The Truth About Formulas and How to Be Original

The Truth About Formulas and How to Be Original

I have a vision for my work, and my writing.

And I confess, sometimes I stray from that vision.

Sometimes I lose track of what I really want to say, and start thinking about what might be popular instead. Rather than creating something I feel inspired by, I start thinking about what might be viral.

And then I slap myself.

Every time I’ve written something that matters, I’ve allowed my energy to be unrestrained. I’ve poured my heart out because I can’t contain it. I’ve released an idea because it couldn’t be caged.

Here’s the thing: None of those moments were the result of following a formula, a proven “system” or a set of ethics on what’s proven to work.

The secret is there’s no formula for creativity, or doing great work. Any success that’s formulaic is mediocre at best.

Question for you:

Has your greatest work been the result of a formula, or was the most popular thing you’ve created unexpected?

Curious to hear your thoughts,

PS: You might have seen the “on the roof” video (we got a lot of comments and emails about it). We’ll be releasing the thing we hinted at next Tuesday, and I’ll be needing your help.

photo courtesy of eriwst

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Comment & Add Your Voice

JeffMunn December 15, 2011 at 9:52 am

The most popular things I’ve created have been from the heart. No question. (And the best things, too–let’s face it, they’re not the same.)

Thanks for posting this, Jonathan. This idea that we can find our greatness on a checklist, without digging for it, without the inner work that makes it all possible, is a huge misconception, and a dangerous one. Thanks for setting the record straight.

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ethanwaldman December 15, 2011 at 9:53 am

Definitely always unexpected. Some of my most popular blog posts were ones where I was just struck with inspiration, and sat down and wrote for 15 or 20 minutes. Then, posts that I spend hours constructing get barely a mention. It’s so amazing how much more powerful inspired work resonates with readers!

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SHFerg December 15, 2011 at 9:57 am

I have attempted “formulas” but they don’t seem to work for me. (could be my formulas!)

Creativity from the heart, and CONSTANT creativity, is what has brought me my greatest successes. I think it’s truly the constant motion that brings the success. Because you never know what is going on in your client, prospect, reader, etc, mind when you make that connection.

Forward motion, hard work and leading from the heart with integrity is the secret. Wait…is that a formula?

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EnsoJourney December 15, 2011 at 9:59 am

The most popular thing I have created started as a formula, but then I realized how boring it was.

Instead I decided to let my gut feeling take the lead and started being grateful to those who have helped me, It turned into a great post and it’s currently going rounds and rounds on twitter.

Now I believe I should let my instincts and my desires run my blogging decisions I think that will be the way for a long time.

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PaigeBurkes December 15, 2011 at 10:01 am

Certain groups of people love each of us because of how we express ourselves. We could all say the same thing but it’s how we say it that is unique and attractive. If we all followed the same formulas, the world would be a big, grey fog into which each of us would be absorbed and it would be impossible for someone to come up with a great idea that would become the next great formula.

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troymork December 15, 2011 at 10:06 am

I am a Musician and songwriter in the Rock band Veritae and I agree.. The best music ive been a part of writing was almost random. More often than not, If I go in with a specific agenda, it fails. I take thinking and formula out and just feel. I purposely try and play bad notes.. because it’s in those moments that the really great stuff is born

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ethanwaldman December 15, 2011 at 10:32 am

@troymork I agree! Some of my fan’s most favorite songs were ones that I considered to be throw-aways because I wrote them so quickly and carelessly!

jeffgoins December 15, 2011 at 10:18 am

totally unexpected, but not unintentional. in other words, i did the work, but didn’t anticipate or plan the results.

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spiritsentient December 15, 2011 at 3:03 pm

@jeffgoins Ah, awesome Jeff, I think this is exactly where my mind was heading! lol – love it :)Also I was by your site earlier, great stuff man :)

Heather Dakota December 15, 2011 at 11:02 am

I completely agree. I’m an artist and writer, and it seems the work that everyone responds to is the stuff that I didn’t really put much thought into. It simply bubbled up from the depths. I’ve tried the “what is popular route,” but didn’t have much success. I think I’ll stick with what my soul wants to say. :)

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JonathanMead December 15, 2011 at 12:31 pm

@Heather Dakota It’s interesting to see that a lot of people share this perspective. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could tap into that unexpected creativity all the time?

