My most creative work nearly always emerges, ironically enough, from collections of the creative work of other people.
The new website design for Praxis done by Rafal Tomal began in my head from a collection of dozens of my favorite startup sites around the world. Much of my writing clearly comes from years of reading and saving passages from some of my favorite writers and thinkers.
Though the goal is to be original, I’ve learned that originality does not arise in a vacuum. You cannot simply “will yourself” into creativity in the moment. So what do we do in the absence of creative inspiration? Collect.
Most of the best artists and the best creators are collectors and curators of work from other people. Montaigne famously surrounded himself with quotes from the classics in his tower while he wrote. Many of America’s founders kept commonplace books filled with passages from literature they read. Renaissance painters studied the works of their “competitors” as if they were their own, often repainting them entirely. Today, a startup marketer might keep a swipe file of his favorite marketing emails and develop new and better emails from them.
I’m often asked how to become a better writer and I like to take the standard response “read more,” and add “and save great pieces of writing in a file.” I’ve turned this into a bit of an obsession with the unfortunate consequence that whenever I read, I find myself wanting to write.
Likewise, I have thousands and thousands of online book marks of articles, sites, landing pages, ads, Tweets, images, and art that I can return to if I’m ever starting to feel stale.
And through this process of collecting, and collecting, and collecting, something truly creative emerges,