Would You Rather Be Productive Or Creative?

Cover of "The Creative Habit: Learn It an...
One of my favorite books, ever! Kick-ass and inspiring in equal measure....Cover via Amazon

Serious question.

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.)

And I lovelovelove The Creative Habit, a smart, inspiring and helpful book by New York based choregrapher Twyla Tharp, a ferociously driven and creative woman.

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?

285 thoughts on “Would You Rather Be Productive Or Creative?

  1. The list following your statement “I’ve been told I’m highly creative”, seems to confirm what you’ve been told.
    I am unable to decide whether I am more interested in being creative or productive. My knee-jerk reaction leans towards being creative. However, how can one be creative – mulling over and contemplating the idea and putting the idea to paper, metal or canvas – without being productive?
    I appreciate your posts, and I hope I am learning from your words.

    1. I read a lot of “non-creative” pieces by writers through my work; and we seems to eschew “creative” writing in our vetting process for new writers.

      But it’s really those who can combine the two, and inject humanity into the “productive” work who truly succeed.

      In the same way, musicians have the same problem. Do we write what moves us? Or what fills seats? IMO, one flows from the other; be moved by what you’re doing, and you’ll have less trouble with productivity.

      1. It’s interesting that you are willing and able to be so practical…seat-filling (in whatever form that takes, i.e. an audience) is key to creative success but some artists are very reluctant to kill off what clearly is not working for that audience. They remain hopelessly and unproductively attached to their output, even (hello, Spiderman?!!!) when it’s clear it is not working.

    2. I think mulling things over is a great way to lead to being creative which is being productive.
      According to your list I’m at a standstill. But to my way of thinking I’m going full tilt in the creativity department.

  2. Thanks!

    It may be a false dichotomy, but was partly spurred on (perhaps wholly) but the endless parade of “I don’t feel like blogging today” posts I keep finding. OK, then….go away and think instead! Then come back with something worth reading….My point is that people seem to feel compelled to keep producing, but offering little worth consuming!

    1. Bingo! This is EXACTLY why I refuse to participate in “post-a-day” and similar challenges — it imposes an artificial expectation of daily inspiration. I don’t know about you, but I can go weeks without true fodder.

      But then the inspirational fodder arrives. And it feels so good…

      Practicing daily is one thing; publishing, another.

      Thank you for highlighting this distinction. Just because you can write daily, doesn’t mean you should. Just because you want to be productive, doesn’t mean you should do so at the expense of genuine creativity.

      1. Whew! I wanted to blog about this “post a day” craze but didn’t want to be a bitch or bring others down….But yes, I agree. I can barely think of writing anything worth listening to every other day (my new rhythm) and find this sked a very odd way to approach excellence.

        I often write a pile o’ posts at once, then polish them for days or weeks before posting them. Or never.

        I appreciate your distinction — thanks! — between practice and publish. Maybe like a musician doing scales to stay technically strong?

  3. I like to think I am both, but I know if I think seriously about it I am definitely thinking more productively these days. Though it is, without a doubt, the creative aspects that motivate me from day-to-day.

    Recently I started walking to and from work and the opportunity to day dream or listen to some music uninterrupted is bliss.

  4. Conor, so true…Time to “not do” anything but think or day dream has become such a delicious luxury. I feel like we keep overstimulating our weary brains when they are so full already.

  5. Your reply to the first commentor is music to my…em…eyes. So many times I’ve looked at my own blog and watched the hits decrease because I haven’t posted anything new. I’m not sure whether I should post for the sake of it, or wait until I have something to say – which is the reason I have the thing in the first place! All this talk of productivity -v- creativity has the makings of a sleepless night thinking up a clever counter-post ๐Ÿ™‚ thank god it’s the weekend ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. Thought provoking post – thanks for poking my brain into gear ๐Ÿ™‚ The way you’re using both terms implies that they are active only – I view creativity especially as a state of being. I am creative: it’s part of how I think, and that doesn’t change no matter what I’m doing at the moment.

    Of course, I do need down time – most of my better ideas meander in while doing boring things like laundry or cleaning. I don’t sit down and think to myself “ok, I’m going to be creative now” because it’s too forced.

    Isolating the two terms is not a good idea because productivity – tangible results, are a natural progression of creativity – the idea. In fact, I would argue that you’re not actually being creative without some sort of results – otherwise it’s just daydreaming.

    1. Thanks!

      I agree with you they are intimately linked, but this was my hack around a rant…which is going up next week on the debtninja blog about lazy writers…I see SO many “writers”, soi-disant, whining on the web about how haaaaaard it is to write, but they are still ferociously determined to be thought of as writers while producing…nothing!

      Hm, well, in my book — writers WRITE, i.e. they produce. In your world, you got nuthin’ if all you do is hug your camera and talk about pretty pictures.
      I see a tremendous amount of daydreaming out there in my field, posing as ambition. Zzzzz..

  7. john

    I liken the relationship between the two to something like a mental hill. As I encounter a problem ( and please do not read any negative into the use to the word problem ) I engage creative parts of my mind to solving it, either by applying the right approach or developing one. During these times, I need quiet, or to engage in some activity that allows me to think away from my problem. I’m going uphill in a way because it take effort to fing a solution or an approach that suits my endeavor. For example, I cannot tell you the number of times a solution or an idea presented itself to me while I was doing the dishes or walking somewhere. I may not be being “productive” within the realm of my problem domain, but I’m still living. My playtime, or chore time is productive in its own way. That said, once I know what I’m doing or what I want to say, I love being productive within my problem domain. Once I can *see* I fly and it’s all downhill from there. During this time, I like to play music while I work and things that would otherwise distract me, give me energy.

    I’m sure there are similarities in writing. There are moment when you don’t know what you want to say, or you do, but you don’t really know how to say what you want to say. In those times, creativity comes to the rescue, but if you have a block, you have find away around it. Sometimes that means removing yourself from your domain for awhile and letting your offline brain work on the solution. Other times it means writing around that particular block and coming back to it later. In other words, sometimes being productive in something else leads to the creativity you need. They appear to go together, at least from my point of view.

  8. John, this is my point…that we need both and we need to make dedicated time for both. I came up with the name for my blog while walking beside the reservoir — i.e. not focused on work at that moment. The unconscious has much to offer.

