The Seven Deadly Sins of Creativity

Portrait of horned devilAh, there you are! Do come in.

Make yourself at home – Meph will take your coat. Please have a seat.

Yes, I do apologise, it is rather warm. We’re having a devil of a job with the thermostat. Someone’s supposed to be coming to fix it, but you know how it is with these people, it’s always ‘mañana’…

Now, how about a drink?

We’re very proud of our selection here, I’m sure you’ll find something to your taste – just peruse the list and let me know what you’d like… Meph will decant it for you.

I beg your pardon? Oh yes of course, you can have just a taster if you want to try it first…

1. Lust

Ohh, this one is delicious. You have to try it. Just a little sip, I insist!

You see, the wonderful thing about creative work is that it’s so damn enjoyable.

Cartoon face: LustNoel Coward nailed it when he said “Work is more fun than fun” – once you’re in the creative zone, absorbed in your writing, or painting, or making music, or acting or whatever is your métier, you’re having such a wonderful time you wouldn’t rather be doing anything else in the world.

You can spend hours and hours working away happily – without food, without conversation, sometimes without even coffee or Twitter. Creativity feels so good it’s positively addictive.

But it gets better…

You see, the scientists have been poking around in the little grey cells, and they’ve discovered a rather wonderful thing:

Intrinsic motivation is very highly correlated with creativity.

It doesn’t sound so much fun when you put it like that, does it? But here’s the sexy translation of the academic jargon: if you’re doing good work you’ll feel great while you’re doing it.

And I hardly need to remind you of the pleasures of the Bohemian lifestyle… Just think of the great hell raisers of the creative world – Baudelaire, Behan, Belushi, Bonham, Bowie, Brando, Bukowski, Burton – they all knew how to have a fiendishly good time. Shining examples of the fact creativity thrives on sex, drugs and rock’n’roll.

What’s to stop you joining them?


So what does this mean for you?

Essentially, I am giving you a licence to indulge in pleasure. Your work should be fun! It MUST be fun!

So don’t waste your time on anything boring or difficult. If you don’t find yourself in the creative zone within five minutes, it’s a sure sign that you should stop and do something else.

Go for a walk. Relax. Stretch. Check out Twitter or Facebook. Have a coffee, or better yet, a glass of wine. Call your friends, go out for a drink. The weekend starts here…

Never forget: your talent is your ticket to pleasure.

2. Gluttony

Cartoon face: GluttonyNo creator is an island. You can’t create great art without first consuming it – lots of it.

You’ve seen the gauche productions of amateurs who aren’t familiar with either the classic or cutting-edge works in your field. Heaven forbid you should make that mistake!

And if you know your cultural history, you can trace the lines of influence from generation to generation, as the rising stars familiarised themselves with the works of past masters before going on to transcend them.

In other words, drawing inspiration from the works of others is just as creative as making things yourself. Which means…

If you want to be a rock star, you need a killer record collection.

If you want to be a great novelist, you need a comprehensive home library, or a Kindle crammed with great literature. Preferably both.

If you want to be a leading designer, you need the latest and best Mac, a library of glossy books, and a home furnished with elegant design objects.

If you want to be an iconic fashion designer, it’s unthinkable for you to be seen in public in anything other than haute couture.

And so on… whatever your career path, you need a collection of the best work and the finest equipment money can buy, before you can even think of producing anything worthwhile yourself.

Remember, this isn’t about being materialistic – these things are essential to your creative development. They’re not luxuries, but necessities.


Have a look through your collection of books/music/clothes/15th century Florentine sculpture… I’m sure it’s very impressive, as befits a connoisseur like you.

But is it complete? Surely there a few gaps that need filling? Maybe it’s time to go shopping…

(Naturally, I would never encourage you do illegally download valuable creative work from the internet.)

Look around you and you’ll see plenty of things that would be handsome additions to your collection – why not go on a splurge? Treat yourself to all those things you’ve been hankering after – and a few you never knew you wanted.

