Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Thoughts on the Creative Process

Last time, I mentioned how my work can really get in the way of my hobbies (piano, knitting, and sewing). It's not about free time, so much as mental energy. It's cyclical, based on my deadlines. And it really flummoxes me every time: I feel off-kilter, unproductive, and not normal.

But ya know, when something happens almost every week, at some point you have to admit that that is your normal. Maybe if I accept that and learn to flow with it, I'll be happier and more productive over the long run.

Here's what I mean: Let's say I have a big presentation due in 5 days. Chances are good that I'm going to spend the first 3 days planning, conceptualizing, and just plain old thinking about it. Then I spend the last 2 days in a crazy haze and create the entire thing in a short amount of time. It's like giving birth to a full-grown adult (but less painful).

During those first few "blank" days, it doesn't feel like I'm working, because I'm not actually building the presentation. It feels like I'm procrastinating, so I end up berating myself, trying to force myself to work, and trying to keep all my other activities going at full speed (learning new piano music, sewing clothes, whatever). Because, geez, you're procrastinating on your work and you're skipping piano practice? WTH?

No more! Here's what I've realized: If I've got a big work thing going on and can't concentrate on anything else either, it's because my brain is busy thinking through the work thing. It's not that I'm being lazy--I just need to give myself time to develop ideas.

With that in mind, I'm going to do some experimenting for the next couple weeks. I'm going to keep my "blank" days open, not stress about how productive I'm being, and be nice to myself. And I'm going to keep some easy activities around, so that I have something to do while my brain does its thing.

This is the best time to focus on:
  • TV knitting
  • hand sewing
  • cross stitch
  • piano scales & technique
  • polishing piano music I already know
  • easy, mindless chores around the house

It's not the time for:
  • starting new projects
  • learning new knitting skills
  • solving fitting issues
  • altering patterns
  • learning much (or any) new sheet music
  • doing logic problems (my breakfast activity of choice)
  • working on any projects that involve extensive planning

So if I'm going to sew a pattern I've never sewn before, I should wait until after my deadline. If I'm going to practice piano every day, I should learn the new music after my deadline, then polish it when preparing for the next deadline.

Basically, I need to start acting like an artist who is bound by a creative process. Because, apparently, that's what I am. I think I'll be much happier that way, too!

Have you discovered something like this in your own work? How did you deal with it?

(ps--In case you're curious, I'm just finishing the "blank" days for this cycle. Time to get cracking on my presentation now!)


  1. Very interesting and insightful!

    Even though I don't have a "job," I have always created (meaningless) deadlines for myself that stress me out. And I've found that things like Ravelry and my blog sometimes exacerbate that - I feel like I have to have the "next thing" to show, and that I need to show something every day! All totally self-created! Nobody else cares but me! I'm trying to take the time my niece is here to step back from that a little and see if I can learn to be more realistic.

    1. So true. It's nice to feel like each day has a purpose, but it sucks to always feel guilty about something that should be fun. I just heard about a book called Flow, which is about how happy people tend to handle this issue. Could be an interesting read.