Steve Jobs has long been hailed as a tech genius. Some would say unfairly so.
Many think of Steve Jobs as the inventor of the Apple computer, but it was Steve Wozniak, the engineering wiz, who was the genius behind the technology itself.
I don’t say this to besmirch Jobs’ importance to Apple in any way. I think most in the tech world would agree that Apple could only have made it off the ground with both Steves. But Jobs’ genius is a little harder to pin down. He was, at his heart, a creative rather than a pure techie. Maybe not an artist or musician or writer. But that Apple flair and style that once enthralled a vast congregation of impassioned followers – second only to Disney, perhaps – does not come by accident. Jobs designed a lifestyle, and the Apple line of products fulfilled that dream. He expressed beauty in the world through a little silicon chip and a form-fitting box.
Case in point: his famous reference to taking a calligraphy class during his misspent university days. Jobs had actually dropped out of Read College, which he says freed him to start sitting in on the courses that interested him, not the courses he needed for any particular degree.
“If I had never dropped out, I would have never dropped in on this calligraphy class, and personal computers might not have the wonderful typography that they do. Of course, it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college. But it was very, very clear looking backward 10 years later.”
He followed his creative interests – and that ended up paying dividends down the road. In fact, if we are to believe Jobs, we can all thank him for the typographical font used in the post you’re reading today.
Life After Helvetica
I don’t think Steve Jobs saw it as such, but essentially what he was doing was a form of what some people call creative cross-training.
I often talk about “the well being dry” when I try to be creative for too long. I have already talked about how sometimes, when I get creative block while writing, I get out the camera so that I’m still doing something somewhat creative. It’s amazing how the excitement of working on a different creative project can actually fill up the writing well as you go. Perpetual creative motion.*
What I found is that this idea of stopping writing to do something else creative is not original. In fact some people do creative-cross training on a regular basis, not just when they’re stuck. It’s a term that makes total sense to me. As a (former) athlete, I learned all about cross-training for track and field. Not only does it flex and improve different muscles in different ways, it helps keep up the interest.
If you do a quick Google search for “creative cross-training”, you’ll find tons of resources. Sandra Duran Wilson puts it nicely though:
“Creative cross-training boosts your muscles just like physical cross-training does. When you use the same muscles in the same manner, they become bored. If you are moving through your exercise routine mindlessly, then it’s time to shake it up. This will activate new pathways in your muscles. It is the same with your creativity. If you want to up your creative thinking, then it is time to vary your routine.”
Creative cross-training can include many different arts:
Calligraphy (ha! yes)
Modelling (as in miniatures, not runways – but maybe that too?)
...the list goes on. The thing about cross-training is that it allows your head – and often your hands – to move in different creative directions.
That “hands” part is often overlooked. This is called “embodied cognition” by some, which is a fancy way of saying that moving your body affects the way you think. There is perhaps a similar thing going on when you set out for a walk, as we talked about in Tiptoeing Through the Tulips.
(You can also creative cross-train within writing. In my day-job writing, I purposefully follow a number of different writing types and industries so that I am always mixing it up: articles on medical, mining, and education; blog posts on marketing and writing; ad copy; web content; brochures; catalogue descriptions; etc.; etc. Then of course there are the short stories I sometimes write, the occasional poem, and my eternal exercise in novel writing.
Note: this kind of creative cross-training doesn’t work as well as following other creative pursuits – you’ll still likely get writer’s burnout eventually, even if you’re always writing different things. But, you can avoid that burnout for just a little bit longer...)
Some Creative Ideas for Creative Cross-training
Now that I have you convinced, how can you set up your own creative cross-training regimen? The world is your canvas – literally!
Choose one or more artistic pursuits that you enjoy, and schedule time to do them
This is also an opportunity to start a new creative pursuit you’ve been meaning to try. You don’t have to be good at it, and in fact it might work better if you’re just learning.
If you like, try thinking about any writing problem you may have – plot, character, etc. – and see if you can work out solutions while you’re pursuing other creative projects, much like when walking
Don’t forget, just as with writing, one of your goals must be to have fun! If you’re not having fun, try something different – you can’t unlock your creativity through drudgery.
Creative cross-training helps us think differently. That’s because it literally puts us outside of creative box from the get-go.
For example, painting uses a different kind of creativity than writing. Expressing joy through music is so different from expressing joy through words that automatically we see the world in a different way, too.
When we expand our creative minds in different ways, it inspires us with new ideas and new approaches. It’s like writing with a whole new vocabulary.
Key Takeaway: Creative cross-training helps you see the world from different perspectives, which can inspire new ideas. When done regularly, creative cross-training helps you create a state of “perpetual creative motion”. This is the phenomenon in which spending some creative energy on a different artistic passion actually recharges the creative well for your writing. You’ll spend less time fighting so-called “writer’s block” and more time writing.
Over to You
What’s your take on creative cross-training? Is it something you do already? If so, any tips for us? Let us all know in the comments below!
In the meantime, I leave you with James Taylor (no relation (as far as I know)) talking about the advantages of creative cross-training in a short (<5 minutes) video below.
Until next time, keep writing with wild abandon!
*“Perpetual creative motion” is a term I made up on the spot. When I Googled it, I was ecstatic to find that only 193 people had thought of it before me.
Email me if you get lost.
BTW Graham, I tried pressing your “Report a Typo” button, just to see how it works and the answer is, it doesn’t, at least not in the app. Perhaps it only works if there’s a typo? I didn’t find any.
Time to pick up the camera! Good post