And remember, it takes time to absorb great art, so make sure you block off plenty of time during the working week for reading/listening/watching the great works of other creators.

Go on, indulge yourself…

3. Greed

Cartoon face: GreedAs Mark told you right back at the beginning of Lateral Action, we are living in the age of the creative economy – creativity is now a valuable economic property, which means there are big rewards on offer for the work of talented creative people… like you.

The magic word here is monetization – it means to take something that isn’t making money (and maybe was never intended to make money) and find a way to make money out of it. Isn’t that marvellous?

It could be a poem, a sketch, a quilt, a blog, or a nice little hobby you amuse yourself with at the weekend.

If it moves – monetize it! If it doesn’t move – monetize it! If you can touch it – monetize it! If it’s – well, I won’t labour the point. I can see you’re a fast learner.


Whenever you start a new creative project, your first thought should be: How will I monetize this?

If you can’t think of a way to turn it into hard cash, don’t bother with it! Why waste your time on something with no ROI?

And don’t forget your back catalogue. Go through everything you’ve ever made and start brainstorming ways to monetize it. Don’t worry about the quality, you’d be amazed at what people will buy. You’re sitting on a goldmine! Time to start digging…

Remember the golden rule: no cash = creative trash.

4. Sloth

Cartoon face: SlothWe all know our best ideas come to us in creative downtime – the moments when we’re not doing anything much – in the shower, walking the dog, playing frisbee, lying on the beach, sitting in a cafe watching the world go by.

All that time, your unconscious mind is taking the strain – solving problems, dreaming up ideas, preparing insights – in a magical process called creative incubation.

As Mark says, it’s fiendishly difficult to tell the difference between incubation and procrastination – so if I were you I’d play it safe, imitate the action of the chicken, and do as much incubating as possible.


If you want to be really creative, take it easy. Hard work is for mediocrities, to be avoided at all costs.

If you feel the slightest hint of Resistance, don’t push against it – you might strain yourself.

Take long lunches. Keep your evenings and weekends free.

Each day, give yourself an extra hour in bed. Each week, give yourself an extra day off. Come to think of it, when did you last have a holiday? Isn’t it about time you took a sabbatical…?

5. Wrath

Cartoon face: WrathLook around you at this philistine world, full of grubby people chasing money, with no appreciation of art, and no sympathy for the suffering of artistic souls like you.

Doesn’t it make you sick?

Don’t you want to smash it to smithereens? To tear down the walls and bring the whole edifice crashing down on their heads?

And you’ve probably noticed that your ‘fellow’ creators aren’t much better – it’s disgusting the way they are constantly jostling for position, pushing themselves forward and stabbing each other (and you) in the back. Bleurghhh.

Isn’t it about time someone did something about it?


Pay close attention to all the things that niggle at you and make you annoyed. (You won’t have to look far, trust me.)

Every time you get that feeling, don’t bottle it up – let it out! Tell people exactly what you think of them, and their shallow ideas and their shoddy behaviour.

Even if you can’t do it in person, there are plenty of places you can do it online – on your blog, on someone else’s blog, on Facebook, or in a forum.

(Remember: if you’re going to be really vicious, it’s traditional to remain anonymous.)

Sure, you could channel your righteous indignation into your work – I’m sure you can reel off plenty of great works of art that were fueled by a sense of anger at injustice – but maybe leave that till later. Better to work up to it by venting on Twitter or ranting in the bar.

Notice how good it feels?

6. Envy

Cartoon face: EnvyDo you ever look at one of the rising stars in your field and think:

What’s so special about them? My work’s at least as good as theirs! Why are they getting all the attention? Why not me?

If so, then I have just the thing for you… Go on Meph, top it up – splendid!

I know how awful it must be for you to be struggling along, undiscovered and unappreciated – and then see some little upstart without a fraction of your talent get waved to the front of the queue, where everyone starts fawning over them and showering them with praise and money and awards and god knows what else.

So take a long draught of Envy and you’ll start to feel better… You’ll see – very clearly – exactly how mediocre the so-called ‘stars’ really are, and how much better you are in every respect.