DanijieliusVabalas December 15, 2011 at 1:03 pm

Just like everything in life.,,. If you think about something and trying too hard..it won’t come out natural and probably won’t succeed. If instead you let it come out naturally.,. you let it flow from deep within.. That is genuine, that is what the real YOU wants to say. not the EGO.

You don’t know how those amazing things come out of you..but they just come! Don’t try to understand them,.just let them out.

I call those moments unexpected enlightenments,… or spontaneous genious!

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maggs December 15, 2011 at 1:28 pm

In my own life I had always wanted to do the splits, and had worked on it all through the years when I was young and in gymnastics and dance

After 2 kids, I gave up the concept, but I would still intermittently dream that i could do the splits. In my dreams I learned that if I was in the splits, I was dreaming.

I began taking yoga classes when I was 38. After practicing yoga for 6 years I had the opportunity to teach it. My practice deepened because of the teaching, and then when I was 52 one night I went down into a full split.

I had stopped expecting this to happen for me, so when it did, I realized that the way around something is through it, and the path is not clearly marked. Sometimes it is dancing in the dark, but still dancing.

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AdrianneLaconi December 15, 2011 at 1:42 pm

@maggs I think its amazing sometimes how we can accomplish so much if we just stop chasing after it. Not giving it up, but just allowing it to take its due course. I know for myself that once I stopped fighting and allowed my life to lead itself, I’ve found the most happiness.

spiritsentient December 15, 2011 at 2:59 pm

@maggs That is a really, really beautiful and inspiring story Maggs. Thanks for sharing!

EvieBurke December 15, 2011 at 2:55 pm

I don’t know if they’ve been popular – but the work I’m most proud of has been the unexpected things and the things that I allowed the most of myself to shine through.

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JonathanMead December 16, 2011 at 12:42 pm

@EvieBurke Having the courage to be open creates really awesome things. Thanks for chiming in Evie.

spiritsentient December 15, 2011 at 2:58 pm

100% agree Jon :)

It gets into interesting definitions of “originality”, “innovation”, and “creativity” — but I think your point is clear.

Aim to access your passionate, compelling, unrestrained ideas.

I will say this though: Formulas + solid, smooth systems often play a role. They HELP passionate ideas. Habituated, systemized activity often supports and eases our access to that energy. So like… in all this awesome, powerful discussion about pure creativity (which I adore) — let`s not forget about them ;)

Because we have sleep patterns, and because our breathing is habitual and automated, because we have seasons and night + day…

…we are enabled and empowered to rely on those habits and security, as a platform for our passionate actions and ideas.

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maggs December 15, 2011 at 3:18 pm

Yes, forcing a concept, idea, practice, creation, child… it can apply to innumerable things, but forcing does not give the process the right minded spirit… and that, I realize, applies to the holidays. Every year I worry about getting it right, and every year it happens in it’s own way. The other side benefit is that when we stop forcing ourselves, we can stop being irritated at others for not ‘doing enough’.

The other side of the coin is motivation to keep the work going….because ‘not forcing’ does not mean ‘not doing’.

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Paul from Selfgrowthproject December 16, 2011 at 2:08 am

Hi you know what I love these short posts which get straight to the point with a cool question in the end to keep us engaged. I love being creative and for sure the best ideas formulate when I am relaxing or taking time to meditate. Our imagination to the most powerful source of creativity if we allow it space to manifest. Sometimes when I have been working hard on the computer and over thinking on solutions I just take a quick break away from the machine, connect to nature and then BANG a new inspiring idea pops up to resolve a solution within seconds. SO I call these constructive breaks ; ).

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fergusonsarah December 16, 2011 at 2:56 am

I really do agree with you.. Being a successful don’t have any formula.. Thanks for the very motivational blog you have here..

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GaryC December 16, 2011 at 6:26 am

Wayne Dyer has a saying, “let go and let God”. It took me some time to grasp the full gravity of the statement, but those moments when I’ve adhered, have resulted in my most constructive and exuberant experiences.

