On Being Creative for a Living

I have a friend who’s grown somewhat bored with video games. I suggested Minecraft to him, but he replied that he just isn’t the creative type. It’s true — he’s always been a fan of numbers and physical labor, but he’s no artist in any traditional sense.

I, however, am a professional artist of sorts, being the Managing Editor of TidBITS and author of various Take Control books. Granted, I’m no Stephen King, but even technical writing needs a certain amount of panache or no one would want to read it.

They say ideas are cheap, which is true, but when you’re looking to fill a publication with content every week, you tend to go through ideas like toilet paper. Thankfully, we have some excellent authors at TidBITS who come up with their own ideas, and if something interesting and relevant is in the news, then the ideas are presented for the taking. But when the well is dry, I often find myself going to extremes to come up with ideas.

Maybe it’s as simple as trying out a video game or an app to see if it’s worth writing about. Other times, I have to do more to shake my brain cage. For instance, I recently switched email providers from Gmail to Fastmail, partially for personal reasons, but if I’m being honest, it gave me something to write about.

I find myself always hunting for that next article in everything I do. I take a walk to the store — maybe that’ll give me an idea for an article about fitness tracking? I agree to do a podcast, because maybe I’ll get an article idea during the discussion. I go for a drive, I go to the store, I watch TV and think, “Can I write about this?” Maybe I even write a blog post about the nature of creativity in order to get the juices flowing.

I suppose I’m lucky to be a tech writer who screws up his email to find inspiration. I wonder how many country singers get a divorce just so they can sing about it? We’ve lost so many musicians and comedians to drugs and madness, likely often set off by a quest for inspiration. Chris Farley often channeled John Belushi in his performances, and he ended up suffering the same terrible fate. It’s no wonder so many actors seem to live on the lunatic fringe — being required to tap into the spectrum of emotion must lead to some strange places. Much of Stephen King’s early work was driven by his battles with addiction, and I would argue that the horrible automobile accident that nearly ended his career actually rejuvenated it in the long run, because to write of horror and fear effectively, you have to know them firsthand.

It’s funny, because I used to work boring jobs where I strove for opportunities to be creative. And I’m fortunate to have found a profession that lets me channel that creativity. But when all is said and done, work is work, and work is tiring.

I guess it’s for that reason that I don’t care much for creative games myself these days. For me, relaxation is now an absence of creativity. Fire up the Playstation and be told who to shoot. Turn on the football game and zone out in the endzone. Cook a new recipe, following the instructions. Be a drone now, in this moment of quiet, so that I can find inspiration again tomorrow.