Today I introduce another regular feature of the Creative Liberty blog, “In the Studio.” I will interview working artists, from serious hobbyists to top-level professionals, about their creative work and their insights on the creative process.
I’m kicking off the section by interviewing Leo Babauta, author of the wildly successful blog Zen Habits. His newest blog effort, Write to Done, focuses on tips and tricks for successful writing projects (ranging from blogs to articles to fiction writing). Leo’s experiences with Zen Habits are particularly encouraging for anyone who’s passionate about reaching audiences through blogs; Leo started the blog in early 2007 and in a little over a year’s time had built his readership–and his blog–to the point where it was a major source of financial support for him and his family.
Creative Liberty: Tell us about your creative pursuits, paid and unpaid.
Leo: I’m a writer, with various outlets for my writing. Until recently I was a freelance journalist and then a freelance blogger, but I dropped my freelancing a few months ago because my main passion at the moment, writing my blog Zen Habits, takes up most of my time.
It also pays the bills now, which is fantastic — for the first time, I’m free from working for someone else, and my passion is my living. I’m also writing a non-fiction book that will be published at the end of this year.
I enjoy fiction writing, although it hasn’t been a major success for me yet.
Creative Liberty: Do you have any formal training in your creative discipline(s)? Do you feel training is important in creative development? Why/why not?
Leo: I went to school and got a B.A. in communication (with a focus on journalism) and a minor in English. Better than this formal education was my on-the-job training at my local daily newspaper — I was a sportswriter, editor, news reporter and more for about 8 years, and then became a freelance writer (with a day job as a bill writer and then a speech writer).
Training is important, but formal training isn’t. Without training—without practice, doing what you want to do and learning from others who are good at it—you won’t reach your
potential. But formal training, such as a college degree, isn’t as useful as actually doing what you want to do, on the job.
Creative Liberty: What habits do you cultivate to facilitate your creative “flow”?
Leo: First, the habit of doing something I love. Without that, flow is very difficult. I’ve learned to write with as few distractions as possible.
And I’ve learned the art of just starting — once you get started, doing something you love, and there are no distractions, you can lose yourself in your work and the world around disappears.
Creative Liberty: What advice would you give to a “blocked” artist in your discipline to free up their creative energies?
Leo: Clear away all distractions, from the Internet to the phone to clutter to noise and people around you. Once you’re distraction-free (and writing early in the morning or late at night is a good way to find this zone), just write. Anything. Just start writing, and let the words come to you. That will free up any block. Once the block is cleared, you can focus the words on what you want them to be.
Creative Liberty: Which artistic project that you are working on excites you the most right now?
Leo: Zen Habits, my blog, is an incredible pursuit for me, as is my non-fiction book, “The Power of Less.” I’m super excited about getting published!
Creative Liberty: How do you select your creative projects? What elements of a potential project tend to intrigue you the most?
Leo: I like challenges, but I also like playing to my strengths. So something that takes my strengths, and finds new ways to challenge those strengths, is ideal for me.
It should also be something that I think I’ll love doing for awhile—if it’ll only be enjoyable for a few weeks, forget it.
Creative Liberty: Any other advice to artists to help them create more effortlessly?
Leo: Well, I doubt that anyone truly creates effortlessly. Creation is a struggle, a battle with your inner self, a painful process. And yet, for the artist, it’s a necessary struggle, and one that you couldn’t live without. And in the end, the creation of something new and wonderful is an uplifting and beautiful feeling!
How can you win that struggle? You just have to sit down and do it. Find something inside you that burns, and let it out. Sit down, and channel that passion onto paper or onto the screen. Forget about distractions and the million things that are stopping you. Just sit down and let it flow.