Free to Create

Creation Begins Where Tool Management Ends

We are only free to begin transferring our thoughts to paper, canvas or the digital screen when we are using the tool in our hands without thought, when our use of it has become intuitive. Until then, our mind is occupied with the tool itself, with how to set up the workspace, how to organize it, how to operate it. The tool, while giving us the power to create, introduces a cognitive burden that displaces creative thought.

There are two ways to overcome the burden of tool management: you learn to use the tool so well its use becomes intuitive, or you use a tool so basic and simple that its use is intuitive almost from the start.

For example, if you wish to draw a sketch, you either learn to use a software app like Photoshop well, or you grab a piece of paper and a pencil. Of course, in both cases, there is an initial learning stage – you’ve had to learn to use a pencil at some point in your life – but unlike the software, the pencil and paper approach is much simpler due to the very limited nature of how the tool can be used – all you have to do is put the pencil in your hand and start moving it across the surface of the paper. However crude your first attempts may be, you are already in the realm of creation, while in the case of something like Photoshop, you will be spending a lot of time setting up the hardware and learning the tools before you even begin drawing anything. Add to that the ongoing burden of managing the other tools in the chain – e.g. ensuring the battery in your computer and peripherals is healthy, ensuring the software is up to date, avoiding notifications from other apps, and so on.

The more complicated tool promises greater capabilities, but it always comes with the initial burden of learning how to use it, as well as the ongoing burden of managing it. It is not enough to learn the basics, your use of the tool has to become intuitive, otherwise a part of your mind will always be occupied with the technical side of operating the tool rather than being completely free to work on the creative side of your content. This is why it is always easier to sketch something out on a piece of paper than to use software – there are no delays, no canvas to load, no selections to make, nothing to manage – your mind is free to focus completely on the task at hand, letting you transfer idea to paper with little friction.

By seeking power through complicated tools in our creative process we end up weakening that which is most essential to it. By seeking improvements in our work through better hardware and software, we surrender parts of our minds to the technical side of learning and managing those very tools, taking on a cognitive load that limits our capacity for creative thought. It’s not only that all those tools are unnecessary for you to produce great work, they can be detrimental to it.

It need not be said that there are cases where you would benefit from better tools, but those cases should be obvious to you as they solve real pain points in your work. Taking out those tools would be felt. As for everything else, all the stuff aimed at optimizing your creative workflow – ask yourself whether it is really helping, whether you have produced better work as a result. If there is any doubt whether you need the tool or not, you probably don’t. Don’t waste your mind on the tool when you can be using it creatively. Creation begins where tool management ends.

Published January 2014