    The reason I love writing books is they allow me time, i.e. months, to really let ideas percolate and echo. Journalism is too slam-bang and you can’t get to much nuance in 1,500 words, even 3,000 — and no one even commissions pieces that long now beyond the New Yorker, Harper’s or the Atlantic.

  9. Elizabeth

    Great post!!! I totally relate. I believe that I am more on the creative side rather than technical, the problem at work is I am surrounded by technical thinkers, and unfortunately I am not so much. I have expressed my strong qualities as you do the technical part and I will make it beautiful. So far that’s worked out for me, but there are times I need to get the job and not worry so much on the display but on the information. I still get it done but long for the next time I can be creative.
    Although we can’t be both, it works out fine in the end!

    1. That’s a tough work environment. I found myself often feeling very out of place in newspaper newsrooms where so many people were bitter and tough and cynical. Ugh. You can be smart and not hardened…

      It took me a long time to understand how important it is for me to nourish my creativity and not in predictable ways for a writer…I’m highly visual and have seriously studied interior design so I now subscribe to about a dozen art, photo and design blogs.

      These really help me remember that being creative is often not verbal at all! Yet we place such a huge emphasis on words.

  10. I believe being “immediately unproductive” and allowing for creativity leads to the most enduring productivity. As far as assembly line demands, such as in journalism, the value of small moments of “unproductive” breaks are even more precious and necessary–I would make them count, ..also ..as you say, you came up with your blog name when walking beside the reservoir–we can consider the possibility in all experience towards creativity/productivity..I just started an Ed.D. program, have a full time job and missing my artist self sometimes, yet discovering all the creativity I require in all my endeavors…Thanks for your post, must get the Twyla Tharp book immediately!

  11. I think we have a bloated idea of what it means to be creative — that we should be able to create stories and works of art and craft at the same pace as manufactured goods. However, if one accepts creativity as a slow process, a way of relating to life and our impact on it, you soon get into a flow that will sustain both you and your art no matter what physical or financial conditions you find yourself in. We also need to create in ways we enjoy, like we did when we were kids, when stories and art weren’t work. The process was everything — and then the finished product — “Look what I made!” — brought joy and energy to create more.
    Thanks for your thoughtful post. Twyla Tharpe’s book is great!

    1. Yes, yes and yes! Thanks for such a thoughtful comment.

      The whole notion of play seems suspect for many adults, yet it’s where some of our best stuff will come from. And you can’t, and must not, rush it.

      I recently holed up in a hotel for a week with “nothing” to do, alone in a small town in -38 degree weather. Never happier! I came up with an idea for a photo book and spent the week (totally spontaneously) shooting it. It was pure play!

  12. Cato

    I was one of those journalism students whose dreams were crushed… I was just exploring this topic this morning. What I discovered about myself is that I am more creative. I spend enormous amounts of time thinking up ideas for my blog. Because of my innate desire to be creative and a little OCD, I have not launched the blog I have been working on since January. I take my time with everything I do and it always comes out perfect, but past due. My downtime is too long. Although I have many creative talents, I am determined to become more productive with my ideas because I prefer to make a living doing what brings me peace as well as prosperity..Thanks for the book suggestion.

    1. I think exploring your downtime is worth considering…there IS no perfect! Seriously. Who, anywhere can point to something with total authority and say “Perfect!” And maybe still discover that lots of other people hate it….or what you think is lousy, they love! Then what?

      That’s one thing I lovelovelove about journalism — it has to get DONE or you’re useless to the people paying you. You can (and people do) handwring for ever….but not get anything out the door. I’ve actually had to research and write a story within one hour. Hah! Perfect? No. Done? Yes! ๐Ÿ™‚

      Your slowness at producing might be fear or failure, or of success or of the avalanche of attention (shriek!) that Freshly Pressed (and my new book’s terrific reviews) can bring. Worth pondering, perhaps.

  13. I’d far rather be creative than productive, but then again, isn’t that a bit of a conundrum? If you are creative, but not producing, then you’ll never know just how creative you are! ๐Ÿ˜‰

    I find that I surprise myself with my own creative abilities when forced to be productive. It’s sooooo easy to “wait” for inspiration!

    1. It always depends on what your goals are. If your goals are to make money, then being productive is best. If you are into happiness, then creativity is the way.

      However, it is better to be the productive innovator; Steve Jobs is a perfect example. He invents, then produces on a massive scale.

      1. Well, Jobs, I guess, was fueled by success. Sometimes when we have a sufficient number of successes, we build off of those and let our dreams fly, regardless of our failures.

        You see, my best guess is that Jobs focused on his successes more than his failures. With this optimism, he could let his imagination fly while still using his success strategy.

  14. I achieved my dream of being a fashion designer but after 20 years I realized it was not about creativity at all! The last 5 years my dream became a nightmare and a huge source of pain.My creative juices were stripped! I have taken time off to re-group and re-fresh but mostly I felt guilty I was not producing something. Out of the silence started a desire to write a story I had been hiding. Thank you for that post it makes me think I may be headed on a better path! And realize sometimes you need silence in order to hear your creative voice.

    1. You called it! I think one of the reasons I never went into interior design — after studying it seriously, getting good grades and investing $8,000 in tuition — was seeing very quickly how doing it for my livelihood might kill my intense pleasure in it. I think this happens to many of us.

      I would argue, (as long as you’re meeting your financial responsibilities) guilt is wasted energy. Regret or remorse, maybe. But it is very American to think we must all work on some industrial (i.e. non-stop) model when we are…human!

      Good luck!

  15. In my Greek noggin I have the belief that if we are using our creativity we become productive. However many people are trying to be productive by “TRYING” to be creative. If you have to try and be creative you are using the wrong talents. Creativity comes easily and natural.

    Great thought provoking post! Congrats on being FP.



    1. Tharp is really tough on this point….she really considers creativity a habit one must cultivate, even in times you feel useless in this respect. So I’m not sure it needs to be easy or natural. What happens when it’s not?