When it kicks in, Envy has a wonderfully soothing effect – it chases away all those nasty little doubts about your own abilities. It stops you getting caught up in the laughable delusion that people in your field are rewarded on merit.

I’m sure you can see the absurdity of such idea: I mean, if that really were the case, you’d be in an uncomfortable position, wouldn’t you? You might have to start doing a few things differently, or getting better at – no, it doesn’t bear thinking about. Let’s move on…


Next time you see someone else in your field being praised and rewarded for their so-called ‘achievements’, start running these questions through your mind:

Just who are they?

What exactly have they done that’s so great?

Whose palm did they grease?

Who did they sleep with?

How come no-one sees how poor their work is?

How can they be so blind to my talents?

Carry on like this, and you’ll soon feel better. Best of all, it will absolve you of superfluous hard thinking and hard work.

7. Pride

Cartoon face: PrideYou’ll be pleased to know I’ve “saved the best wine till last” (as somebody once said). This one is positively intoxicating.

I’m sure you know how galling it is to have your time taken up by little people, with their trivial thoughts and petty demands. And their persistent, inexplicable failure to make allowances for your unique and special talent.

If they had any taste or discernment they would realise that you are an ARTIST! Not only that, you are a GENIUS! You are not as others are. You are cut from a different cloth. The usual rules don’t apply to you.

You deserve respect! You deserve recognition! You deserve success! You deserve the best! And you deserve it all now!


Let’s face it, there’s not much I – or anyone else – can teach you. Just bear these principles in mind and you won’t go far wrong:

Never restrain your impulses – your every whim should be indulged.

Never deprive yourself of anything – your appetite needs to be satisfied.

Never miss a chance to monetize – your creativity should be rewarded.

Never work hard – talent like yours should be effortless.

Never listen to feedback or criticism, even from so-called ‘experts’ – what do they know about it?

And never, ever, get your hands dirty with marketing or promotion – the audience should come to you.

[EDIT: URGENT APPEAL FROM MARK: Help! My blog has been taken over by dark forces. 😮

I don’t know who Old Nick is but he’s managed to publish this article without my permission – it looks like he’s trying to undo all my hard work on Lateral Action by spreading really bad advice for creative people.

He must have cast a spell on this post because I can’t edit or delete it – so I’m relying on you to help undo the damage: please leave a comment, either explaining how Old Nick has got it wrong, or sharing a tip on how to avoid one of the Seven Deadly Sins of Creativity.

I’m relying on you… please be quick – before he spots this message and deletes it!]

About the Author: Old Nick has taken over Mark McGuinness’ blog because he thinks it’s time you faced up to the harsh facts about creativity. He has nothing to do with Mark’s creative coaching service and recommends you avoid Mark’s book Resilience and free Creative Pathfinder course at all costs. Mwahahaha!

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Responses to this Post


  1. This was very funny, Mark. I have encountered even coaches afflicted with some of these- specifically the mantra of gravitating only to what is easy for you and the final one: “you are not as others are, you are cut of a different cloth.”

    Obviously we are each cut of a different cloth (whether artist or not), but not in the elevated, prideful sense in which Old Nick articulates it. And people waste a tremendous amount of time in negative caricatures of “the other.” Such a popular pastime!

    Wishing you (but not Old Nick) a productive and creative New Year!

    • Obviously we are each cut of a different cloth (whether artist or not), but not in the elevated, prideful sense in which Old Nick articulates it.

      He’s so devious, isn’t he? 😉

      And a happy, creative and productive New Year to you too!

  2. Old Nick does have it wrong. Each and every single one of us can fight these 7 sins of creativity by doing something that Old Nick really hates — shipping our art.

    Every time we ship our art, Old Nick goes crazy and dies a little inside.

    Let’s all ship something to make Old Nick’s head explode!


