The Aggressive Work Ethic of Highly Creative People

image of door ready to be kicked in

Magicians. Curious bunch.

They pull furry mammals out of their hats. Levitate humans. Hide automobiles out of sight.

The great ones make a killing, jet set around the globe, and beat groupies off with a brass-tipped wand.

The not-so-great ones — the average ones — are still amazing.

To this day I don’t know how my daughter knows which card I picked out of that deck (Jack of clubs). And she’s still not telling.

Moxie killed the muse

Despite the name, though, what my daughter did — what all magicians do — isn’t magic. It’s a trick, an illusion: “something that deceives by producing a false or misleading impression of reality.”

Getting to that point where the illusion is flawless (thus, magical) involves hard work.

Content creators are no strangers to hard work. But we often view what they do — their level of originality — as magical, something even mystical.

But it’s nothing more than hard work. And everyday creativity. Combined.

Moreover it has nothing to do with the muse showing up and everything to do with moxie.

For example …

A metaphor for the creative process

Imagine you knock on creativity’s door.

Hands in your pocket you listen. Nothing. You look down at your watch. You look down the street. You look at the peephole.

Nothing.

It seems no one is home. So this is what you do … kick in the door.

Kick in the door and go inside.

Raid the refrigerator. Gut the cupboards. Drain the hot water heater with long showers. Stay up late.

In other words, make yourself at home.

And when someone shows up to evict you, fight them off tooth and nail. Nothing magical about that. The work has to be done.

As Mark McGuinness said, “Many a creative breakthrough starts as a creative break-in.”

Moral of the story

Listen: people want to pretend the hard work required to create doesn’t exist. They want the spoils without the sweat.

Unfortunately, writing is hard.

And because of that the “magic” of a world-class content creator rests NOT in her muse, but in her work ethic.

Which is usually simple and aggressive. Almost unforgivable.

But she doesn’t mind since the reward is the sweet satisfaction of something original.

Something beautiful.

So … what are you waiting for? Go and kick in that damn door.

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About the author

Demian Farnworth


Demian Farnworth is Copyblogger Media's Chief Copywriter. Follow him on Twitter or Google+.

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Comments

  1. What we all love about magic is that when it’s good it’s seamless. You don’t see the hours of work and sweat and mistakes that went into making that trick work. Great content doesn’t just appear out of thin air, even if the magic makes it look like that.

  2. You, Demian, are exactly reason we sometimes fail to muster the strength to kick in the door of creativity. You make it look so easy. We think it’s got to be easy for you. Thanks for a graphic reminder of the truth about good writing today. I won’t soon forget it.

  3. Great post! I think it was Picasso that said that inspiration exists but it has to find you working. Creative people work incredibly hard; there are no magic wands. My thoughts on creative types at http://bit.ly/wJlz6P

  4. ooooh, I love this! Thank you Demian, for the inspiration. Creative souls do work hard and there is this unfortunate misconception that artists (writers included) are flaky, airy, crazy and throw lazy in there because we don’t dress up. Our clothes have holes in them and paint splatters all over. Maybe we don’t work a 9-5 job therefore our life is questionable. No! We creative types work hard and yes, knock the door open wide some days.

  5. Kicking in the damn door right now – normally, I’m a timid knocker waiting to be invited in, but that’s not going to accomplish the goal and get the work done.

    Thanks for this!

  6. I absolutely love this! I want to send this to all the people who say “I can’t draw/design/write because I don’t have the talent for it”, not realizing that talent only gives you a head start, it’s hard work that brings you over that finish line.

  7. Great post. The biggest hurdles we have are the ones we create for ourselves by dismissing our left brain powers and choosing to believe we are only as capable as someone else tells us we are. That’s when we want to kick ourselves and say yet again, “Why didn’t I think of that?”

  8. Great post Damien! I love it!
    Hey, One thing I have noticed after recently getting attention as a guest blogger, I am getting some nastiness back. Most of the comments are really positive but there is some vitriol that makes no sense. Have you experienced that?

