Genius loci

Cultivating Daily Creative Habits

1 February 2024

Kodak Ektar H35N and Field Notes Notebook Jeremy Bassetti
Kodak Ektar H35N and Field Notes Notebook

It has been one month since I started a few new daily creative habits. One of my resolutions this year is to write every day for an entire year. Another is to create a daily photographic journal by taking at least two photographs with a half-frame 35mm film camera. Below, I’ll unpack some of my daily creative habits and share principles I abide by, in hopes that they will help you in your creative endeavors.

Daily writing

When I say my goal is to “write every day,” I’m not referring to writing emails or journaling. I mean creative writing. This includes personal projects, newsletters (like the one you’re reading), and blog posts.

Why commit to daily writing? Forcing myself to read and write every day has proven helpful in cultivating creativity. This might be similar to an exercise routine that habituates fitness. When creativity becomes a part of your lifestyle — as natural as reaching for your favorite cereal each morning or going for your morning walk — a day without it would feel incomplete.

Daily photographing

I’m also committed to taking at least two photographs daily with a Kodak Ektar H35N, using black and white film, for 365 days. I was inspired by Wesley Verhoeve’s 365/2023 project. Although I haven’t developed January’s roll yet (I’m writing this on the last day of January), I’ll share some images next month.

Why do this? It’s to cultivate a habit of documenting my life daily. Most images might be mundane, but the aim isn’t beauty; it’s to document life with as little pretense as possible. It is to create a visual record of a life lived. And I think it can become a tool for reflection later in life. A visual diary is more immediate than the written word, requires a different kind of literacy, and can evoke strong emotional responses in ways words cannot.

Here’s the cool part: I’ve written some code for my website that randomly selects two images from a set and displays them side-by-side. When you tap a button on the page, you’ll get two more random pairs. I’ll reveal the final project with all of the images in January 2025, but I’ll post this month’s images soon to test the script and ensure everything is working correctly.

My principles for cultivating daily creative habits

Sacred Space, Sacred Time. Find a dedicated space and time for you to do your creative work every day. This principle applies more to my writing than photography. Having a clear time (early mornings, before everyone else wakes up) and a clear place (my office with the lamp brightness set at 20%) helps establish a space-time routine for creative work.

Rituals of Creation. I have a morning routine that I eagerly anticipate. It starts with boiling water, feeding the cats, and brewing coffee in a French press. While the coffee brews, I meditate for five minutes (this is mostly just to time the coffee). Then, with my coffee, I step into my office to read and write until about 6:45 or 7 am. The quantity of writing varies, but the ritual remains constant.

Measuring Creative Work. By midday, I document my progress, including the number of words written, miles walked/ran the previous day, and whether I met my photography goals. This not only tracks my progress but seeing how far I’ve come also motivates me to continue working. Last month, I wrote over 12,000 words, with my most productive day hitting 1020 words. The quality varies, but the point is to equate creative work with daily life.

What creative resolutions have you set for 2024? How are they going?

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My work

Some of my photos appeared in Lonely Planet about the Silver Meteor train from Miami to NYC.

I wrote about the problem with (and solution to) camera gear reviews on YouTube.

Speaking of YouTube, I made a video (and wrote an accompanying post) about why photographers must print their work in the digital age.

I wrote about creative inputs & outputs on my Creator’s Log.

I spoke with Deskbound Traveller’s Michael Kerr about travel books he’s looking forward to in 2024, and about the Stanford Travel Book of the Year award, on the Travel Writing World podcast.

From around the web

I’ve learned that late last year, “Nomadic” Matt Kepnes sold his travel blogging/travel influencer conference TravelCon to the personal finance and digital marketing conference FinCon. Travel content creators will gather in Portland, OR in May, during same week the North American Travel Journalist Association (NATJA) conference is held…

Linda Lappin wrote a nice review of Travel Writing for Tourism and City Branding (Routledge 2023) for the Travel Writing World website.

One of my internet friends, a talented photographer named Eduardo Ortiz, has begun writing a blog. His most recent post is a collection of photographs from Cochabamaba, which brings me back to my time in the city where I first started working on my book The Hill of the Skull.

James Baldwin’s advice on writing resonates with me: “Talent is insignificant. I know a lot of talented ruins. Beyond talent lie all the usual words: discipline, love, luck, but most of all, endurance.”

Michael Kerr has a long list of interesting travel/nature/place books to look forward to in 2024 via Deskbound Traveller.

I found this solid list of art book and photobook publishers, which may come in handy for you if you’re trying to find a publisher for an image-first project.

Have you heard about The Travelling Album? It is a collaborative art project where a photo album will travel into the hands of various photographers around the world. They will place a new photograph and write a new letter in the album before sending it off to the next photographer.