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Advice from “Steal Like an Artist”

Posted By: ryan On:


Photo by fervent-adepte-de-la-mode.

Austin Kleon’s little book “Steal Like an Artist” has a lot of great tips about creativity and producing great work.

One tip that stood out to me was his advice to develop ideas and keep the actual “creating” part of your process away from the computer. Only when you are ready to edit and fully form your ideas should you bring it to the screen. I have written before about the importance of treating writing and editing as separate processes, and this is a good way to get yourself to do it.

For a composer or music producer, there are several problems with writing directly into the computer.

  1. You can get distracted by all the knobs and buttons, eg. end up tweaking the compression on your string samples before you’ve really nailed down a great cello part.
  2. An awesome sample library can make you think your music is better than it really is! A beautiful patch might mask the fact that your harmony is lacking in interest and that your melodies are weak and don’t go anywhere.
  3. As Kleon says in the book, it is way too easy to hit “delete”. So you never give your ideas a chance to fight to survive, to develop, and to explore their underlying potential.

Here’s the direct quote from the book:
“The computer is really good for editing your ideas, and it’s really good for getting your ideas ready for publishing out into the world, but it’s not really good for generating ideas. There are too many opportunities to hit the delete key. The computer brings out the uptight perfectionist in us — we start editing ideas before we have them. The cartoonist Tom Gauld says he stays away from the computer until he’s done most of the thinking for his strips, because once the computer is involved, “things are on an inevitable path to being finished. Whereas in my sketchbook the possibilities are endless.””


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