Jeff Tweedy's memoir, Let's Go (So We Can Get Back) includes expected anecdotes about his growing up, his struggles with addiction and the evolving nature of his band, Wilco. It's also about his creative process, which I found most fascinating.
I've pulled a few of the creativity lessons from the book. Please keep in mind these nuggets are not as valuable as they are within the context of the book, but it's still valuable (to me, anyway) to have a concise list.
It's a strength. His "superpower.” He has a "bone crushing earnestness, a weaponized sincerity.”
Tweedy says he is
"impervious to peer's shame. They couldn't make me recoil with their snickering or judgmental sneers."
The sneers and snickering are powerful and prevent most of us from sharing our art, or our idea, or something new. Being able to put those sneers aside and perform, or write, or publish is so valuable.
Failing is Genius
As a result of Tweedy’s vulnerability, he is comfortable with failing. In fact he encourages it.
"The people who seem the most like geniuses are not geniuses. They're just more comfortable with failing. They try more and they try harder than other people.”
Being vulnerable goes hand in hand with your willingness to fail. When you fail often, you learn more, and, eventually, you'll succeed. And then, one day, you’ll be labeled a genius.
Have a Secret Lab
Having a dedicated lab or workspace is important. Tweedy's is the Loft, a Chicago studio/office/hangout for the band. It's a place designed for playing, jamming and recording. It's their space, intended for the purpose of their creativity. Having that nook, or desk, or office is important. It’s the workshop for innovation. Keeping that space dedicated to one purpose helps keep your mind focused on that purpose. Wilco has new and vintage instruments, bunk beds and a kitchen. For most of us, a quiet desk will suffice. A table at a noisy coffee shop probably will not.
Find the Tools that Work for You
“I learned pretty early on that I don’t like new strings. They’re so bright and cheery. I hate everything about them. I need strings that are weighted down by history, inhibited by their own filthy past.”
Those overused strings are Tweedy’s constraints that he chooses to work with. He recognizes that this medium works for his voice and his type of songwriting. From these tools, his creativity emerges. For you and me, it’s recognizing where and how you do your best work and working within those constraints. For me, my passion is finding new ways to tell stories about technology, and ensuring these stories are related succinctly, simply and memorably. That’s my domain. That's my constraint. Those are my old strings.
Bring in New Voices
Even though Wilco has been around for nearly 25 years, the roster, other than Tweedy and bassist John Stirratt, has flipped several times. Some of these personnel changes, like with guitarist Jay Bennett, are famous and dramatic. Other departures were very cordial and professional. Tweedy acknowledges that new talent infuses the band with new ideas. Bennett's ideas were critical to the classic album: Being There. Glen Kotche and Nels Cline joined later and brought new talents and opportunities for experimentation. Over time, Tweedy has collaborated with other artists like Billy Bragg, Mavis Staples and even his own sons. These collaborations allow him to explore new aspects of his creativity and pushes him. We should find new partners to do the same in our own endeavors.