  3. mwah, ha, ha, huh? 🙂

  4. I see the devil has italicised sentence-final punctuation after italicised words. This is a style question that has been bothering me. The devil can’t be all bad if he reassures me of the correctness of this style choice (which seemed right to me, but about which I was seeking reassurance).

  5. Of course he’s talking rubbish.

    And I’ll tell you why, as soon as I get my new Mac.

    • Excellent idea! Take your time over the decision… these things require plenty of productive time in the Mac store and forums…

  6. LOL! Thanks, Mark. Old Nick may have talked me into drinking one or two of these from time to time. It’s way too easy to justify indulging in them. I end up having to sit myself and explain how silly I’m being.

  7. Following on from the punctuation observation, I’m not convinced that Old Nick’s wrong about everything. Part of it must depend on personal style, on goals, priorities and so on.

    Here’s a link I recently found about an interesting-looking writer:

    “In 60 years he wrote eight novels, in accordance with his philosophy of life in which ‘laziness’ is not a vice but a form of contemplation and meditation.”

    Of course, by many people’s standards, eight novels in a lifetime is anything but lazy.

    • I’m not convinced that Old Nick’s wrong about everything.

      That’s the spirit!

      Of course, by many people’s standards, eight novels in a lifetime is anything but lazy.

      Exactly. If I were you I’d slow down and pace myself.

  8. Nick, brilliantly backhanded, old chap. Keep up the good work. That Mark guy needed to be shaken up a bit, methinks.

  9. Dear Old Nick,

    How are you my crafty fellow. It’s been a while, has it not?
    How’s the fiddle playing these days?

    I’m sure all of this misguided and manipulative advice is oodles of fun for you to dish out, but I really must insist that you refrain from further acts of creative contamination. First of all, I know the kinds of folks who hang out here on Lateral Action, and – I hate to disappoint you, but … they aren’t likely to fall for these weak attempts of yours to lead them down the primrose path. Second, you really should know better than to mess with Creators. Your arch nemesis would certainly have a thing or two to say about this if she wasn’t busy working on new things of her own.

    Though I hate to engage you even the tiniest bit, I can’t help but point out a flaw in your logic, such as it is. You, dear fellow, have overlooked one critical truth that renders each of your “cocktails” powerless to intoxicate. Creative acts do not flow from the outside in. They emerge from the inside out. Each of your elixirs is concocted of external influences, pressures, demands, and desires. They do not stem from the true source of creativity which lives inside the artist. If the artist turns her eyes from the outside world and focuses instead on the world within, none of your vices will have a hold on her. She will not be concerned with the whims of others or the pressures of outside voices and “needs.” She will not spend her time comparing her work to another’s or attempting to justify her work to the world.

    There is powerful magic in the heart and mind of a creator – certainly powerful enough to resist your petty temptations if the creator is bringing her art forth from its true source.

    So, move along there, old man. There’s nothing to see here and nothing for you to do. You’d better skedaddle on home before She comes ’round and decides to mete out her own judgment for your bad behavior.


    • If the artist turns her eyes from the outside world and focuses instead on the world within, none of your vices will have a hold on her. She will not be concerned with the whims of others or the pressures of outside voices and “needs.” She will not spend her time comparing her work to another’s or attempting to justify her work to the world.

      I don’t suppose you’d consider deleting this bit?

  10. Every sin is just an over-worked virtue (too much of a good thing!). Find the balance, strike the chord, sing your song!

  11. Mary Liz Tippin-Moody says:

    This was really clever and very uplifting to read and re-read. Like some other commenters have stated, some folks in this field DO operate in this manner – INDULGE ME!! Thanks so much for your rapier like wit and constant encouragements to keep our collective collaborative chins up and SHIP!! Happy New Year.

  12. Poor Ol’ Nick, Just another victim of the system 😉

    Work hard and stay humble….nothing more!