  9. Currently sticking my hand through the letterbox and trying to grab what I can, but getting there.

    Really interesting article and a great way of putting it, thanks!

  10. I guess no one here has heard/read the Masters speak about the Muse…I don’t have the energy to address it any more than what is down here, but you might want to listen to Keith Richards’ dreaming Satisfaction, Paul McCartney dreaming, ‘Let It Be’, Mozart hearing the Symphonies and just writing them…automatic writing…Hellooooooooooo!?!?/ But you are absolutely correct…you gotta knock down the door and make yourself at home…that is when the MUSE shows up, but, please, don’t insult our intelligence that the Muse doesn’t exist…Read “The War of Art” by Steven Pressfield and get an education of the process…’snuff’ I gotta bang down a door…OMG!!!!!!!

    • Tom, there is no question that random acts of inspiration occur … but would Keith Richards, Paul McCartney, Mozart, et al, be able to dream up those memorable melodies without the hours and hours and hours of work that preceded their slumber?

  11. Great post. Almost “magical.” You’re right: to write great content you must work hard. The difficulty with this discipline, though, is it takes just that – discipline. Unlike those working in an office with a boss keeping them on track, content writers often work alone. They need to be proactive rather than reactive.

  12. As I was spending part of my weekend holiday break away on re-writing a marketing brochure and coming up with compelling value propositions, I realized two things:
    1) There’s a reason why good writing is hard to find
    2) I really shouldn’t be thinking about copywriting on my trip

    Using less words really well is incredibly difficult. I suppose if writing was a cake walk there’d be a whole lot more good content out there.

  13. As William Shatner once said: “Energy is the key to creativity. Energy is the key to life.”

    A hard work ethic mixed with copious amounts of enthusiasm will lead to inevitable success, in one form or another. Great blog post.

  14. “And because of that the “magic” of a world-class content creator rests NOT in her muse, but in her work ethic.”

    ^^ Loved that quote!^^

    I think you’re absolutely right. Everyone struggles with creativity, even the “great ones.” But the difference between the great ones and the okay ones is simply the fact that they can work through it.

    I remember reading an article about a coach of some Olympian. When asked what was one of the best qualities he looked for in an athlete to train was simply that they had the tolerance to repeat the same boring techniques and workouts over and over again until they “broke through.”

    Just thought that was a similar idea to what you relayed here. Thanks for sharing!

  15. Hi Demian, your post made me laugh. The opening graph is fabulous. The post, and the comments section, cracked me up ’cause it pushed so many funny-buttons.

    One of the best-worst lines I ever got for being, in their eyes, successful: “The dumbest farmers always get the biggest potatoes, don’t they?”

    Part of the fun came from having watched Dire Strait’s ‘Money for Nothing’ video maybe just one too many times. That song so hits the nail on its head. I know links are not allowed, but just in case you don’t know what I’m talking about: video

    • Links are allowed if they further discussion or add value … and when has viewing the “Money for Nothing” video not added value? ;-)

      (Note: the first link you posted was restricted for U.S. viewers. I found another link that apparently can be viewed by all.)

  16. Hey man, what you said sounds too easy but it’s not. I’ve done that before and can defend what I said.

    How do you simple kick in the door without having the training and skills required? =D

  17. Consistency and a good worth ethic are definitely the keys to making creativity look easy. This post is definitely a great reminder and a great source of motivation!

  18. Instead of knocking in the door, some people hire a locksmith (coach). Same result, but a lot less broken glass….

  19. I think the ability to totally “tune out” distractions plays a major role in having someone “exist within their own mind/world of creativity.” It is like a secret place where none may enter; except you.”

    This place abounds with vibrant, descriptive, yet explosive ideas; wherein brevity and creativity never stop working; to “paint a picture as a masterpiece,” (Pulled from the pool of exceptional prose). If the reader cannot “connect” to the display, therein lies just words.

    The writer must use the imagination of the reader, to the point where the words “come to life” in brilliant illustration. When a reader “feels like” he is the one “within the page” as the main character, he has already “went all in”
    to engage the story-line; his “emotional investment” is over the top.

