When I was writing Creative Doing, I noticed a pattern: in order to develop your creative process, you need to get comfortable with oscillating; constantly swinging back and forth between opposites and extremes.
For example, one prompt was, “Obsess over Details,” and another was, “Stop Obsessing.” In order to develop your creative practice, you need to know how to do both.
To best convey this, I deliberately suggested other prompts that were polar opposites; paired prompts that could be flipped. You can see some examples in my excerpt for Interintellect.
I noticed these opposites existed through creative work in general:
“Creativity comes from chaotic energy. But left unchecked, the chaotic energy is a breeding ground for obsession, fixation, and compulsiveness. Constraints provide the structure that creativity needs in order to come into the real world. Think back to Professor Betty Flowers’s image of the madman—chaotic energy—and the judge—structure. Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche writes in The Birth of Tragedy of a similar blend of halves to achieve balance: the Dionysian extremes of emotion, instinct, and spontaneity, and the Apollonian rationality, order, and reason.”
Even prior, I tried articulating this in this post on productivity rules, in this post on creative oscillations (discipline vs. play), and in my paradoxes page.
Another way to describe this is tension, which itself also comes with an opposite theme; relaxation. When I spoke to her for Creative Doing, Michelle Kuo describes an insight she got from singing classes:
“It’s not pure relaxation, it’s like relaxation plus a little bit of tension. I was taking these singing classes. I really adored my singing teacher, and she used to say this thing that always stuck with me, which is: to hit the high notes you have to be relaxed. Most people tense up when they see a high note coming, but actually to hit it, your breath needs to be relaxed.”
This was a response to Austin Kleon’s recent post at Substack. You may also like David Paul Kirkpatrick’s piece on daimons at Medium.