  13. How very Screwtape of you to write this. 😉

    I think the thing that struck me, going back to ideas you’ve written about before… is that these thoughts and ideas actually will occur to us as we’re working and trying to move forward toward our goals. If we don’t recognize the ideas and thoughts as wrong then we won’t be able to avoid the pitfalls. We’ll agree with the ideas and lose valuable time and perhaps never accomplish our work at all. It’s the Resistance. I know in my own heart and mind, once I became aware of the thoughts themselves, they became more elusive and sneaky, becoming unverbalized attitudes or emotions. As long as I don’t face what is really going on then they can sneak up on me. So the idea of being ruthlessly honest with myself and then also of examining my own attitudes and emotions has helped me to grow and overcome a lot of this sort of thing.

    I have to journal to do that.

    I had no idea that I even had anxiety until I started recording my thoughts where I could see them.

    I think this one is truly important to recognize:

    —- I am giving you a licence to indulge in pleasure. Your work should be fun! It MUST be fun!

    I think it’s a shock to get to the grinding out, nitty gritty of finishing something. There is labor, labor like a birth, in most works of substance.

    • How very Screwtape of you to write this.

      Heh. Mr Lewis crossed my mind. 😉

      these thoughts and ideas actually will occur to us as we’re working and trying to move forward toward our goals. If we don’t recognize the ideas and thoughts as wrong then we won’t be able to avoid the pitfalls.

      Yes! I’m glad it’s not just me. 🙂

  14. I didn’t get this? maybe i’m without a sense of humor or i’ve turned to the darkside 😀 Ofcourse wrath envy and pride are negative features but the others arent so bad. Ofcourse too much of anything is harmful.

    I do think that laziness and downtime are good for creativity and you shouldnt push on something that feels bad or difficult. I intend to keep my work fun and inspiring. Going out, emptying my mind, enjoying outdoors or my lunch longer give me good ideas and keep my mind body and soul positive and creative. Also monetization happens everywhere. You dont think it while you create but you have to think it after or before when you start a bigger project. Its no different what people advice in here. Get hooked on something free and then ask money for more stuff later? Almost everything in creative market is being monetized (games for example) thats how creative people get fed. Also i do love sex, drugs (i consider coffee and cigarettes drugs as well) and rock n’ roll. its part of life and i intend to enjoy my life and not to be that artist carrying the weight of the world, staying indoors forever alone. i breath and consume art, why is it bad?

    • Of course too much of anything is harmful.

      Yes, as others have said, there’s a grain of truth in everything Nick says. He stretches it a bit far though…

      Also monetization happens everywhere. You dont think it while you create

      Exactly. The bit in bold is the part Nick left out.

  15. Great sense of humor! Really creative approach;-))) But no cash=creative trash? Really??? It may be the other way around;-) Maybe it’s TOO CREATIVE, that’s why no one is buying it?

  16. I my god, I am the devil! Thanks so much, Mark, for your brilliant sense of humour. Even though it was kinda scary…I think I have to re-think my thoughts…. As these comments highlight, the point is about degree and what we focus on while being creative. Monetizing creativity is fine – of course (but not the main focus while being creative). Taking breaks from projects is fine – of course (but too much and we can lose the momentum…and it can be an excuse to procrastinate). The creative process can be fun – of course (but there are moments when it can be incredibly frustrating, and that’s okay). Nice one, Mark – and ol’ Nick. Chin chin!

  17. Thank you very much for giving creative-motivational tips for life!!!!
    I really enjoy to read this article, funky fun!

  18. Thank you Mark/Screwtape/Nick,
    This is great – an article that stands out from the crowd.
    And now I know my problem: I’m possessed. Call the exorcist, quick!

  19. How lovely to find someone who thinks as I and breathes to spread the message. If only more would heed this advice, the competition would fall by the wayside, the bar would be lowered to the ground, nothing new would ever come along to dethrone me of my mediocrity, and I could rule the creative world. Well, perhaps I’d have to share a bit with you. For a price, of course.

