Friday, December 21, 2012

That creativity can't be hurried

I am currently at the end of a writing project, "Along for the Ride" my ninth novel. It's been edited and is now with my publisher, awaiting a few more finishing touches for publication in 2013. I'm keen to get started on a new idea for number ten. Ideas are bouncing around in my mind, but haven't crystallised into a smooth plot yet. At this stage, it's easy to get a bit frustrated when they are pushing each other around and not coming together quite as quickly as I'd hoped. I'd really like to commence the writing part, when I'm knocking off chapter by chapter and growing a pile of A4 pages.

But I've learned a few lessons this week. The first was from an interview with John Cleese. He said that one of his secrets of creativity is to take all the time necessary to ponder or ruminate over an idea without rushing it. Another member of the Monty Python team who he considered more naturally gifted than him (and he didn't say who), never seemed to come up with the unique ideas that Cleese did. One day, the reason dawned on him. His friend wanted to feel as if he was a productive worker so when he was focusing on script writing, he'd leap on the first workable idea that occurred to him with a "that'll do" sort of attitude.

John Cleese, on the other hand, would take as much time as he needed to make his scripts as polished and original as possible. His advice struck a chord with me. I thought, "That's it!" Daydreaming doesn't look productive because we have a lot of ground-in attitudes erroneously programmed into our cellular make-up. First, there's the Protestant work ethic, which convinces us that we need to work hard and have something tangible and admirable to show at the end of each day. Secondly, to reinforce this, we have the 'instant' culture of the 21st century to contend with. Labour-saving devices, fast food drive-thrus, bombardments of blogs, emails and media press releases telling us how to be more productive, not waste a moment and get things done in a snap as soon as the thought occurs to us. We even get into the habit of speed reading the interesting articles that come up on our computers because our subconscious minds tell us that we must rush back to producing, impressing, working hard, having something to show for ourselves.

So I've decided to change my attitude. Even though I've got the slower-paced lifestyle of a writer/homeschooling mother, I've still fallen in the fast racing, rat-race style way of thinking. Of course, it's not entirely my fault. It's been drilled into all of us from our school days. We have a blank exam booklet placed before us and are told to come up with essays and stories which will wow a teacher's socks off within a time limit of 120 minutes. Didn't we used to get in trouble if we handed up just a paragraph or two because our ideas wouldn't come together? Didn't I personally, used to get scolded by my teachers for staring into space? We take on board what we're taught from those who are set over us as our guides and mentors.

It's great to get a grasp of the real truth. Daydreaming may not look productive, but when I'm doing it, I'm really working just as hard as I am when those chapters are flying out of my printer. Lying in the bath and thinking about story possibilities isn't time-wasting at all. Neither is going on night drives with music on, just because I know it gets my creative juices flowing. Even though it may look to the world (and myself) as if this is just wool-gathering and pointless, nothing could be further from the truth.

In the book of Nehemiah onwards, we read how our hero heard about the plight of his beloved city, Jerusalem, and decided to take his life into his hands by appealing to his master, the Persian king Ataxerxes, to let him return with a retinue of followers to rebuild the city. In my mind, the short chapters of this biblical book moved quickly enough for me to imagine that he had the idea one day, went out to approach the king the next, and had his group and supplies set up and ready to leave at the end of the first night. Not so at all. I read that scholars have figured out that Nehemiah took three to four months before he decided to approach Ataxerxes with his creative idea. During that block of time, he pretty much sat silently before God, fasting and praying the whole time. That's because a grand, creative idea takes time to germinate.

In 2013, I want to be the sort of creative gardener who understands these things. I challenge anyone reading this to do the same. It's not easy in a world where ideas are zapping around the globe, bombarding our in-boxes and Face Book walls while I type. We don't realise that when we fall into the 'success' traps of being productive, speed reading, multi-tasking and having something impressive to show critics and admirers alike at the end of each day, that we're actually pulling back from a life of creativity.

It's liberating to realise that instead of getting frustrated, I actually have it right. As I take my time and scribble notes into my scrap book, I've no doubt a tenth novel will bear fruit in its perfect time.


  1. Great post, Paula. I know that I sometimes get frustrated that stories aren't coming together as quickly as I would like... In 2013, I'm going to change my thinking too.

  2. A while ago I read a book called, How to be Idle by Tom Hodgkinson which agrees with what you are saying here. This is part of what I wrote in my book review:

    "Hodgkinson is not advocating idleness for its own sake. In his research the author found that many creative people were accused of indolence. It was often said a person was a genius in spite of their laziness whereas Hodgkinson feels they were a genius as a result of their apparent idleness because it gave them time to consider, reflect and contemplate."

  3. Thanks, Melissa and Susan.
    It's probably a great time for us to make the thinking change, on the cusp of a new year. And I'm going to look out for that book now. It sounds like a great read.

  4. Great advice Psula. It's a balance between the structure of work and the dreaming time we need o create. Slow but, steady the race.

  5. This one resonates with me. I amused myself that I waited so long to read it because I wanted the time to sit with your words. :o)

    I've always felt so frustrated because I move at a slow pace in a fast world. I'm hoping that the fact that so many are now recognizing the benefits of a slow life and the disadvantages of multitasking and the "I want it now" attitudes. It's hard to enjoy each moment when you don't put your whole self into it, don't you think?

    Peace and Laughter, Happy New Year!

  6. Hi Cristina,
    Once again, I love your comment because that's where I find myself too. I've never got around to reading that book called "The Power of Slow" (or something like that) but it's something that sounds like a good read.

  7. PS, Maybe it's "How to be Idle" by Tom Hodgkinson which Susan mentioned,but I have the feeling there is something with "slow" specifically in its title.


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