As far back as I can remember, I have been a planner: an index card-carrying, alphabetizing, chequebook balancing, list-keeping planner. I need a list to keep track of my lists and a spreadsheet to keep track of my spreadsheets.
When I need to complete a task that requires some degree of effort or attention to detail, my natural inclination is to plan it out, starting as early as possible, giving myself enough time to work, take a step back, review, update, step away for a few minutes, approach the work with a fresh pair of eyes, review, update, etc.
Like most people, my best ideas do not all hit me in one sitting. In some ways, it is a bit like a “whack-a-mole” game, where you need to catch those great ideas as they pop up. If all the moles popped up at once, the game would be a little anti-climactic and over rather quickly, wouldn’t it? That ebb and flow of the creative process up to and including the finished product is what puts me in that indescribable state of euphoria at the end of a writing session.
Also, I am one of those people who gets a perfect comeback to a remark five minutes after the conversation ended. The same goes for my creative work which is why I like to give myself ample time to catch all those “five minutes later” moments of belated inspiration.
However, life does not always offer us the luxury of time. I have my Dad’s military background to thank for keeping me in check and working through my comfort zone. When Dad had something for me to do, there was no negotiation, it had to be done now. My marching orders were clearly articulated, the TV was turned off, the tools were put in my hand and the discussion was over. It was definitely good in that it taught me very early to accept the reality that we do not always have infinite time to get things done, as well as the life skill in juggling multiple priorities. On the other hand, it made a very sensitive young man a little jumpy at times.
At the other extreme, I feel deep admiration for those people who are able to intentionally defer a task because they work better under the pressure of a deadline. To me, these are the creative daredevils of the world, the artistic adrenaline junkies who feed and thrive on the energy of pressure. In some ways they are my heroes but also my nemeses.
While growing up, some group projects were hell for me when I was teamed up with the last-minute-pressure-cooker-lovers. I would want to get together soon after the project was assigned to develop a thoughtful, methodical, well-formulated and thorough plan of attack to be executed in manageable steps. The deliberate-procrastinators would want to collectively whip together a final product at the eleventh hour, running on salt, sugar, sleeplessness and microwaved coffee. This is not to say either approach is right or wrong, but the approaches are like oil and water.
The same went for studying for an exam. Cramming was never my strong suit. Structured daily bite-sized studying sessions ensured I had time to absorb, assimilate, reformulate in my head, make the necessary connections and then be able to explain it in a couple of different ways in order to offer my best work. All-nighters of cramming just made me jittery and feeling like I just swallowed a Thanksgiving dinner of course content.
However, in the real world, obviously it is not practical if I asked my boss for 6 months to write a memo. Such a request might be met with raised eyebrows and likely a cordial invitation to the unemployment office. Fortunately, I cope pretty well thanks to Dad’s reality check.
But in the artistic world, I don’t ever recall touring a world-class museum and seeing a plaque under a major work of art with the notation, “Completed in only 27 minutes!” More often than not, it took weeks, months or years of development work to get it just right.
To me, when it comes to creativity and the development of a piece that touches mind, body or soul requires attention, care and time. It is an iterative process. Like any fine wine, it takes time to ferment.
When I am trying to break new ground on a project, I like to free up my calendar of commitments in order to really give it my full focus and attention without pressure. If I can sit down and say “I’ve got all day for this”, my mind goes into a very relaxed state, allowing the creative juices to simmer at a gentle bubble. While it does not necessarily mean that I will actually invest the WHOLE DAY to do something, it is just the knowledge that I have “cleared my plate” mentally that seems to create a fertile environment for free though in order to cultivate fresh ideas.
It also allows the mind the fearlessness to try things without the worry of losing time in trying new approaches or reformulating over and over until the end result is just right. Let’s face it, we are not all “one draft wonders”.
If we take running as an analogy, when I was training for the half marathon last year, the object was to get the incremental mileage in every week over several months, slowly raising the bar, getting the body used to the punishment of running 26.1 km. Unless you are exceptionally gifted physically or a member of the gazelle family, you cannot start a running regimen at that distance, you need to build up gradually. To me, creative work is the same and requires different activities and approaches to get to that desired end result.
When inspiration runs high, great things can be accomplished in short periods of time, but for the most part, inspiration isn’t accessible on demand like Netflix. A work of art, no matter how big or small, is subject to a process that cannot be rushed. It just takes the time it takes… but that’s me and my creative process!
To me, the best driver for finding the right words at the right time and calling upon my true voice is a place of calm and harmony. While the pressure of a deadline can indeed propel me to let intuition take over and produce works more quickly, it is inevitable that five minutes after I have rushed to hit the “send” button will I find those perfect words that could potentially change the world.
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