With that said I believe that even when following a formula, there will be instances where one’s creativity will be called into action. As a result the expected result is much greater than what was initially intended. 

Thanks for sharing the post Jonathan, and I’ve enjoyed reading the comments. 

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JonathanMead December 16, 2011 at 12:41 pm

@GaryC The comments here really make this community great.

thirdtruck December 16, 2011 at 11:51 am

I have far too many unexpected twists and developments in my fiction to do anything but agree, Jonathan. While the heroic journey and adapted versions of Blake Snyder’s dramatic screenplay outlines lend a skeleton to my stories these days, all of the really juicy bits come out of sitting down, going into “pantser” mode (http://www.fictorians.com/tag/pantsers/) on each paragraph, and surprising myself with what details burst out. In fact, today’s own writing lunch break saw a neglected secondary character just now leap out as a great fix for a trapped protagonist. I can’t wait to see how the protagonist surprises me later.

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TreehouseChatter December 18, 2011 at 9:37 am

Your post rings true. I was nodding along while reading!
My best, nost genuine work that I have yet to share with the world stems from a place deep inside of me. From my 10 year old self that made up a story to help her younger sister fall asleep at night. The story was pure and real and we both still remember it. With her encouragement, I am currently evolving the story into a children’s book. No formula, no set structure. Just my 10 year old self coming alive in me again.
Tali

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Afford-Anything.com December 18, 2011 at 1:15 pm

I think its good to study the formulas, recognize them, and let them percolate in the back of your mind. Once you master these, your mind will burst – unrestrained – with natural creativity that comes from a bedrock foundation of having mastered the formula.

It’s kind of like trying a recipe “as written” the first time, so you can get creative with it the second time. Or learning all the rules of grammar and copywriting in the beginning, so you can play with words later.

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Afford-Anything.com December 18, 2011 at 1:15 pm

I think its good to study the formulas, recognize them, and let them percolate in the back of your mind. Once you master these, your mind will burst – unrestrained – with natural creativity that comes from a bedrock foundation of having mastered the formula.

It’s kind of like trying a recipe “as written” the first time, so you can get creative with it the second time. Or learning all the rules of grammar and copywriting in the beginning, so you can play with words later.

Reply

Afford-Anything.com December 18, 2011 at 1:15 pm

I think its good to study the formulas, recognize them, and let them percolate in the back of your mind. Once you master these, your mind will burst – unrestrained – with natural creativity that comes from a bedrock foundation of having mastered the formula.

It’s kind of like trying a recipe “as written” the first time, so you can get creative with it the second time. Or learning all the rules of grammar and copywriting in the beginning, so you can play with words later.

Reply

mintedcreative February 14, 2012 at 12:32 am

@Afford-Anything.com : agreed. I couldn’t have said it better. It’s not about doing your best work with formulas as such, it about using formulas to learn the fundamentals…the basics that need to be in place, and then creativity is what puts your stamp on the work and takes it to the next level

Afford-Anything.com December 18, 2011 at 1:15 pm

I think its good to study the formulas, recognize them, and let them percolate in the back of your mind. Once you master these, your mind will burst – unrestrained – with natural creativity that comes from a bedrock foundation of having mastered the formula.

It’s kind of like trying a recipe “as written” the first time, so you can get creative with it the second time. Or learning all the rules of grammar and copywriting in the beginning, so you can play with words later.

Reply

Afford-Anything.com December 18, 2011 at 1:15 pm

I think its good to study the formulas, recognize them, and let them percolate in the back of your mind. Once you master these, your mind will burst – unrestrained – with natural creativity that comes from a bedrock foundation of having mastered the formula.

It’s kind of like trying a recipe “as written” the first time, so you can get creative with it the second time. Or learning all the rules of grammar and copywriting in the beginning, so you can play with words later.

