While everyone may have a different creative process - what works for me is different than what works for you - there is one single thing we can all agree upon.
Artists create time to create.
What keeps us from actually creating? There are many reasons: lack of clarity of purpose, lack of motivation, distractibility, low energy, lack of discipline. The list could go on. The one that interests me the most at the moment is what I and many others call creative procrastination. It’s all the research, the preparing, the fiddling, the organizing, the endless pondering and thinking. We all do this to some extent, some more than others!
So I was having coffee with one of my friends who is a writer, and I asked him about this very topic…
He finds the time to write every day and on a few occasions had mentioned that he views it as a sacred space. That was powerful, but I also wanted to know, “Does researching count? Do you outline and prepare during that time?”
He was very clear. “No, when my butt hits the seat, I am writing.”
He mentioned that he also does those other things, just not in the sacred space that he designates and protects as “writing time.” For me, this was a humbling revelation. Wait, you mean that all my dreaming and thinking and planning, and dreaming some more, doesn’t count as actually writing?
No, what ultimately matters is doing the thing. Putting paint on canvas. Typing out words.
This may seem obvious, but nothing gets created when nothing is being created.
The real magic is the practice itself, the practice of the gift of your craft.
Of course, the dreaming, researching, thinking phase is incredibly important too. I am not discounting that. For an artist, that’s a whole world unto itself which is absolutely essential. This may include capturing and organizing ideas, talking with people, and generally being open and in touch with life. But often our own creativity (in the form of procrastination) gets in our way and we forget to simply do the work.
The Work of Creating vs. Everything Else
In order to make a clear distinction between my creative work and creative procrastination, I have found it helpful to picture two large buckets in my mind. Not actual buckets, like the plastic orange ones you get at Home Depot, but more like two squares in empty space. Or something like that, but I digress.
For me, the first bucket is “writing.” The other bucket is “everything else” which includes researching, planning, inspiration, and more. Seeing these two buckets now makes everything a lot more clear. It helps me see that when I am entering the sacred space, I only have one thing to do, which is to write. It helps me not get swept away to the alluring land of creative procrastination. It helps me know whether I am doing the work, or doing something else which is not the work.
What is your favorite version of creative procrastination? I hope this spurs your own thinking on some of the clever ways you might distract yourself from practicing your craft, as well as getting clear on what helps you simply do the work.