    By the way, good post. This should get some people thinking.

    Very Best Regards, Stephen Monday

  20. Demian, well said!

    If this writing bit or blogging bit were easy to do, and required little work, most people would be successful bloggers. Most bloggers would be millionaires. Most bloggers would be famous. All would come to us easily, and we would rock, within minutes of publishing our first post.

    Since a select few are successful out of the billions of blogs out there we know that long, hard, butt-busting work is the tuition to be paid if you want to succeed.

    People tell me at times that I am a natural, in front of the camera, or writing-wise. If I agree I simply share that becoming a natural was no sweat for me….after killing myself at times, writing like mad, going broke, going insane, getting angry, getting frustrated, seeing some success, wanting to quick, going broke again, working, working, working…..and 5000 blog posts later, and 2000 videos later….yeah, I guess I am kind of a natural ;)

    Creative people have the same God-given talents we all have. They just stick at it and work like hell through thick and thin. Thanks the lucky stars I learned this lesson early in my career, because I could not have traveled the world through my blogging exploits for the last 3 years doing otherwise.

    Thanks Demian!

  21. Dear Demian,

    Often times we creatives say truthfully: I love what I do. I think some people misinterpret that to mean what they think THEY would “love” to do – relax, kick back, dabble in a hobby, sip a diet coke. But that isn’t what we mean. At all.

    Having the fire of passion for our creative works and having the discipline to see them through to fruition is not an either-or proposition. You’ve got to have both. Even if it means busting in a door. I have a question though. . .

    If no one sees you bust down the door . . . are you still working? :)

    Thanks for the inspiration!

    Allison Marie

  22. Pure magic, Demian. ;)

    So instead of saying, “The harder I work the luckier I am,” we could say, “The harder I work the more magic I create,” or something like that.

    This got me to think about Disney…they sell magic, but most of their audience doesn’t see all the hard work behind their magic and doesn’t want to see it.

    Copyblogger has a knack for selling both the magical results of content marketing while being transparent to the reality of the necessary hard work to produce said magic.

    We end up buying into both the magic and the reality, which is not easy to pull off.

    Brilliant article, Chief.

  23. Great mental image — kicking in creativity’s door — and an a great insight into creativity.

    I finished a couple of projects yesterday, and immediately outlined another couple of projects. The new projects seemed to come out of nowhere; but they came from a day of hard work.

    If I had tried to outline the two new projects in cold blood, without the struggle of the original work, I wouldn’t have been able to do it.

    Creativity is a gift. But you have to work for it.

  24. You’re right,writing is hard work.Don’t ever get the idea writing is easy. If it is, you’re not working hard enough. The stuff that comes easy takes the most rewriting. And stuff that comes hard reads the easiest.

  25. Great post Damien. Making it look so easy, eh? Ever so true! > “But it’s nothing more than hard work. And everyday creativity. Combined.” Especially when wearing many hats.

  26. Great article Demain :)

  27. I loved the idea of putting aggressive work in a creative way1

    Thanks Demain :)

  28. Interesting, I look at the Muses differently that you do, but in a way that combines the idea you’ve written about here (hard work) with the idea that the “muse [is] showing up”.

    My perception of the idea is that sitting down to pound out several hours of creative work is by far the most effective way in summoning the Muses. As the first half hour or hour passes I’m possessed by focus and flowing creative impulses, and I rarely realize it while it’s happening (kind of like the prophet painter in the first season of Heroes).

    I’m not saying I’m convinced of this mythology, but if it does work, I believe it works in this way, and suits your creative attitude far better than it would someone who wants it to be effortless. In other words, the Muses come to those who work hard, when they work hard, and even after they’ve stopped working. Lazy creatives may get a couple weak interceptions each week, but it’s like a man lost in the jungle looking for a signal on his radio, hoping for rescue.

    I learned this idea from the book “The War of Art” by Steven Pressfield.

  29. Hell Yeah Demian! I’m all for kicking the door down and raiding the fridge. Creativity waits for no one, you have to show it that you are not only interested but are not going to quit.