  16. From a tradesman’s point of view, when I am productive in my work I can also be creative, to a point, in what I use and how I get it done in order to get that customer to an appreciative state. I do the best I can given the circumstance and what is at my disposal. Some times winging it but mostly thinking on my feet and going with it. I get both going. But some times it is just go and do it. Git’er done. Be productive. Then the times when you are trying to be as creative as all get out and the balloon pops and you got nothing to show for it. Having both wins the day!

  17. Of course, like most folks I’d prefer to be both creative and productive, but admittedly I don’t succeed to do both often. Perhaps, a key involves a way to measure them in terms of one another.

    Congrats on being Freshly Pressed!


  18. I’d have to go with being productive, myself. I’m also told I’m a creative person, and the only time I really feel creative is when I am producing something. Maybe it’s a Type-A tendency of mine, but I have very little patience with my own ‘lying fallow’ times. I work in more of a rotation — if writing’s not coming, then cooking might, or dancing, or applying to jobs that will allow me more time to read and recharge my creative energy.

    1. I agree that detaching from outcome is crucial…too easy to give in to perfectionism and procrastination. I would disagree about moving on to the next….unless you consider circling back to the others. Everything is potential material, even the “mistakes.”

  19. A Broom of Her Own

    Great post. Thanks! Like you, I worked in a newsroom for years. The focus was always on not getting scooped and rarely (more likely never) about being creative. I guess that unless you’re a columnist, you have to look outside mainstream journalism to flex your creative muscles and truly have a voice.

    I view making time for myself sort of as a way to nurture that voice and allow it to surface. Taking time away from so-called work is sometimes the best way for me to see things from a different angle and/or come up w/something completely fresh and new. In the end, it’s all good. I live in Washington DC where everyone takes great pride in working 80+ hours/week. But I’ve noticed that the most interesting thinkers and most creative people are the ones who don’t tie their ego to their desk chairs. I think you nailed it, “By dignifying your creativity, you show it respect.” You don’t just show “it” respect; you show yourself respect. Thanks very much, Caitlin. Write on!

    1. Thanks! You really know what I’m talking about in the news biz…It’s crazy. I did some of my absolutely best work (such a irony) at the Daily News when they were trying to force me out the door by giving me no assignments — so I just went off and did my own investigative reporting.

      DC is like NY; where workaholism is seen as ideal, when all it means is…you have no other life or identity beyond that which earns you income. Snooze.

      I was very fortunate to have grown up in a family of film-makers and writers. If we were not creative, consistently and productively, we didn’t eat!

  20. Great piece. I love Twyla as well. As a dancer and a musician, I know that for me deadlines are crucial to my productivity. I am far more inspired to practice long and hard daily if I have a performance coming up. I have also found that teaching has greatly renewed my passion and encouraged more creativity in my life. I agree with you that we need downtime to nourish creativity, but I also think it is important to cultivate productive creativity in general. Sometimes it is important to step away from one project/art form and learn from another art, or from walking in the rain, or lying on the couch immersed in a good book.

    1. I love visiting the Met Museum…all the while thinking “I should be working!” But every time I come away deeply refreshed and inspired. I discovered a pair of exquisite gold cherub-riding-a-dove earrings I’d kill to own — from 2,000 BC. I need to remember we’ve been creating for millenia.

      Stepping away — you, a dancer know well — is intentional. I desperately wanted to be a choreographer when younger and wrote for career advice to Tharp (and got a reply!)

      “Do it” she said. ๐Ÿ™‚

  21. I agree that it may be impossible to do both! If you’re productive, there’s no time at the end of the day to get your creative juices flowing! I’m productive depending on my environment. At home, I’m neither productive or creative, I’m lounging ๐Ÿ™‚ At work I’m productive because I have to be!

    1. So bloody true! I have been trying to get my 3rd book proposal written — while trying to promote my new book (out April 14.) One is productive, the other creative. P is winning for now!

  22. I’m definitely lacking in the productivity. I have plenty of half-formed ideas, but my track record shows I’m perfectly capable of carrying them through to completion if I stop prevaricating and get the hell on with it. Wish there was somethig I could blame other than my own fickleness. Or fecklessness, which is a much underused word these days.

  23. What a timely piece to read for me! I’ve recently taken up the blogmania with barely enough experience except high school journaling, and while I have thoroughly enjoyed writing SOMEthing everyday (including the “I’m tired of blogging and I need inspiration” entry), I want to become familiar with and learn from the processes of others. I JUST ordered the Twyla Tharp book, and look forward to reading it. Thanks for YOUR post. It couldn’t have come at a better time!

    1. Ed, I really think bloggers are putting themselves under terrible and unrealistic pressure. As a career journo, I’ve been cranking out copy for decades and am used to it, enjoy it, and can bang decent material out quickly.

      I think it’s much wiser for bloggers (and so much more compelling to readers) to take a day — or week or month — off until you really have something you feel compelled to say.

  24. Interesting post. Thanks for broadening the idea of creativity beyond making art and for inspiring a commentary on the relationship between creativity and productivity. I agree with the comment above that when you are forced to work that creative muscle, productivity is the result – and vice versa.

  25. Productive or creative? Both, I say! Seems to me there’s a theme here – those ‘down times’ really aren’t. They’re integral to the whole process of writing. Often I’ll find myself stuck, mostly to do with the ‘getting from there to here’ part of the content. So I’ll go out for a walk – even just round the block. When I get back. Guess what – it’s solved. Without “consciously” thinking about it. And sometimes I get other ideas that I have consciously thought about while on the stroll.

    It’s all good.

    Matthew Wright

  26. Kathryn Coulibaly

    I’ve always been a believer in “composting” (a la Writing Down the Bones) and allowing myself time to just think about things and gather information before I try to make something of it. But when I am inspired to do something, I need to finish it quickly before I lose interest and go on to the next project. I actually think that having a lot of things cooking at once – in one form or another – is really helpful to me in getting things done. But the German side of me forces me to produce! I actually just bought a postcard at BookPeople in Austin that reads “An artist is someone who finishes things.”

    Thanks for the post and the book recommendation – I will definitely be buying Tharp’s book!


    1. I like that postcard! I think it’s very true….I also have some German blood in my family, so maybe that’s what keeps me pinned to the chair.

