As we’ve noted here before, Simon Rich is a mind-bogglingly prolific creative force. At 29, he’s built a body of work that includes screenplays, novels, magazine articles, short stories, and Saturday Night Live sketches. He wrote his first book at 18 and his latest, a collection of short stories, The Last Girlfriend On Earth, debuted this year.
Fast Company’s 100 Most Creative People In Business honoree follows a strict routine that allows all that productivity. Here, he shares five key creativity boosters that you can put into play right now.
When Rich wakes up, the first thing he wants to do is write, so that’s what he does. As the day progresses, however, the story changes: “I don’t usually have a lot of problems getting stuff done in the morning,” he says. “But after lunch I really slow down.” He estimates his pre-lunch versus post-lunch productivity ratio to be about 80/20. “It’s really diminishing returns.”
Recognizing that not everything you do today will be something you’re dying to do, Rich says you might be better off tackling your favored task first. “It sometimes depends on deadlines, but I’ve found that the most efficient thing is to write what you want to write,” Rich says. “So if I have a movie script due, and I don’t really want to do it–really what I want to do is write some short story that I’ve started–I’ve found that it’s actually faster to just write the story and then go to the screenplay. There are exceptions to that, if something is really due imminently, but I always secretly know, in the back of my mind, what I really want to be writing.”
Rich calls himself a “law-of-averages guy.” “I figure, if I throw enough stuff out there, some of it will hopefully stick.” His favorite writers are the ones who keep writing: T.C. Boyle, P.G. Wodehouse, Evelyn Waugh. “I just read this great biography of Charles Schulz, and he produced a new Peanuts every single day for half a century. And obviously not every Peanuts strip is on the same level, but still, it’s pretty staggering.”
Routine works for Rich, but to each his own: “I know a lot of extremely talented people who are very successful who hate work and never do it,” he says. “And they’re fine. I really like the band Tegan and Sara, and I read that…one of them generates hundreds of songs, and the other generates five or six, but they have an equal number of songs on each album. I thought that was really interesting. It’s like, if I had a higher batting average with my pieces, I wouldn’t have to write as many of them. I think everyone’s got to sort of figure it out.”
Rich says that he was horrified at 18 when he reread his first novel and discovered that it was—in his words—”terrible.” “I remember being so upset because that novel accounted for probably half of the pages I’d ever written in my entire lifetime. Whereas a couple years ago I threw out a novel, and it was just a small portion of the pages that I had even written in that year.” The lesson? The more you do, the more you know you’re capable of. “You write a bad novel. So what? You just write a better one.”
[Image: Flickr user Steve Ryan]