Blaming the muse


If you're a person doing some kind of creative work, you probably struggle with productivity.

For me, that's been the last couple days. They have been...rough.

And while it might be tempting to default to blaming the muse, we do ourselves a giant disservice when we boil creativity down to only moments of enlightened inspiration, because really, creativity is a skill. And while the exhilaration of being swept away in the throes of creative ecstasy is great when it happens, that doesn't happen often, and certainly not often enough to run a creativity-dependent business.

Johann Sebastian Bach was born in March of 1864 and lived to be 65. He wrote music for choirs, orchestras, churches, and a host of solo instruments at such a high level that the world ends the Baroque era on the day of death - July 28th, 1750. He was the end of an era. We remember Bach both for the quality of his music AND the quantity - we have 1,128 of his compositions...but the leading Bach historian estimates that number is only around 10% of what he actually composed.

11,000 pieces of music.

Given that he didn't start composing until his teens, that's 11,000 pieces of music composed over 50 years; 220 pieces a year, four per week.

Four pieces of music, completed every week for fifty straight years.

Creative? Absolutely. Passionate? John Eliot Gardiner writes about Bach's music, "But it is Bach, making music in the Castle of Heaven, who gives us the voice of God in human form."

But underneath all of that creativity and passion was inimitable technical skill and knowledge. This dude had chops. He broke creativity down into math, and combined all the numbers in countlessly beautiful ways.

Creativity, broken down, is a skill that can be practiced, trained, learned, and improved. It's hard work. It's as much a "I need to do this" as "I want to do this."