Dickey
“The scariest moment is always just before you start.” - Stephen King
“Work like hell! I had 122 rejection slips before I sold a story.” - F. Scott Fitzgerald
“An artist cannot fail; it is a success to be one.” - Charles Horton Cooley
“You need chaos in your soul to give birth to a dancing star.” - Friedrich Nietzsche
“Truly creative people care a little about what they have done, and a lot about what they are doing. Their driving focus is the life force that surges in them now.” - Alan Cohen
“You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.” - Maya Angelou
“The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.” - Walt Disney
“People often remark that I’m pretty lucky. Luck is only important in so far as getting the change to sell yourself at the right moment. After that, you’ve got to have talent and know how to use it.” - Frank Sinatra
"It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.” - Albert Einstein
“He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life.” - Muhammad Ali
“Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.” - Stephen King
“It is not enough to be busy… The question is: what are we busy about?” - Henry David Thoreau
“Success is often achieved by those who don’t know that failure is inevitable.” - Coco Chanel
“Focus on being productive instead of busy.” - Tim Ferriss
“Lost time is never found again.” - Benjamin Franklin
“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” - Benjamin Franklin
“You don’t need a new plan for next year. You need a commitment.” - Seth Godin
“You see, in life, lots of people know what to do, but few people actually do what they know. Knowing is not enough! You must take action.” - Tony Robbins
“There is no substitute for hard work.” - Thomas Edison
“The only way around is through.” - Robert Frost
“The way we measure productivity is flawed. People checking their BlackBerry over dinner is not the measure of productivity.” - Timothy Ferriss
“To make something great you must do the making.” - Ryan Holiday
“The more nervous and scared you are, the better it bodes for the project.” - Ryan Holiday
“If coming up with ten ideas sounds too hard, then come up with twenty.” - James Altucher
“You can’t find your passion if you don’t push through pain.” - Jeff Goins
“There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.” - Paulo Coelho
“Taking a new step, uttering a new word, is what people fear most.” - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Take Time to Reflect on Your Creative Ability
Often, when we work on a creative project, we can easily fall into the “this isn’t" or the "I'm not good enough" phase. We can suffer from Imposter Syndrome, and begin to wonder if we’re actually cut out to be creative at all.
When this happens, think back to your earlier creative work and achievements.
If you’ve ever painted a picture, written a song, started a business, whatever, it can be easy to forget that there once was a time when those things didn't exist in the world until you made them.
The struggle they brought at the time has long ebbed though, almost as if they were never out of existence.
When you’re feeling uncreative and struggling to come up with new ideas or doubting whether you can carry on with your work, take time to reflect on the things which you have already accomplished, both the small things and the big things.
Don’t analyse the creative process, don't think about how you made them, don't think about why you like them or what you dislike about them, simply appreciate that you made them exist.
Recognise and compliment yourself that they are yours, that you gave birth to the fundamental idea that brought them into being.