Tim Gittos

I'm an Australian currently living in Austin, TX in the USA.

I currently earn a living programming, though I wouldn't call myself a programmer. If I had to attach a label to myself, I'd use the term autodidact.

I love learning, and my favorite things to learn about are programming, computer graphics, AI & machine learning, robotics, painting and creativity.

Book Notes: The Creative Habit

Last updated on 30 Jan 2014

Amazon: The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life
(referral link – help me buy new books!)
ISBN: 0743235274
Read: 2013-09-02

I struggled to finish this book, for reasons I can’t quite put my finger on. I initially started to figure out how to reign in my creativity and put it more “on tap” than it’s been before. This book definitely helped do that, but I still struggled to focus. I think because the author relied a lot on anecdotes from her career as a choreographer and dancer, I found it difficult to extract the moral from some stories.


I have a notebook full of about 3 pages of excerpts from, and single sentence ideas inspired by, this book. I intended to go back and form them into coherrent paragraphs of notes based on what I recalled from the book, but seeing as how I didn’t get around to it and it’s 4 months later, I can’t string my notes together well enough.

Rather than procrastinating on this and letting the notes languish in my notebook, I’m just going to dump the notes here raw. There’s still a lot of great ideas here, and if you want to find out more about what the notes mean, buy the book!

I will do better with writing my notes in the future (I hope).

Creativity is a habit
In order to be creative, you have to know how to prepare to be creative
Everything that happens in a day is a transaction between the external world and your internal world
Everything is relevant and usable
Establish rituals at beginning of creative process – when you are most likely to give up & chicken out. Remove the question “Why am I doing this?”
To get the creative habit, you need a work environment that is habit forming
Making the start automatic replaces doubt & fear with comfort & routine
Combat fears by confronting & analyzing them
Combat distractions by avoiding them
Artists have “creative DNA” that characterizes their work
Artists have a “focal length” in their work – how they view the world. Distant, medium & close.
Zoe – distant, from a far – zoology
Bios – close ,detail – biology
Stretch & endure discomfort to grow, but don’t go against your nature
Mine your memory for inspiration
Creativity is about connecting memories and creating metaphors
Copying is a way to learn skill, as long as you focus on the method, not the result.
When inspiration strikes, plumb it’s depths and explore it – like a brainstorm. Create metaphors.
Don’t worry about pivoting – if you feel a pivot, do it
“A photo is a memory captured” – shadow your heroes/inspirations, absorb the memory from their work, turn it into YOUR memory. Draw from it when you’re stuck.
Write everything down & organize it
Everyone uses reference material
Pre-idea: When you’re interested in something but you don’t know why
Begin each project with a stated goal
Ideas & research are not replacements for creativity
The quality of research determines the quality of your output
Scratching helps you find ideas – search for something that catches your attention
A good idea is one that expands upon itself. A bad one shuts itself off.
You don’t “scratch” for big ideas – they grow from small ones, or strike you unbidden.
You can’t think your way into a dance – you can only generate ideas by doing something physical (when in programming – REPL = better than thinking)
The act of restraining defeats the purpose of scratching – sketchbooks should be private
Scratching methods include:
– Reading – ImagineFX, novels, magazines
– Conversation
– Other people’s handiwork – art, music, etc
– Mentors & heroes – footsteps (create, don’t imitate)
– Nature
Don’t stop scratching at 1 idea
A + B = C – need to combine 2 ideas to have a concept
Rules of scratching:
– be in shape
– scratch in the best places
– never scratch in the same place twice
– maintain the white hot pitch
Scratching is unleashing furious, wordless energy
(Riff back and forth with a friend or colleague)
Productive artists know what they’re going to do, how to do it, what to do when something goes wrong
Be prepared to be lucky
Don’t sacrifice creativity for the plan
Don’t overplan – leave room for luck/accidents
Limited resources (time) enhance creativity. “Give me a writer who thinks he has all the time in the world and I’ll show you a writer who never delivers”
Mistakes in overplanning:
– Rely too much on others
– Waiting for perfect setup *
– Overthinking structure
– Feeling obligated to finish what you started *
– Working with the wrong materials
Scratch to find spine
Spine is core idea of work, keeps you on track
Spine doesn’t need to be obvious, but can be
Spine can be theme, technique, idea
All works of art have a story, a theme and a spine. Spine & theme can be the same.
Creativity does not eliminate need for skill
Deliberate practice
Beginners mind
Sometimes find self in a rut
Rut != creative block
Fix creative block by doing something
Rut is false start
Caused by bad idea, bad timing, bad luck
Fix by seeing rut, admitting in rut, get out with new idea:
– Identify concept not working
– Write down assumptions
– Challenge assumptions
– Act on challenge
Getting out of a rut is not getting into groove – avoiding bad idea is not coming up with good idea
Failing is healthy, but do it in private
Forget the pain of failure, remember lessons
Create bubble <=> startups