I woke up from a shallow sleep. Row 6, seat A. I’m 3,000 miles from where I started the journey before I fell asleep – if you can call it sleep – a mere 5 hours earlier.
My morning is not following the usual Sunday routine. My bed has been replaced by a stiff seat and my normal bathroom exchanged for a crowded, disgusting one in Boston’s Logan Airport. I stumbled through the airport in a haze and soon after found myself in a coffee bar in Boston’s North End.
Though it’s not a typical morning, there are some familiarities. A glass of water, a few deep breaths and a large cup (or two) of coffee keep me grounded. And this. The fact that I’m doing my morning writing, like every morning, regardless of where I am in the world and the amount (or lack thereof) of sleep that I got last night.
The past 7 weeks, I’ve been following the “Artist’s Way” course, taught by Julia Cameron. The course is taught to blocked creatives looking to expand their mindset and, well, produce great art. Or produce art at all. Or just get the random thoughts out of your racing head onto paper so you can feel better. It’s helped with all of that.
One staple of the class is what Cameron calls “morning pages”: three longhand written pages first thing in the morning. You can write about your life, God, or just bitch about something until the three pages are up. I’ve been guilty of all of the above.
But today I feel connected. The odd cocktail of sleep deprivation, caffeine, and unusual surroundings makes for a creative feeling.
There’s a lot of talk about how consistency leads to excellence. In baseball, Cal Ripken Jr. is a notable example. “The Iron Man” played in a record 2,632 consecutive games over more than 16 years. Former Navy SEAL Jocko WIllink keeps himself and others accountable by taking a picture of his watch each morning, followed by a vicious workout.
“Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.”
— Louis L’Amour
But we can’t confuse consistency with complacency.
It’s the inconsistencies that not only give life it’s spice but can inspire us to do better. Keith Richards writes about this in his book, “Life.” After their first hit song, “Satisfaction”, Richards and the Rolling Stones were prompted by their label that they needed to follow-up that hit with another hit. And they needed a new chart-topper every 2 months or they would become nonexistent. A flash in the pan. So the Stones got back to work.
The tricky piece of writing a hit is that it often comes from exploring something new, rather than following what artists have done in the past. Following that thought, the Stones couldn’t play the same chords, use the same emotion or sing the same tunes as they did in “Satisfaction” if they wanted to continue winning. They chose to blend their own tunes by mixing Folk, R&B, Blues, Country, and Rock n’ Roll to create their own elixir of amazing music.
Only by being inconsistent in their approach could they truly shine.
But don’t get it fooled. The Stones weren’t simply creative geniuses that make hit singles in every studio session. They were quite consistent performers, with one stretch of shows lasting four consecutive years with only 10 nights off, according to Richards.
Which leads me to my conclusion. We need a mixture of consistent and inconsistent actions. It’s mixing the daily habits needed to survive with the adventures that make your work thrive.
It’s traveling to a new country and still getting your daily run in. It’s continuing your morning writing while mixing in a poem or a fictional story. It’s showing up to work and A/B testing a new sales pitch. It’s doing the work that needs to be done but not being afraid to fail. Or more importantly, not being afraid that you’ll succeed beyond your wildest expectations.
Because that’s how great work is done. Through consistent action and bold decisions. That’s how The Stones became one of the greatest (and my favorite) band of all time. It’s how Kareem Abdul-Jabbar invented the sky hook. It’s how Julia Cameron wrote a book that’s helping my create art for you. Inconsistent ideas, done consistently.