The Creative Process

I used to believe that I could “think” my way into creative greatness: if only I read all the books, did all the courses and learned all the tricks, I could be creative. Boy, could I be more wrong.

It turns out, across all domains, the creative process requires a different pattern: inspiration, experimentation and execution.


The first part is seeking inspiration out in the world. Curating a repository of great work that captures your attention: A book cover, a thoughtfully designed product, a challenging drum fill, or copy for a landing page. Capture it.

In Storyworthy, Matthew Dicks suggests an exercise called “Homework for Life” that asks you to write down a 5 minute, story worthy moment of each day of your life. In his Radical Design Course, Jack McDade advocates becoming a digital hoarder of inspiration.

The goal of these exercises is to get better at noticing things. It’s hard to know where to start when staring at a blank canvas. It’s a lot easier when you have a pool of great work to draw inspiration from.


The second part is experimentation. This is all about building muscle memory and training your subconsciousness. It’s about learning to pay attention to little things.

And the way to do that is by copying. Pick something from your inspiration library and try to recreate it from scratch. What shade of yellow is this? Why is there a comma here? What’s that font in the heading there?

Sam Parr talks about this for writing in Copy That - literally taking a piece of great copy and writing it down. Adam Wathan does something similar, recreating the Allbirds site in Tailwind CSS.

Anyone who’s ever played at a band knows this too well: You start by covering songs, long before you can start writing decent ones yourself. In the process, you learn how the great masters do it.


The last part is the execution. It’s when you stop messing around and start getting things done. Locking yourself up in a cabin and writing for days. Turning off social media and getting down to work. Stop seeking inspiration and start building momentum.

Cal Newport calls this Deep Work: the ability to focus without interruptions at length. Great writers are masters at this: Victor Hugo famously asked his servant to lock him in a room without his clothes and not return the key until he was done with the day’s writing. Henry David Thoreau spent two years in a cabin while writing Walden.

Now I don’t have a cabin in Singapore, nor do I want to be locked in a room. Instead, I’m trying to get better at creativity by building a library of inspiration, setting aside time for deliberate practice, and pushing myself to do more uninterrupted work. Like how I wrote this post in a hotel room at 7am, after keeping notes and experimenting with writing styles for weeks.