      I like the idea of having a pile of things on the go all at once, because by definition, some things are going to move more slowly! I can bang out a blog post in 15 minutes, but a well-considered drawing or painting….an hour or two or three will be necessary. Even deciding which of my photos are worth framing (and doing all the cropping and toning and editing first) takes time.

      I have a new book out in two weeks and I love that it takes a year or so to produce – while some journo’s quiver at the idea of doing anything for an extended period of time. You do need to be able to sustain interest and attention for a long period of time for some projects.

      Think…Sistine Chapel!

  27. Interesting question. I actually feel that when I am blogging (even if it is only a draft, and not published) I am being both creative and productive. I am actually creative THROUGH productivity at times — I like to make improvements and write about them to help others make improvements as well. It is creativity that produces the improvements, as well as producing the blog posts about them.

  28. Thank you! Love this post – I’m off to share it on my Facebook page…

    I find being creative in lots of different areas actually fuels productivity – when I hit a block in one place, I simply move sideways to focus on another project or medium for a time – it stops me from getting stuck by releasing the pressure on a single outcome.

    Re-directing the creativity into another space both reinforces the fact that I *am* a creative thinker (not a dried up, hackneyed ole faker!) and also allows the original problem to marinate so I can come back to it with a fresh mind and energy.

    But you absolutely have to build in the downtime – you wouldn’t expect your body to keep on working without food or drink, so why would we expect our imagination to be any different?

    What makes me crazy is the emphasis society puts on being productive over being creative. Whenever there are cuts to be made in education or public funding, it’s always the Arts that are first on the chopping block. Businesses cry out for new ideas and fresh perspectives, yet our education systems generate cookie cutter students waiting to be told what to read, do and think. Who then become cookie cutter employees, waiting to be told what to read, do and think.

    Children don’t have to be taught to be creative thinkers – they already are. It’s a valuable skill and needs to be fostered and cultivated along with all the other ‘practical’ ones.

    One of my favourite quotes comes from Winston Churchill during the Second World War, when the British finance minister suggested cutting the funding for the arts, Churchill replied, ‘Then what are we fighting for?’

    Ultimately, creativity and productivity have to work in harmony – one feeds the other.

    1. Thanks for such a long and thoughtful comment!

      I have been thinking a lot about why creativity is seen as so mysterious and terrifying to policy-makers — and therefore disposable. It’s unquantifiable! Are you 22.5% more creative than I am? Am I 334% more creative than some other writer? Who knows? Who can possibly determine this?

      Toss it all out, then!

      I am also dismayed, deeply, by the way kids are trained to parrot material and pass tests. Life is often so much more difficult than any “test” and creative solutions are what will help us all most.

  29. Lisa

    As one of the guilty bloggers who have written recently about being overwhelmed by blogging, I am realizing that I need more creative time. Post A Day has been good for me, because it has allowed me to give myself permission to write. But, I also realize that I want to write something more. I don’t know what that is yet, but I feel it coming. I technically took yesterday off from blogging, and I’ve been busy most of today. I started trying to catch up, and I find I don’t have the energy for it. I only want to read a few that catch my eye and interest me. I always your posts interesting, and this question intrigued me. I didn’t realize it was also Freshly Pressed. So, I think I lean towards wanting to be creative so that I can produce something really quality, rather than being productive and continuing to produce mediocrity.

  30. I’m not sure what the difference is between creativity and productivity. Profitability is a matter of circumstance–does a market exist?–and circumstances change. Originality is an illusion; as they say, the more things change, the more they stay the same. This was thought-provoking blog for me. Thanks!

  31. So excited to see this post on Freshly Pressed. It’s a question I ask myself all the time. I’m currently “enjoying” some downtime, in between design gigs. It’s a daily battle to enjoy this unscheduled, free period; I work myself pretty hard on projects, and I forget that I need time to recharge, otherwise I’m not good at my creative endeavors.

    I remind myself; yes, I can take every single costume design gig offered, overwhelm myself, and be insanely productive. However, I’ve learned that productivity actually makes my product less creative. I’m often not thrilled with the end result, and therefore regret doing the work at all. It’s always a balancing act for me, and I hope to achieve that one day.

    1. It’s very difficult to balance these two issues…thanks for sharing your thoughts on this. I wish creative people had more places to share these thoughts across different disciplines — I get REALLY fed up of fellow writers crowing constantly about their HUGE workload. OK. OK. You make a ton of dough! But is your work even interesting?

      I have friends who are visual artists and photographers and textile designers…I need to hear how they/you think and re-charge more than the endless 200,000,000 words a month competitiveness that can dominate my field.

      In creative fields, we all know there’s tremendous competition, live gig to gig and many feel they just can’t turn down work. I decided, in 2007, after landing in the hospital on an IV with pneumonia from overwork, to make less money. Do I like it? No. But I need my health to do anything well. And cranking it out made me very ill.

  32. I too read and liked Twyla Tharp’s book. More recently I’ve read a book about time that relates here, I think. It’s called “168 Hours,” (http://www.my168hours.com/) because there are 168 hours in a week. The idea is, what do you want to do with your time? It’s not about packing as much in as possible (being productive), but about considering carefully what you really want to do with your precious and limited time on this Earth–and then finding a way to do it. Since few of us have set a goal like having the most bylines of anyone in the newsroom, regardless of how low quality they are, it behooves us to think about what it is we really do want.

    The author of this book suggests you make a list of 100 things you’d like to do. They can be very small–like hearing Beethoven’s Ninth played live–or very large, like writing a book on a subject that fascinates you. She suggests 100 things so that you won’t censor yourself and think that something isn’t important enough to include. You can then go about doing these things. Presumably they are things that feed you, that give you the inspiration you need to create.

    The book made me think about how much time I waste doing things that don’t matter while whining that I don’t have time for my creative projects. I recommend it.

    I also think, as someone pointed out, that you can’t sit around and wait for inspiration before practicing whatever art you practice. I like the “Four Noble Truths for Writers” created by Zen therapist and writer Gail Sher in her book, “One Continuous Mistake.”

    1. Writers write.
    2. Writing is a process.
    3. You don’t know what your writing will be until the end of the process.
    4. If writing is your practice, the only way to fail is not to write.

    1. Small world. Laura (the author of that book) is a friend and colleague of mine in NY, and we even share a publisher!

      We often fail to set priorities, fearing that what we really want is not important enough. It is — to us!

      Thanks for your comment!

  33. Lisa, thanks for sharing this…I suspect many other bloggers feel this way as well, but think “Well, everyone ELSE is posting daily. I better keep up!”


    I totally disagree. I would rather read one astonishingly beautiful or insightful post a week than blablalbla….which too many blogs have become.

    I’m flattered you find Broadside interesting, and consistently so. I struggle with being, and remaining, a generalist when everyone says to find a niche and own it. I have way too many passions and interests, and I think most of us do, too.

    I am working hard right now on the proposal for (what I hope will become) my third book. It’s a little “out there” and takes a stand…i.e. it’s “creative.” But, you know what? What else are we here for? Status quo?

  34. gprn

    When I read your paragraph describing the creative type, I saw myself, my house, my space…full of projects in varying stages of productive resolution. Thanks for the reminder! I had forgotten! Thought I was just “messy”.

    In response to your readers’ comments about when creativity takes place, Rollo May, speaks eloquently and scientifically about creativity in “The Courage to Create” –

    Many thanks for your posting. G

    1. Oh, yeah! My one bedroom apartment is full of..piles. Thank heaven my sweetie (a fellow journo, photographer and photo editor who works in an office while I work here) really values my creativity — and lets me be me. I try hard to keep the place tidy and clean but I have so many things on the go, as well.

      Thanks for the reminder of Rollo May. I haven’t read his work, but I know it’s seminal.

  35. Thomas

    Congrats on the freshly pressed! I’ve actually put a lot of thought into this myself – I find that while I love being creative, I yearn to produce new things and receive physical recognition for them as well.

    It’s funny you mention journalism, because I’m currently in a journalism class and I really dislike it. I assumed I would be able to write my heart out and amaze my peers with beautiful prose, but even before the first issue was published I realized that I was completely wrong.

    Also, I love the “box” tip you stated from Twyla Tharp. It’s so quirky but practical at the same time. (:

    Great post! It really made me think, and I’ll probably revisit this topic many times in my mind.

    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts about journalism….some shock, no? But, and this is an important but…what I do now — writing non-fiction books with a lot of national original reporting — is still journalism. But at 75,000 words, book-length….and fun and creative and my new book (whew!) is getting terrific reviews; it’ll be in People magazine next week.

      But my income? Hah. Not a staffer’s salary, so that’s the very real price I am paying to be more creative and less productive, in their terms.

      The difficult thing with journalism is that, as classically taught as “news” reporting, it can be SO *&^$@@ dull. Really awful. But…IF you can tough it out and learn the basics, you can go on to produce the beautiful prose that WILL amaze your peers. I studied ballet for years and the analogy holds: no dancer, anywhere, can perform Swan Lake (or make their own ballet) without doing thousands of plies and tendues (basic technical exercises) first, even as a star. The lower level jobs in journalism can be so totally formulaic and off-putting. I never studied it, partly because I knew it would kill my love of writing.

  36. Loved the article, thanks… specially the personal touch, after all, aren’t we a story?

    I started thinking about entrepreneurship, and the areas where creativity or productivity plays a big role…. before break even I think it’s mostly creativity… after break even is mostly about productivity until it becomes boring and we can’t help but introduce a change. In accounting, break even is when income is equal or higher than costs; in real life, break even is when you can sit down and have half an hour not thinking about who you’re going to survive.

    at a personal level, I take a course on something I’ve never done once a year. sometimes it is Arabic, others is Tango, or surfing, soap making, html, nuclear physics. Loved studying Arabic, it is such a poetic language, and the writing is an art. It did make an impact, and then I went to Saudi Arabia.

    and on productivity, I’m an engineer so I think in processes and efficiency most of the time, and one thing I’m thinking more and more is on the process of hiring, delegating, supervision or simply allowing people to create solutions together. That is SO HARD! tips welcome!

    thanks for the post and the responses, very stimulating.


    1. What an interesting person you are! Arabic. OMG. I’m fascinated by your eclectic and adventurous mind….especially as an engineer.

      Last fall, when I was writing my new book (out in two weeks!!) I forced myself to take a three-hour colored pencil drawing class every Friday morning for a month. How on earth could I possibly justify that time away from the computer? My book was on a tight deadline. But, of course, those three hours were so intensely focused and pleasurable they sent me back home in a state of such bliss I was eager to sit at the machine for the next 4-6 hours.

      One of the things I found interesting was how I perceived and presented the things I drew; I was in terrible pain from an arthritic hip and walking was rough. My drawings were quite small, which the teacher compassionately suggested might be related to my level of pain. She loved my work (and was a demanding teacher) so that also boosted my confidence during my final and crucial book revisions. One fed the other.

      Allowing people to create solutions together means trusting them, and knowing they trust one another enough to truly listen to and respect one another. Often it turns into a power struggle.
      Wish I could offer tips, but I typically only hire and manage part-time researchers and assistants.

  37. If I had to choose it would be creativity, but then again writing for me is a hobby so I do not work under actual deadlines only my two publication days Saturdays and Wednesdays. I do like to have something written for those two days, even if they are small things in some cases.

    Also I really do not mind post a day. Its a fun thing to try (though I personally could not do it) and if you do find a way to creative every day of the year then more power to you.

  38. Well, I’d like to be “creatively productive,” of course! But, in all sincerety, my choice is…CREATIVE! My life and soul have a real need for creativity at all times. Fortunately, I am able to produce as a result of my creativity. But if I couldn’t produce, I would still create, always, for my own pleasure.

    My daughter’s friends are always asking her why we’re not rich, because her mother is “so creative.” My problem lies in my inability to go from production to marketing. I have marketed some of my skills in order to make some cash, but I probably could be making a living off my skills if I was better at marketing. I would rather leave that to someone else. Does Ms. Twyla’s book cover any of that? ๐Ÿ™‚ I think I’ve seen this book recommended by someone else, too. Will have to check it out.

    Great post!

    1. Marketing and selling are much less fun than creating. I’d also rather do the latter than the former. Which is why bookwriting works for me; I have an agent.

      I can’t remember if Tharp addresses this or not.

  39. Well this is quite the interesting post. I’d like to say I prefer being creative than productive.
    I do my best work as a designer when the pressure’s off. Today for example I spent most of the day doing noting but when I finally got around to it I did pretty good and creative work, and I truly believe if I had dove into it earlier I would have done it sooner but certainly with poorer results.
    The time for my mind to wonder is sacred to me, it’s when I can get lost in my own internal world. And I love it.

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  41. charmingthemuse

    Thanks for framing it this way. This solves a core dilemma for me. Maybe as artists CAN be both, just not exactly at the same time. There’s a time for creative quiet time and then there’s the time to make the fingers meet the keys. And while I struggle with the productivity part with writing my first novel (six years = only 130 pages), I recently ripped apart my wedding dress and turned it into a ring bearer’s pillow in less than 24 hours, propelled by seeing the creative vision finished as quickly as possible. If all creative projects were small ones, no doubt it would be easier to be more productive, too.

  42. The Compulsive Writer

    The whole time I read this I was thinking…why can’t I be both? Then I read your last line. I’d like to believe my creativity -no matter how minute- makes it way into the “things” I do everyday.

    Short story…in your honor:

    I stumbled into the kitchen and let out a yawn. It was morning, and my kids were about to wake up. That’s when I looked at the coffee pot and said, “Hello creativity, are you ready to get to work?”

  43. “Editors arenโ€™t terribly interested in whether youโ€™re feeling creative โ€” they want accurate copy/content/visuals and they want it now!” – This is why I chose not to go into Journalism. I have found within my degree of Health Promotion I have plenty of subjects to write about in the future, but for now I don’t have to be on a deadline I can just write about what I want when it inspires me. Currently I am more productive and not as creative, but hopefully I can lean towards being more creative once I graduate in May!!

  44. Great thoughts, thank you for sharing. Will definitely check into the book that you mentioned, sounds like a great perspective. I particularly like your thought “by dignifying your creativity you show it respect”. I’ve got quite a few “scraps of paper” (endless piles might be a better description!)lying around that represent various projects and concepts that I have not given proper respect, but yet they pile up physically as well as welling up internally as if they are constantly asking for it! Well put, thank you.

    1. Aimee, those pieces of paper are valuable!!! Or piles…

      One day I was cleaning out the umpteenth pile of crap in my apartment and found a yellow legal pad with some scribbles on it….Those became my first book! It was such a powerful moment, to remember that all creative projects come from somewhere….and that somewhere can get lost or get coffee on it or the dog shreds it…

      I sort of like the idea of all those piles plucking at your sleeve — nagging you to action!

      1. ๐Ÿ™‚ Thank you! That is encouraging and inspiring. While they sit on shelves and in boxes they also park themselves in the back corner of my mind… and yes… they “pluck at my sleeve”. ๐Ÿ™‚ Thank you again.

      2. Oftentimes my dilemma is being so divided between my passions and between those projects that I feel uncertain of where to begin. They all seem to convince me that they are of equal priority! I do recognize that there are certain seasons in life that make way for specific ideas to take shape and become realized, however, sometimes the pull to breathe life into ALL of them causes me to stay still and hold off on taking action. Do you ever find yourself in this situation? Torn between the piles?

      3. Hell, yes! My whole day today (sigh) was spent trying to actually reduce the multiple piles in my apartment…which involved making MORE bloody piles.

        The only “piles” I really need to focus on right NOW are to promote my new book (which is on sale April 14) and follow up the many outreach efforts I’ve made on its behalf and to get on with producing the proposal for what I hope will be my third book. I feel tremendous, and realistically so, urgency to get on with both of these. Everything else right now is really secondary so when I don’t focus only on them — I’m dicking around and I have to face that fact.

        That “pile” is on my laptop so I know exactly where it is.

      4. Haha… well, glad to know I’m not alone in my situation. I love your “colorful” descriptions! Wish we could sit down for coffee and talk! I have always written as a creative outlet, however, I now have a chronic illness that has pushed me even more towards sincerely depending on this arena as a way to express myself and connect with others when I am limited to being cooped up.
        Did you develop your blog as a creative personal outlet or as a promotional tool as you move forward with your books/publications? Have you been able to compile any of your posts to use in your books? I am seeing that potential as I begin to blog more actively, though I feel like I am still just beginning to define my direction and goals with my blog. Would you consider corresponding through email? Don’t want to overwhelm your comment section!

      5. I began blogging at gunpoint, basically….When I met my agent in June 2009 and we began working on the proposal for Malled, my new book, she told me I HAD to blog. Ugh. I had never, ever wanted to and had resisted it for years — writing without pay? I was very, very fortunate to find paid (albeit pennies per hour) blogging work the very next month so blogged at True/Slant from July 2009 until it was sold in May 2010 to Forbes and most of us were summarily canned…

        I have found that I enjoy it a lot, and really appreciate the dialogue with smart, fun people all over the world.

        I migrated my 900+ True/Slant archives here and kept on going under the same name as before. I also blogged until very recently at opensalon.com — both for enjoyment but both to build larger readership for my books. But I have not blogged there in a few weeks and may not anymore. It is a strange little hothouse environment and I got really fed up of being flamed.

        I’m happy to email privately, although my time is getting really limited with publication date next Thursday….every day (which is very cool) I have media interviews to do with journos writing about me and working on other promotional events. But shoot me an email and I’ll do what I can.

        My advice on blogging-to-books is…some people are able to accomplish this but they need a super-strong, distinctive voice and niche and be able to prove to a publisher that they have established a wide audience for their work. Publishers are very risk-averse, so they go with known quantities who have done the work to prove there are readers eager to read more of them. Which is why (grrrr) Big Name Celebrities (some of whom have nothing to say and even say it badly) can get $$$$ book deals easily.

  45. Phil

    What a fascinating question you ask! I’m not convinced creativity and productivity are mutually exclusive. In fact, I’d argue the two are mutually reinforcing – that when my creative juices are flowing, so too does my productivity; they both feed off each other. Instead, I view some of those seemingly non-productive activities to be more of a relaxation, renewal, replenishment, and refreshment cycle (I know – a lot of R’s) that are necessary just as sleep is necessary for our physical and mental refreshment. Rest and relaxation needn’t be passive, for example listening to music or reading something. Rest can be active, as in the example you give of inventing a new recipe. I hope somehow that made some sense.

    Thanks for giving me something to really think about this evening.

    1. Thanks for your thoughts. I like your four R’s….it’s a cool way to remember how essential they are for all of us.

      I am a very bad relaxer…I tend to be too driven, with two speeds – full ON or fast asleep. So I am trying to slow down deliberately much more. The great recharge for me now tends to be a 3-hour lunch with a good friend.

  46. Tough choice. But when it all comes down to it, I’m definitely in favor in being creative. Productivity does have it’s rewards, and all, but usually, it might have little to do with what I want to do. However, I think one can argue that being creative is being productive because you’re doing something.

  47. I strongly disagree with your view: Being creative can be one of the greatest helps in being productive. (Notwithstanding that many higher-ups are to focused on the short-term gain and neglect the long-term—that is a different matter.)

    In particular, I have the impression that you intermingle three different concepts:

    1. Being creative: Being good at generating new ideas, finding new approaches, …

    2. Deliberately attempting to create something.

    3. Doing arts and crafts.

  48. I think I’ve found a bit of it – I mean that I’ve implemented and it seems that it does work, but you really have to progress with time – to stay at the fore…

    Like in the workplace, you try and find someone’s passion, once you’ve identified that – you tie the overall work goal and their passion – THE RESULT; is that you have someone doing what they love, thus the productivity is self-driven but as time goes on you’d have to re-energize to continue to keep the ENERGY levels up there.

    It helps when you work for a company that supports it…

    As for day-dreaming, we all have a creative side – we just need to choose what that is – MINE’s LEGO!!



    1. So true! I worked in a retail sales jobs and actually loved it for a while — much to my surprise, but that was largely because my managers left me to my own devices and let me SELL. I was naturally good at it and they could see that.

      Lego is THE BEST. It was absolutely my favorite toy growing up as an only child….it allows for such tremendous creativity, no?

  49. We are all creative – we’re human, we’re constantly creating in every moment. Some of our creations matter to us more than others, plus there are various art forms which are a form of creative expression. I agree with the earlier comment about the mixing of concepts, but I like what you have to say about concretizing. There are so many great ideas that never become reality because we’re too lazy/scared/overwhelmed to bring them into reality and it’s only once they become a reality that the real creative journey begins!


    1. Pollyanna….that’s the underlying issue….when and why we DON’T bring something to fruition, even if it sucks! I’ve written far too many 30-50 page unsold book proposals but each one (sigh) probably helped me write the ones that DID sell.

      One of the reasons I love/hate drawing is that it’s immediately visible when it is simply not working! You are immediately confronted by your lack of technique…which is a great way to get motivated to take some classes.

  50. I like to think being creative and being productive go hand in hand. Two peas in a pod! When creating something (from a new idea in business to a work of art) there can be two end results: success and failure. If you see productivity only as the success you have attained from your creativity, you aren’t being creative enough with your thinking! Either way you have still produced something, whether it is good or not is another story.

  51. That is such a tough question. But at the end of the day thereโ€™s nothing better than working for something for days/weeks/months, then finally having that light-bulb moment when everything falls together so perfectly. And I believe this ultimately comes down to being incredibly creative rather than incredibly productive. Then again, I might just be saying that because Iโ€™m a perfectionist, and take WAYYYYY longer than Iโ€™d like to to get things done.

    1. Louise, I appreciate your persistence! I admire it, because it seems increasingly counter-cultural.

      I LOVE writing books because, de facto, they take months….and in those months, my brain has time to really ponder what it is I am trying to say, not simply pushing together a pile ‘o facts and anecdotes and quotes and ideas. What’s the overarching theme? How does it tie together? Like a great piece of music, it has ideas and themes (when it works) that echo and repeat.

      All of this takes time and reflection.

  52. I think productivity can easily sideline creativity as well as vice versa. But it’s that question of what is more important, isn’t it? Do you sacrifice quality or efficiency – naturally you wouldn’t want to do either.

    I think post a day is possible if you have the time at your disposal. Say you read a short story per day and write a review? I think that would be both a productive and creative endeavour concurrently.

    1. It’s a good question. I feel, now, that I’d rather do less and do it better. I’m also just totally fed up of people banging out copy because it feels so good to hit that “publish” button — without asking “Is this terrific? Will readers really find value in this?”

      Blogging can be terribly selfish. It’s not just a question of the **writer** having time….but the reader! We all have limited time and attention.

      Journalists learn this right away. Too many bloggers seem to care much less, assuming interest because….?

  53. I believe that “being creative vs. being productive” is a false dichotomy produced by people who don’t understand how the human psyche works. Some of us are more interested in the process, some more interested in the goal. Editors and others tend very strongly to be goal-oriented. But they overlook the fact that “being productive” includes the process of production and not the end result of production.

    By contrast, those of us who naturally tend to focus on the process (like me) need to remember that the process is a means to an end and not an end in itself.

    I am both creative and productive all the time. My secret is not to confuse what I prefer to do with what needs to be done and not to get caught up in false dichotomies.

    1. I agree. It is somewhat false — but it’s still an interesting question and one that, clearly, a lot of people are struggling with or thinking about, perhaps with less clarity than you.

  54. I’m forgetting the exact words of a very helpful statement, but I can rephrase it in terms of Jungian psychology. Don’t wait for inspiration to strike (Introverted Intuiting) before you do something concrete in the world of the senses (Extraverted Sensing). Rather, do something concrete – the inspiration will follow obediently.

    This is something rather different from the process vs. goal orientation I mentioned above, and it’s what keeps a lot of deadline-driven work from being uncreative.

    There was a young man in Andy Capp’s bar (taking up his favorite barrista’s attention) who illustrated the point. He wanted to be a writer but didn’t know where to begin. “FROM LEFT TO RIGHT! NOW PUSH OFF!” shouted Andy. ๐Ÿ˜€

  55. And finally (pardon the repeated posts) while I was always interested in creative writing, my first formal training was in a course that specifically combined “journalism and creative writing”. I find it hard to fathom someone who says that the “lower levels of journalism” would “kill my love of writing”. A writer writes because he or she can do nothing else. You don’t breathe because you love breathing (although that helps ๐Ÿ˜€ ); you breathe because you couldn’t survive without breathing.

