An Emergency Procedure for Creative Crisis

Dear Everybody,

In a previous letter I wrote about the creative process. This letter is about creative crisis– an emergency in the process of putting something new into the world. 

Every time you create something new, you’re putting yourself in a hopeless situation.

The only way out is to rescue yourself from that situation. Here’s my lifesaving procedure:

Start the Reactor

Hang Toplines 

  • The high order bit. Don’t create. Divine. What am I trying to say? Where is my audience and where do I want to take them? Put toplines in all caps.  

Aim Low

  • Don’t make a grab for insight. Just give yourself something to grab. 

Look Up and Find the Right Thought 

  • Don’t type words. Tape this to your desk:  “Let the meaning choose the word, and not the other way around.” -George Orwell

  • Say what you mean. State your main idea loud and clear. Put similar ideas next to each other and then design an argument.

  • Sometimes we need “education in the obvious over investigation into the obscure.” - Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr

Celebrate Your Nut Graph

  • Enjoy the moment you discover what you’re creating. This is when the underlying ideas resolve into a self-evident structure. 

Relocate Detritus

  • Move non-essential ideas to the bottom of the document. Save them to a separate document later. 

Kill Your Darlings / Beware the Novel Phrase

  • Locate your absolute favorite sentence and delete it.

  • The best part of the creative process is discovery by deletion. 

Can You Make It Better? 

Don’t Polish the Cannonball

  • Yes, you can make it better. Share it in the meantime!

Many thanks to Ken Bunnell for the drawing!