  20. Annamarie says:

    Quite a fairy tail, might be coming in handy one day that old Nick, once I get MY new Mac lap top.
    Love and Blessings Annamarie
    One of your new students and followers

  21. i’m doing good work but i feel unmotivated. the pay is not good. and my creativity slumps

  22. On the weekend I attacked sloth (or resistance) by joining the rabbit hole. It was an event where 20 writers sat in a room Friday. Saturday, Sunday and wrote from 10am – 7pm or 8pm-ish. Trying to get to 30 000 words in three days. Did I make it? No. But I did get over 11,000. 🙂

  23. Warriors of life

    For as long as you feel the need to box everything

    right – wrong
    good – bad
    truth – lie
    mine – yours

    There will always be a reason to fight over what is ….

    Just keep fighting and who knows …. you might win and left with the debris of your war!

    • Just keep fighting and who knows …. you might win and left with the debris of your war!

      Music to my ears! 🙂

      • Elizabeth says:

        Hold on there big guy …. in every war everybody is leaving with scars …. and in the aftermath of your victory you need to clean up ….. work in a constructive way …. are you able to do that?

  24. “Never work hard – talent like yours should be effortless”

    i’m confused.In your other previous posts,hard work (not waiting muse to come,pick up your brushes ,start practicing..etc) are often mentioned to achieve satisfactory results.To my understanding,honing talent only can be done through countless hard work,if so… can it be effortless? Or i have misunderstood your meaning of ‘Never work hard’ ? How hard is too hard?

  25. crap..i didn’t read the last paragraph.How embarrassing.. 😛

  26. I thought you went along with the lust part. Focusing on enjoyment etc.?

  27. Hi Mark

    I don’t know about the advice above. It must work for some! I seem to see/hear a lot of people use it!

    For me, l just like to potter away in my studio painting away quietly and when l run out of inspiration, l jump into the car and head into the desert which is even quieter. This is all punctuated with days of planning, budgeting and marketing.

    I absolutely love all your advice and even might try some of the above! Just for fun! They could just shake up my friends and brighten my life! Hehe!


  28. “Never miss a chance to monetize – your creativity should be rewarded.”

    I felt great waves of tension roll away. It’s real permission to make art sometimes for the sake of beauty and growth, to see where it leads my heart and mind and talent, and not worry, at least for this minute, where it will lead my wallet. And at this minute, I love the idea that insistence on making everything have cash value is just another form of Pride.

    Thanks, Old Nick, for some fresh air that you might not have meant to breathe out!

  29. Nick forgot to say that all artists are good at all media and to try a completely different one at the slightest sign of success and so therefore boredom .Then the artist can have the great fun of always having to find brand new customers all the time instead of branding their work and having a USP. Doh. Your blog sounds like my lifestyle !

  30. Great title Mark,

    I’m not sure about the metaphor. I feel like there maybe a season or a time for doing the exact opposite to what you prescribe here.

    Perhaps the work would be more impressive, if we took for example no pride in it, and simply let it come out of us like it were a gift not of our doing?

    What do you think?

    There is really no prescription for creative work, I heard a writer say the other day that he sit’s sown at the keyboard and the first thing he says to himself is “I don’t know.”

    In other words, he removes himself from the process as much as possible to let his imagination create for him.

    Geoff Talbot

    • Hi Geoff,

      I feel like there maybe a season or a time for doing the exact opposite to what you prescribe here.

      I certainly hope you’ll do the opposite of what Nick suggests! 😉

      Perhaps the work would be more impressive, if we took for example no pride in it, and simply let it come out of us like it were a gift not of our doing?

      Don’t tell anyone, but I’m working on a follow-up piece on exactly that…

      he sit’s sown at the keyboard and the first thing he says to himself is “I don’t know.”

      That’s a perfect place to start. Apart from anything else, it’s so much more exciting than having preconceptions. Creativity should be an adventure, after all.

  31. I actually think there is more truth in this article than there are lies. It provided some very good insights for me. I especially liked the one that said work should be fun. Too often I found myself working on projects that were not true to me, and thus not a lot of fun to work on. I focused too much on what I thought the “market” wanted instead of just doing something I personally enjoyed.
    I loved the writing style of this post. Great job.