What does being prolific actually mean?
Usually, it means that someone is outputting a great deal of something: a prolific writer, a prolific musician, a prolific painter, etc.
I’m a bit different, though, in that I tend to split my productivity among several pursuits: writing books, writing blog content, recording informative (and hopefully somewhat entertaining) videos, recording music, and raising children.
Yes, we often do not think of raising children as part of productivity, but it certainly is. Your progeny is in many ways your biggest legacy, and is also one of the biggest contributions you can make to your culture, yet children are often pushed to the side when considering accomplishments.
What does this have to do with being prolific in art? A great deal, as you shall see. Productivity is a balancing act. You can only do so much in a given day, and the pursuit of being prolific means maximizing the time that you have available to you. Family, work, and other life obligations are going to take some of that time.
To that end, there are eight guiding ideas – eight “keys” if you will – that I have found immensely helpful in being creatively productive
Align your priorities
And so the first step to achieving a prolific work output is to properly align your priorities. I’ve learned through a great deal of personal growth and struggle that the dissonance that sucks the creativity out of your will is mostly born in the misalignment of priorities. Ignoring health or family will not only suck the enjoyment out of your accomplishments, it will also be an impediment to your process as you will not be emotionally and physically able to do engage with your creative self and put in the hard work necessary to bring projects to fruition.
Establish a creative process
Once you establish your priorities, you can work on your creative process, knowing what limitations you have in terms of time and energy. Creative processes vary by person, but the usual goal is efficiency and effectiveness, and discovering how to have both of these things is largely an individual pursuit as well as a process unto itself.
In other words, part of the creative process is refining your creative process. A creative process is generally a set of procedures you use to produce output and move a project closer to completion. For writers, this is usually a daily word count goal; for musicians, it is usually a daily practice session. However, I can tell you as both an experienced music instructor and a writing coach that how one goes about these two things can vary wildly.
One person needs to outline a book heavily in order to write anything, others will find outlining to be anti-creative and suck the fun out of the drafting process entirely. Likewise, when practicing a musical instrument how one goes about practicing can vary – one person needs extensive technique warmups, another not only does not need them, he will have no energy to practice unless he can avoid repetitive exercises and spend his time solely on practice repertoire – or composing original music.
Establish effective goals
The next step is to establish effective goals. If you think that should come first, you are partially right. Again, it depends on one’s mindset. Some people are very energized by goals, but I have found that processes are much more powerful than goals. An effective routine will persist even if a goal proves untenable or a completed project ends up being a failure.
Nevertheless, goals are still important, as one wants to be working with some express purpose in mind. Establishing effective goals means more than just making a “wish list” like saying to oneself, “I’m going to be a writer.” Goals need to be time-bound, specific, and properly aligned with the creative process.
For example, if you are able to consistently write one thousand words a day, you can easily figure out how long it will take you to write a book of a certain length. A hundred-thousand-word book will take you a minimum of 100 days, so an effective goal would be “I’m going to finish this book by May 15th.”
Music and art goals will have their own timelines, depending on the goal. One thing you can expect as you become better at your craft is to alter goals to be both more realistic and more specific. You’ll also be able to adjust your mindset and approach to your work to improve your output. There are three “mindsets” I have adopted that help me to align my goals and improve my process.
The Growth Mindset
“Adjusting your mindset” means altering your approach to thinking, which in turn will alter the way you work.
Adopting a “Growth Mindset” means that you will approach everything you do with growth in mind. Challenges are opportunities to improve oneself or one’s skills. Failures are an opportunity to reflect and revise creative methods.
It’s an acceptance that you can get better, that you will get better, and that as you get better more things will be within your reach. You’ll be able to play harder music next year. You’re next story will be better than the last. If you make a mistake, it’s a one less to make in the future.
The Professional Mindset
Having a professional mindset means that you think of yourself as a professional – a person both worthy of respect as well as a person actively working in his field in anticipation of profit.
This means leaving self-identifiers such as “aspiring writer” at the door. If you write, you’re a writer. If you perform music, you are a musician. If you paint, you’re a painter. Adopt that identity!
The opposite of this is the amateur mindset. Amateurs “jam.” Professionals “rehearse.” You should approach every opportunity with your goals in mind – will writing this story move me closer to my goals? Will joining this band move me closer to my goals? If the answer is no, you should probably move past it.
Being a professional also means having an output. You shouldn’t be afraid to publish your book, sell your art, or perform in public. Do the things that you intend to do as a professional in your field.
The Farmer Mindset
If you have never been a farmer or worked in agriculture, you may not be familiar with the idea of “no sick days.” The reality of ag work is that certain things simply must be done on time, no exceptions. Failing to prune your grapevines on time has the potential to wipe out your profits. Calling in sick to the birth of a calf could net you the loss of two cows.
Adopting the farmer mindset means that you don’t give yourself excuses when the crunch is on. You show up to do you work, headaches be damned.
This is extremely important for prolific output as skipping work can be a habit in and of itself. Writing a book in a hundred days is only possible if you actually write a thousand words every day, not a thousand words every time you feel like writing.
You can’t win if you don’t show up to the match.
This is the only pointer on the list that is put in the form of a “do not” rather than a “do,” but it is a very important pitfall to avoid, whether you truly are a perfectionist or just use it as an excuse to avoid making public your project.
In the short run, aiming for perfection will prevent you from completing creative projects. In the long run, it will harm your ability to progress in the many ways that you cannot see outside of the cycle of project completion. This is because most of the significant problems with your work, the ones which really separate good art from great art, are not flaws in the details, but rather flaws in the approach.
It’s not the typos that stop your book from being great (though you should try to minimize those), it’s the way you designed the main character. It’s not the stray ink mark on your drawing that makes it forgetable, it’s the fact that you chose to make your model seven and a half heads tall rather than eight. Many lessons like this will not be learned until you are willing to actually complete a project and put it out for the world to see.
This final point is one that writers like myself often do a poor job of; we tend to want to spend every waking minute writing and we put off the act of reading or force it into the margins of time.
We create an ideal of ourselves working non-stop at every opportunity, never taking a day or an hour off to do something enjoyable like read a book, or listen to some new music, or play a video game.
You shouldn’t do this. First, you will be missing out on techniques that will be useful to you. Second, you will be missing the inspiration which drives you to create art in the first place.
I’m the author of a number of books. Here are a few of the latest:
I’m also a musician. You can also check out this ambient rock album I put out a while back: