Do you know what the world values? Productivity. It values output. It values results! And we creative types can get results. Most of the time. We output all over the place. We can be productive. But the creative process is different than other processes. Sometimes we need to sit and do nothing for two hours. We are not actually doing nothing, of course; we are thinking. We are noticing. We are letting the creative juices flow in preparation for that wonderful output that you all want so much.
I was thinking about this because someone recently asked the question “how long do you spend writing a blog post?” And I responded “between 20 minutes and 2 hours,” but that was a lie. That is how long I spend typing a blog post. I start writing the post the instant I wake up. I write it while I try to get the children dressed. I write a large majority of it in the shower. I write it while I walk the dog. And then, when I am ready to type it out, I sit down and spend 20-120 minutes in WordPress, creating the final product.
Sometimes, and here is the part that it is hard to admit, sometimes I spend two hours trying to think of a good idea. Sometimes I don’t think of a good idea and I write something stupid and post it anyway, but I do at least try for the good ones. And when I sit and think, when I stare at a blank screen and don’t put any words down, I feel guilty. I feel as though I am wasting my time. I certainly feel as though others will see it as a waste of time. How can I tell my wife that the living room is not vacuumed because I spent two hours thinking about things? That seems like a terrible reason. So sometimes I stop thinking and I do something else. The good part about that, is that even when I am doing something else I am still thinking. But really, sometimes you just have to stop if you are going to be creative. You need time to prepare.
I think about the poor musicians I know, who are often low-balled in terms of payment because they are only needed for a few measures, or because there are not many rehearsals. Honestly, you ought to pay the musicians who don’t need any rehearsals more money than the ones who show up for ten of them. What a time-saver for you! Wouldn’t you love to hire someone who can show up and play or sing, without needing those extra hours of yours? Those musicians have spent a lot of prep time getting really awesome at what they do, so that you can just call them up and have them be great at a moment’s notice. That is valuable. But why do we seem to value hours worked more than hours prepped?
I wrote this particular post in the car, on my way home from a meeting. I wrote the paragraph you are reading right now while I took a break from typing and fed the dog. I sat and thought about what I wanted to say while I was at a red light. And now I am typing it all out. How long did I spend on this post? And do you take into account the fact that I have written something nearly every day for the past 5 and a half years? Does that experience of writing, even when it wasn’t good, make this post better? Have I improved? Can I type out my ideas more quickly now? How does one measure the creative process?
And that’s the problem with being creative. There’s no ruler that measures all of it exactly the same. And people love rulers.