Reply

PositiveParadise December 25, 2011 at 9:20 am

I think formulas have their place. Everyone likes to use a winning formula, if you’ve found one it’s easy to keep repeating your successes and don’t we love an easy ride! But I would say that the thrill of using your creativity to explore possibilities and find something even more exiting and worthwhile is worth the risk of stepping away from the comfort zone of your formula. Using the intuition and and creativity of your right-brain in the alpha state you have access to unlimited ideas, and sticking rigidly to a working formula can stifle that creativity.

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Ricardo Bueno December 28, 2011 at 12:39 pm

Earlier this year I wrote a post while sitting at the airport just before boarding my flight. It was a post that developed as a result of a conversation with my younger brother, and discussion(s) with others. It was a post that came from the heart, and that served as a message to all aspiring to be anything in the world.

Here’s the post: http://www.ricardobueno.com/do-epic-shit

That was my most trafficked post this year – 266 Tweets, 480 Facebook Shares, 1,000′s of views. It wasn’t planned. It came straight from the heart. Just something I needed to say, right then and there before boarding my flight in 15 minutes. I published it, boarded my flight and was pleasantly surprised at the responses when I landed at my destination.

Sometimes, you just can’t force things.

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Athena January 10, 2012 at 11:31 pm

Every time I’ve created something worth paying attention to or paying money for, it has come through me and to me from divinity. Heck! I can’t truly claim credit for most of the great stuff! I certainly don’t think I could “think” that kind of synthesis and development on my own. Most of my really good stuff came to me in a flash and I was smart enough to get to the computer or digital recorder, fast!

However, I did have the commitment and wherwithal afterwards to develop it into a form that is useable. That part I definitely can take credit for!

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Jon November 15, 2012 at 4:47 pm

It raises an interesting point:

Structure vs no structure

Inspiration vs hard work

Formula vs unexpected

I’m reminded of what Bruce Lee said.

“Be like water making its way through cracks. Do not be assertive, but adjust to the object, and you shall find a way around or through it. If nothing within you stays rigid, outward things will disclose themselves.

Empty your mind, be formless. Shapeless, like water. If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle and it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now, water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.”

Fluidity within form.

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spiritsentient December 15, 2011 at 3:02 pm

@JonathanMead@Heather Dakota About this perspective: Jon Morrow of copyblogger dissects, tests, and systematizes many, many, many creative tasks. He teaches people formula after formula for Power Headline Creation.

This is interesting because he has some extremely awesome results for himself and his students. Is he killing creativity with his formulas, or promoting it? Is it an act of inspired creativity to Create his Headline Formulas, when does it stop being creative and unoriginal?Food for thought, at least for me… Hmm… :)

Great topic!

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Heather Dakota December 15, 2011 at 5:18 pm

@JonathanMead@Heather Dakota I actually think we can tap into the well of creativity all the time. There is an unending supply of awesomeness. We just need the confidence in ourselves to let it out. It’s really what the world needs.

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Heather Dakota December 15, 2011 at 5:21 pm

@spiritsentient@JonathanMead Interesting indeed. I can only speak from my own perspective. I haven’t found “formulas” to work for me.

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spiritsentient December 15, 2011 at 5:31 pm

@Heather Dakota@JonathanMead <grin> Of course do only what works for you and suits you, Heather! :)To clarify, what I was getting at, perhaps poorly, is that the world and our lives are founded on both Passionate Unencumbered Creativity, but ALSO By Wrote, Habitual, Systemized, Formula.People seem to adore championing logic over emotion, or vice-versa, but both principles are present all throughout life.Artists have great trouble being sustainably and continually creative, if they have no formulas or systems for feeding themselves.Businessmen have great trouble feeling happy in their success if they downplay emotion + creativity + passion too much.

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Heather Dakota December 16, 2011 at 5:33 am

@spiritsentient@Heather Dakota@JonathanMead Well said! Some artists do have trouble tapping into the continuum of creativity, and some businessmen have trouble being happy with their success. Life for everyone is a balancing act, sometimes easier said than done. If you want happiness and unending creativity from the source, relax and get out of your head. The focus needs to shift.

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spiritsentient December 16, 2011 at 6:24 am

@Heather Dakota@JonathanMead 100% agreed, great article, and great comments thread, this is valuable stuff :) Thanks Jon, Heather, and friends ;)

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