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May 19, 2008

Do Something Boring*

[From the desk of Gabe Soria]


"The Rut" – it sounds like an epic boogie rock instrumental, doesn't it? A real choogly Leslie West-meets-Billy Squier jam. Well, I wish it was. To me, though, it's a daily challenge that I have to strive to get over. Most of us "creatives" probably have a similar story. Hell, that's arrogant – most people, period, have ruts they have to get over in their daily lives to allow them to continue what they're doing and keep on keepin' on.

But right now, as I start working on my next book for First Second with St. John Frizell and Simon Fraser, I'm concerned pretty much with my own Rut, my creative one. It's the impulse that drives me to distraction and frippery when I'm sitting at the old typing machine, trying to pound out some inspiration. The only REAL answer to the Rut, at least to me, is discipline – turn off that internet connection, don't check that email or that movie blog and just put nose to grindstone for hours on end.

Unfortunately, I'm a bad disciplinarian, and the Rut rears its ugly head again and again, from day to day. And when discipline doesn't work, I have to look to other avenues to help spur the creative impulse, and that's what this blog entry is about – things I use to inspire and push myself to actually get good (should that last word be in quotes) stuff done. And in the interest of brevity, I'm just going to drop one of the many methods I use.

One of my favorite techniques to spur creativity is to use Oblique Strategies, a method for spurring creative thought developed by one of my heroes, Brian Eno, along with the artist Peter Schmidt in the mid-70s. Taking the form of a deck of cards with a cryptic zen-like koan printed on each, the Oblique Strategies are little, gnomic pushes in directions you may or may not want to go with your work. Meant to be taken as seriously (or un-seriously) as you'd like, they're pretty neat little things – kind of like having a deck of tarot cards crossed with Yoda and a hyper-intelligent record producer in your back pocket. I was introduced to the cards through a scene in Richard Linklater's 1991 film Slacker, which is one of my favorite films ever and which might explain a lot.

Unfortunately, "real" decks of Oblique Strategies can cost quite a bit of money. You could make your own, if you're so inclined, but I just use an elegant little Dashboard widget for my Mac, available here:


But I'm thinking that soon I might have to switch to a completely analog version of everything – notebook for writing and real deck of Oblique Strategies for inspiration, because constantly going to my Dashboard to pick a card… well, it can be kind of distracting sometimes.

Gabe Soria

*(The title of this blog post is the motto on the Oblique Strategy card I pulled when trying to figure out what to write for this entry.)

More information about the Oblique Strategies:


Another Brian Eno creative inspiration game, in which he invented William Gibson/Neal Stephenson-esque sci-fi alter-egos for David Bowie and his band during the recording of the latter's 1995 album:


PS: Um, can somebody out there please do a comics version of the Oblique Strategies? Please?



I do all my first drafts analog. I can write really well out of my house in a notebook, but you have to get that stuff into the computer, and that's always the slow part. I find ways to make that part creative, too... not just looking at the page and typing but reading over what I wrote and then sort of writing it again from scratch. That engages the brain a little more,
but it still goes slowly,
because the Internet is there, and I can't quite bring myself to turn it off.

Word was that Eno had U2 use those decks when they created "Achtung Baby"—the result being a great album. Eno is an interesting guy...cool to see him mentioned here!

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