Quotes from “The Big Thing” by Phyllis Korkki

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My present self has a tendency to ask: Why must you create? Why can’t you just be? When I actively avoid working on my Big Thing, food tastes better and movies on the Lifetime channel seem unusually compelling.
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mindfulness, the goal is to return to the present moment, to take note of distractions and bring yourself back, over and over. It is a very simple concept, but very hard to do.

Similarly, over a period of days, weeks, months, if you are committed to your Big Thing, you bring yourself back to it. It’s hard to do, and you do it imperfectly, but you do it. The Big Thing is an accumulation of the moments where you brought yourself back to the thing you decided to create because it was meaningful to you. And because I always did bring myself back to those moments, I finally got mine done.
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I am not a religious person. I have always been an agnostic. If I have believed anything, it is that I don’t have enough information to know what to believe. I have always wondered, as the melancholy writer of the book of Ecclesiastes wonders, why we have been given a “sense of time past and future, but no comprehension of God’s work from beginning to end.”
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That said, hundreds of respected and bestselling books began during NaNoWriMo, including Water for Elephants, by Sara Gruen; The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern; and Wool, by Hugh Howey.
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According to Dictionary.com, a deadline was formerly “a boundary around a military prison beyond which a prisoner could not venture without risk of being shot by the guards.”

Deadlines contain an implied threat—if you don’t do this, you are dead. They mark the death of your future self. There is a sense of mortality in deadlines, and that is why they are so effective. There is a kind of death that occurs on the way from the vague to the specific.
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I have come to realize that the most important thing to do in order to finish a big creative project is this: understand what motivates you, and create a structure to support that.
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People may also seek to leave a legacy through their creative ideas, as expressed in a Big Thing. Some of that may be narcissistic—just as wanting to have children can be narcissistic—but some of it is tied to what the psychoanalyst Erik Erikson referred to as generativity, the desire to give back without needing anything in return. As the author Daniel Goleman told me in an article I wrote for the Times on wisdom, this type of giving back could be creative, social, personal, or financial, and “the wisest people do that in a way that doesn’t see their lifetime as limiting when this might happen.”

Generativity is a self-transcending love. Whatever form it takes, it builds on the strengths one has accrued in childhood and throughout adulthood, until in full maturity it expresses itself in ways that future generations can receive and interpret in ways uniquely their own
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But take the long view and children can be as rewarding a creative project as it is possible to imagine. “Children strain our everyday lives,” Senior writes, “but also deepen them.” They “give us structure, purpose and stronger bonds to the world around us.” Choosing parenthood “gives strength and structural integrity to one’s life through meaningful tension.” And through our nurturing of them with the knowledge that they will outlive us, they offer us a chance for redemption.
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Most couples seem to prefer to go off to different jobs, I noted: they want to get away from each for a little while. But Gupta and Chordia say it feels more natural for them to merge their work and their personal lives. In fact, Gupta said, it was being separated from Chordia at the venture capital job that partly made her feel so dissatisfied with it.

“But don’t you get sick of each other?” I said.

“No,” Gupta said with a laugh. “It’s one of the things that makes us really unusual.” All the successful married cofounders they know say they just like to spend time together, she said.

It used to be that venture capital companies would not invest in a team of married cofounders, for fear that if the relationship broke up the company would, too, Chordia said. But that is starting to change as tech companies like Goodreads, Eventbrite, and SlideShare—all started by married couples—show that it can be done.
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Love makes you childlike, he added, which also fosters creativity. Just listen to the cutesy-speak of happily married couples—it’s pretty nauseating, but it keeps them childlike and open to new ideas, he said.
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Chordia said that he is very satisfied with the meaning in his life, and one of the reasons is that “I’m birthing things into the world. Part of having a child is that you’ve brought something unique into the world. Part of doing something genuinely creative is again bringing something unique into the world that will bring a bit of joy. And so in that sense I see it as very parallel.”
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When I told Noriko that her husband had said he was not actually jealous of her, she said, “All artists are jealous. And men are more jealous than women.”

“So he really is jealous of you,” I said.

“Of course.”

In the documentary, Noriko alludes to Virginia Woolf’s view that in order to create fiction, and by extension all art, “a woman must have money and a room of her own.”
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How many people experience complete happiness in love and work, at the same time or ever? What makes us fully human, in the Freudian sense, is not necessarily achieving, but striving toward happiness in these two areas, ruing their lack and making up for them in other ways.
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Catmull thinks that the idea of an individual creative genius is an illusion. “In fact, almost everything great is the result of a collaboration between people,” he said. Even with seemingly solo endeavors, it’s important to accept that “the people who precede you and the people around you are all sources of inspiration and influence on what you do.”
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In his book Powers of Two, Joshua Wolf Shenk discusses the importance of the dyad in numerous creative groups, including the Beatles. In some pairs, as with Lennon and McCartney, the two members are equally celebrated. In others, one person “takes the lone-genius spotlight while the other remains in history’s shadows.” Many husband-and-wife teams have operated this way, with the long-suffering wife tending to get short shrift in the credit department. Vladimir and Véra Nabokov are a famous example of this type of pairing.
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Also, if audience metrics are used to determine the quality of an artistic product, and the original creator revises the product based on those metrics, then the artist’s singular vision could be lost in favor of pandering to the reader with empty, melodramatic plot twists.
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Credit is a murky issue. “Great innovations are usually the result of ideas that flow from a large number of sources,” Walter Isaacson writes in his book The Innovators. “An invention, especially one as complex as the computer, usually comes not from an individual brainstorm but from a collaboratively woven tapestry of creativity.”

“When people take insights from multiple sources and put them together, it’s natural for them to think that the resulting ideas are their own—as in truth they are,” he says. “All ideas are born that way.” It is ironic that both the Internet and Wikipedia—the ultimate in collaborative inventions—were the source of intense squabbling over who deserved most of the credit for creating them.
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Is it even possible to work in a collaborative setting without having a hierarchy? Sutton doesn’t think so. He gets in trouble for this idea, he said, but “I can’t find any human groups that aren’t hierarchical and authoritarian.” Even the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra—which famously does not have a conductor—chooses a different member to serve as a concertmaster for each musical piece, and the president has control over the programming.

“Maybe it could be two people in charge,” Sutton said. “But then one of them seems to be more in charge than the other.”
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Sutton offers these suggestions in the name of making collaboration run more smoothly:

• Don’t allow criticism to accompany the initial stages of idea generation. “Make it safe for people to suggest crazy or controversial ideas. After you have some ideas, then invite people to push back on them.”

• Make sure everyone is included, by reining in the talkers and encouraging the quieter people to speak up.

• Monitor nonverbal behavior, and assess how it might, even unwittingly, have affected other people in the group.

• Learn which people are thin-skinned and thick-skinned, and adjust your communication style accordingly.

• After a conflict, “Soothe those who feel personally attacked and whose ideas were shot down. If anyone made personal attacks, call them on it and coach them to do otherwise.”
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When a group, as opposed to an individual, experiences flow, a paradox is involved because “participants must feel in control, yet at the same time they must remain flexible, listen closely, and always be willing to defer to the emergent flow of the group,” Sawyer writes. “The most innovative teams are the ones that can manage that paradox.”
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