I’m not persuaded one can be both all the time.
We all need time to think, reflect, ponder, meander, take some detours, some of which — being immediately unproductive — lead into dead ends, some of which lead us off into totally new and hugely profitable (financially or creatively) directions.
Shutting down the production line for a while — silence! solitude! no immediate income! I’m wasting time! — can feel terrifying.
It’s absolutely necessary.
But we don’t talk about the downtime, the quiet moments of connection and insight that can, when allowed to blossom quietly unforced by another’s schedule, birth wonders.
Whenever I’ve taught or lectured on journalism, I crush a few young dreams when I make clear that traditional news journalism more resembles an industrial assembly line than an artist’s studio.
Editors aren’t terribly interested in whether you’re feeling creative — they want accurate copy/content/visuals and they want it now!
The worst of its managers rely on the crude tool of by-line counts, i.e. how many stories have made it into the paper with your name on it (your byline.) So re-writing press releases or dumping puff pieces all add up to more bylines, if total garbage. So you’re visibly and undeniably producing and are therefore (whew! job saved!) productive.
Now….how to be creative?
What does that look like to you?
It might mean inventing a recipe, choosing a new color for your living room, or starting a poem or sketching your cat or simply staring into the sky for an hour to let your weary brain lie fallow, like an overworked farmer’s field that needs time to re-generate.
I’ve been told that I’m highly creative. I paint (watercolor, gouache), draw, take photos, cook, write, make things with my hands, design rooms in my home and for others. I’m constantly working on ideas for several projects at once, some of them books, some articles, some ideas for products.
My father, who is one of the most fervently creative people I’ve ever met, works well in all sorts of media, from silver to oils to etchings. One of my favorite things growing up, and still, is a pair of black wrought iron candlesticks he made in the ’50s. Dead simple and fabulous.
But you also have to produce something; I admit it, I’m a fan of Seth Godin because he insists on shipping product, not just massaging it endlessly. (That opens up the scary bit — finding a market for your work, pricing it and explaining it.)
One of her tips, my favorite, is to create a cardboard box for every project you’re working on. That action concretizes your commitment to it. You can fill it with glitter or feathers or old maps or pebbles. But it ensures a physical reminder that you are working on something.
It also devotes a reserved physical space for your ideas and inspiration, not just bits of scrap paper in a drawer or pocket somewhere. By dignifying your creativity, you show it respect.
Here’s an interesting blog post from Three New Leaves, about taking, and making, downtime, without which (I think) creativity soon dies.
Are you more interested in being creative or productive?
When you’re both, what’s your secret?