“When an idea strikes, take it as fast as it can go quickly. Don’t get stuck on a detail.” — Rick Rubin
Eminem walked into the room and saw his hero.
The man in front of him was tall, confident, and muscular. There are moments in life where you don’t get a second chance. The stakes are big, so you have to perform. This was one of those moments and the blonde haired, 7-mile rapper knew it.
Dr. Dre greeted Eminem in the office of his music label, Interscope Records. Eminem’s clothes were as casual as the moment was intense. The shine of his lemon-yellow sweatsuit screamed creativity, but his attitude screamed business. From the time he locked eyes with Dr. Dre, Eminem raced through the small talk.
From the beginning, Dre knew Eminem was special. Most contracts in the record industry take months. They pass through layers of approval from lawyers, executives, and bureaucrats. But Eminem was too talented. There was no time for that. Dre insisted on closing the deal immediately.
Dre was so impressed with the young rapper that he invited Eminem to his house for a recording session that evening. When Eminem walks into the studio, Dr. Dre plays a sample of Labi Siffre’s “I Got The…” from 1975. Eminem stepped up to the moment. Once the sound of the beat kicked in, Eminem didn’t waste any time. He started free-styling. Within minutes, in his first recording session at the home of his childhood hero, Eminem created the iconic hook to his Grammy-award winning song, “My Name Is.”
As Dr. Dre recounted:
"It’s one of those things were you just know. Something special is happening. I’m rushing. I’m trying to get this this recorded because sometimes, as a producer you can feel when the magic is happening and you don’t want the artists to lose this momentum. It was magic.”
Sitting in his home studio, Dr. Dre sensed The Magic Moment. Creative momentum is rare. Crucially, once Eminem found momentum, Dr. Dre transitioned right into producer mode. Moved by the nervous rush of a first-time meeting with his personal hero, Eminem was spurred to greatness. Powered by the butterflies of excitement, he birthed the raw material for an Emmy-Award winning song.
The intuitive mind can learn and respond to the world without our conscious awareness.
In one study, highlighted in a book Designing for Behavior Change, people were given four biased decks of cards. Some of the decks set people up for success, while others ensured their failure. None of the participants knew the decks were rigged. Once the game began, people’s bodies showed signs of physical stress when they were about to use a money-losing deck. The stress arose at the subconscious level. The automatic response occurred because the intuitive senses realized that the decks were fishy before the conscious mind realized the decks were rigged.
There’s wisdom inside of you that’s deeper than rationality. Unlike conscious thoughts, it reveals itself in quiet hunches and subtle hints. Even if you can’t explain it, you have an internal sense of what matters, what’s relevant, and what’s interesting.
Once we start creating, we can benefit from the trial-and-error of unconstrained creativity. We’re no longer constrained by our tools. Writers don’t have to buy paper, musicians don’t have to buy tape, and filmmakers don’t have to buy film. Since storage is free, we can splatter paint against the wall and keep the best of what sticks.
Writing, like many other crafts, is a process of discovery. Once you realize that all creators stumble towards their discoveries, you’ll be freed from the shackles of perfectionism. If writers always waited until they had the answer, nobody would write anything. For proof, look at other creators. Often, musicians go into creation mode once they can hear their hook, while artists start painting once they stumble upon an immaculate scene with the perfect lighting.
Likewise, writers should start start writing right when a new idea clicks.
When The Magic Moment arrives, get to work. The moment right after a major epiphany is the only moment in the creative process where the rush of epiphany trumps the fear of rejection. It’s when body meets mind. Run to your canvas or your beat pad. Start creating when the rush of epiphany arrives, when your wild intuition can overpower your rational prefrontal cortex.
The Empathy of Epiphany
Writers are particularly guilty of procrastination.
The craft demands logic and rationality, so they ignore the subtle whispers inside them. They’re trapped by the chains of perfectionism, which prevent them from taking the first step. Turns out, the process of creation is like driving through thick fog. You have to trust the road in front of you. Unless you move towards your destination, you won’t know where you’re going.
Start writing before you can see the entire road ahead of you. The moment of complete preparedness will never come. As your fingers waltz across the keyboard, you can embody two mental states at once. Seconds before your Magic Moment of insight, you hadn’t synthesized the idea you’re about to explore. But after the epiphany, you see the world with a fresh set of lenses.
For writers, there’s a special advantage to writing at The Magic Moment. Non-fiction writers express ideas to readers who haven’t thought as much about them, so they need to understand the beginner’s mind. As you type, you can simultaneously empathize with a reader who hasn’t connected the dots you have and hold the fresh memory of what came together for the dots to connect in your head.
The Magic Moment
The Magic Moment is a moment where you have the freedom to create without the demands of publishing.
You can’t predict a Magic Moment. They’re spawned by long periods of incubation, but they strike when the mind is at rest. They’re likely to come when you’re showering, driving, or exercising because that’s when the mind is at rest and you can finally hear yourself think. Like a surfer in the ocean, when a special wave swells up, you have to catch it and ride it to shore.
The Magic Moment is a time to run wild; to be steered by your delirious intuition instead of the crippling logic of rationality. If you’re craving clarity, remember that simplicity is not a starting point. It’s the result of throwing ideas on the page and running them through the narrow mill of feedback and compression. You’ll do your best work right when you think of a good idea, rush to your computer, and bring the idea to life as fast as you can. That candle of novelty will help you externalize your ideas before the flame of insight dies out.
For writers, the first draft is unlike any other draft. In the first draft, you go from nothing to something. The rest is just revision. Words have all the patience in the world. They don’t die or disappear. Rather, they sit on the page and wait for you to inject them with life.
Inspiration is perishable, so strike while the flame is hot.
Note: If you’d like to receive future posts by email, subscribe to my Monday Musings newsletter.