See What Sticks: Curiosity, Critics and Creativity


Hi everyone, Amma Marfo here. Two quick things about me that you’ll need to know before we begin:

(1) I am a reader. I am a library-loving, constant tome-carrying, unapologetic bibliophile. (2) If there’s anyone you will meet who can connect what she’s reading to the world around her, it’s me.

As such, I want to dedicate my time in this space to sharing with you what I’m reading, and how it could inform a budding professional’s daily life. 

While I am a devoted fan of the longform written word, there's another medium on which I do a lot of reading: Twitter. 140 character bursts of content have given me quite a bit: helped me connect with new friends and old, find exciting new sources of inspiration and development, and even find this opportunity to write for you all! But one of my favorite uses of Twitter has been the means to connect with people you may never get to talk to otherwise. This can be particularly exciting for bibliophiles such as myself, who can use it to connect with authors. I still remember the rush I got when I first connected with Judy Blume, author of the first chapter book I ever read on my own- Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing. I still get butterflies thinking about it :)

Most recently, I've been using Twitter to connect with Paul Jarvis, a web designer and writer who has a fantastic blog on Medium as well as his own website. As he approached the release of his new book, The Good Creative, I felt compelled to reach out and see if he'd be willing to share his thoughts about the book, his creative process, and how it could inform my profession. Luckily, he's a legit human and graciously accepted. I got to talk to him a little bit more about some of the eighteen habits he shares in his book as key to doing creative work. Even though my day job might not always be seen as a place that appreciates creativity, Paul's helping me see how I can disrupt my day-to-day; hopefully, it will do the same for you!

Habit: Trying and failing repeatedly. Paul's a tremendous believer in creating space to try and fail repeatedly toward the achievement of any goal. As someone who learned his craft of web design through experimentation, he literally had to fail many times before he succeeded. But trying and failing repeatedly, in his opinion, gives you a lot. It gives you the opportunity to find your voice, to get input from others on what your talents are, and can help you develop a thick skin and resilient attitude that makes sharing your craft with others easier. Paul is particularly passionate about this final element of the process. A related habit that he discusses is sharing your ugly process. By that, he means that you should do your best to share the journey that takes you to your final product. When we spoke more about this, he said:

Unless people are taught what goes into making something, they might not value it as much, so I like to share how I go from A to B with the work, so people get the inside story. You appreciate the band more when you watch [Behind the Music] those, and they’re interesting too- when someone who’s not a musician sees what goes into making an album or doing a tour [...] you appreciate it more deeply.

It can be easy to assume that the final product that someone else creates was effortless. But by allowing ourselves to experience the feeling of trying and failing repeatedly, and sharing those triumphs and struggles with others, we gain perspective on what it takes to get to that final product that people so revere.

Habit: Hug your critics. With that said, not everyone is going to be a fan of the final product. Some people are just haters. But Paul pushes back against this principle, encouraging people to hug their critics. Paul works under the concept of producing for your rat people. As a proud rat owner, he recognizes that lots of people don't care for rats- they're afraid of them, they think they're gross, they don't understand their appeal. But those who like rats, really like rats. They photograph them, they take care of them, they dedicate websites and message boards to them. He doesn't converse with those who don't get rats, about rats. He talks to the people who get it.

But, part of Paul's livelihood depends on being able to write for people who aren't his rat people. What do you do then? Part of doing effective work that can serve you financially is being able to adapt your work for a larger and more viable audience:

As long as my message is still the same and intact, and what I’m trying to say sounds like me, then it’s okay. Adapting your art is fine, as long as it stays true to you and the original message is intact.

As we chatted further, he shared that he pitches ideas to clients with their priorities in mind. Sometimes the ideas are outside of the box that these individuals travel in, other times they're more in line with their traditional strategy. But showing an understanding of what his clients (and occasional critics) are looking for, what they value, has helped him sustain relationships that don't always come so naturally. There can be a balance between serving your friends and the people who get you, and finding ways to serve those that may struggle to do so. Paul's book gives lots of advice on how to do just this.

Habit: Focus on the process, not the outcome. I'm sure we all know someone from classes or our major who was obsessed with the endgame. Getting famous. Getting an A. Building a resume. And these types of goals can be easy to focus on, even though there are other valuable things we can get from an experience (relationships, skills, exposure to new ideas). I asked Paul what his advice is for staying focused on the values that are inherent in the process. His advice?

I think a lot of it comes down to the ‘why’ there. Focusing on the process is important because it forces you to be present. If you want to get an ‘A’ in school or you want to get a degree, those are sort of intangible at the time. Being present with your intention is moving you toward that outcome.

Paul actually alludes to this principle on one of his other projects, a new podcast called Invisible Office Hours. He talks about his typical morning routine and how it helps prepare him for the day. By doing one task at a time- making and drinking his morning coffee, writing, spending time on social media- he is aware of the value that each task gives him. He speaks similarly about how he added writing as a sort of day job: he kept the revenue streams and time for web design and writing separate. He could see how each made him feel, what each gave him, and what he enjoyed about each. By making time to focus on the task at hand, taking inventory of what we get from these tasks and how we can be better, the seeming end motivation (such as salary or recognition) matters a little less.

The Good Creative is a wonderful read that can help anyone at all do better work. It doesn't have to be what we all tend to think of as creative work; Paul says "it’s taking an idea, turning it into something tangible (and marketable, if that’s the direction you want to go)." If this sounds like you, Paul's book is one for you.