    1. I’ll suggest that you are fortunate in having so enjoyed your lower level class in journalism….Some people loathe rules and regulations (they consider them inherently uncreative) and journalism does impose a few. So, for some people, having to write pyramid style (classic news form) would be too stifling and dull.

      I mentor many young journos and I see this reaction often.

      I also, politely, disagree that writers writer because they must…I agree that it’s a very powerful impulse but it’s one that needs training and editing to achieve excellence. The notion everyone is A Writer because they feel they must write is widespread and misguided. I could go out tomorrow and bang a hammer for 28 days in a row but it won’t make me a carpenter!

  56. Creativity can never whet a person’s appetite for perfection as neither of them are dead ends to anything, they are like landmarks we cross and standards we keep raising but the journey never ends. I thing productivity is a part of creativity not otherwise. Nice write up.

  57. I think I am more creative than productive. I have many many many ideas on my head about what to do, what I want to do, and of course what I have to do to make those dreams come into reality. But most of them are still being kept in my head only.
    I like drawing (wanna make more fashion designs), like singing and song writing (wanna compose some more songs -especially for kids), I like writing (well… I’m juggling manage several blogs already and still want to write some more stories and books, later), I like crafting (thinking of making something new from all those trashes around the house. Recycling things). But well… I think I have to take your advice, to write down some ideas, make sure it is being done. OK. I think I have to get going. Thanks for the inspiration, and congrats for being on freshly pressed. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    1. Whew! You sound super-creative — lucky you!

      I think, and your comment reminds me of this, that people who thrive on creating are constantly cooking things up….it’s part of our DNA….but then focusing in in one or to completion….aaaah. Hmmmm. ๐Ÿ™‚ I actually start to get really cranky (it took me a while to realize this) if I am not able to create almost every day. It’s really a powerful impulse, isn’t it?

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  59. Very interesting post. I too always believe that one can not exist without the other but in saying that the production line produces food stamps so sometimes it maybe necessary to sacrifice one for the other. I would like to think I would rather stare than loose creativity but that is yet to be a road I walk.
    Thank You
    Much Love
    Astra Wally

  60. I think downtime is essential to the creatice process. Re-charging the batteries creates space for new ideas and inspires new avenues. Twyla Tharp is one of my absolute heroes! I’m definitely going to check out her book!

    1. So true! I recently took an entire week off to sit in a hotel in Banff, Alberta. Alone. “Nothing” to do in -38 weather. LOVED it. A whole week of…freedom. Silence. Solitude. (Although being in a lovely resort hotel I made some new friends.)

      I decided, totally out of the blue, to do a photo book at the hotel and spent the week working on it. No way would that have occurred to me without the space for that idea to bubble up.

      Tharp is ferocious!! I heard her speak in NYC years ago and she is tremendously disciplined. Without which, no amount of talent will do…

  61. Thanks for this post about The Creative Habit book — I’ll have to check out the book. This is a dilemma I run into frequently. As a freelance graphic designer, I need to come up with ideas for my client’s projects — but I have to do that on deadlines. I’ve come to view it as balancing act. If I sat and pondered ideas and sketched possibilities for too long, I wouldn’t get my projects done on time. But if all I did was rush projects along, they would all look the same. So I think creativity and productivity can work hand in hand — and how to balance those is different for everyone.

    1. zooky, this is the dilemma of every freelancer I know! It’s tough to keep a steady revenue stream without working a lot — but if we never slow down or stop to rest and recharge, we burn out physically and creatively. I try, as I imagine many of us do, to balance cash-producing easier stuff we can bang out fairly quickly and cooler, more interesting work that really helps me grow — and shows my skills to new clients.

  62. Great post! You are right – there is a huge difference between news journalism and ‘creative writing’. Through news journalism I discovered that my real love for writing is the creative, rather than informative, side. Thank you for the book and blog recommendations.

    1. I try to blend the two in my books, starting from a news-y issue (first book on women and guns; second on retail work) but a book format allows for tremendous creativity — it’s MY book! I love writing big news stories and am glad I had the training, but I don’t want to do only that.

      Glad you found this path as well.

  63. Being in an MFA program for Creative Writing forces you to be productive and has high hopes that you will churn out something creative . Being home alone in front of the computer, when the chemistry within me is just right (although a rare occurance) sometimes gives way to creativity but not a lot of productivity. Rarer still is when the two beast meet and give birth to something with meaning.

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  65. Good question. I write for 4 different blogs, of which for 3, I’m the blogmaster. Within these 4 blogs, are 2 company blogs.

    I get paid (or will get paid eventually) for only 1 of them.
    This all part-time work and hobby blogging. That’s how much I like blogging. But most likely, I also enjoying writing in certain niche areas which are my passions.

    I have a full-time job which is not blogging at all but something else entirely different.

    So YES, most definitely I have been both creative and productive. My blogs also include photos which I like to create a story around some of them. So it is the love of writing and creative art composition.

    Other times of my life, I’ve done oil and mixed media art. Again outside of full-time jobs.

    Being productive and creative simultaneously also means jumping onto the bike and just ride a route that leads me to somewhere abit different.

  66. Yes, someone did say that being creative, fuels productivity. I totally agree. The trick is give yourself enough time for creativity to incubate but not forever..which can really pull sap a person’s energy when they are searching for the creative spark.

    By the way, I chose a bike ride, which does NOT yield a physical thing. But it yield new physical space. Try it, especially going on bike trips for a few days, weeks ..we have done this also. Believe me, a bike allows creative travel compared to …a car.

  67. I’m interested in being both, but I don’t think it’s possible to be both at exactly the same time. Sometimes to be creative, I need to be productive – DO something – while the back of my brain does it’s creative stuff. When I’m stuck creatively, I sometimes have to do something (e.g. write an unimportant piece) to get the creative juices going.

    Great article! It’s clear from the 121 comments so far, that you sparked something with a lot of people.

  68. Deina Zartman

    I worked as an editorial assistant at a daily paper for 12+ years before shifting over last June to the “Creative Services Center” where I now work as a graphic artist. By its very title, you would think my job would be super creative, and for the most part it is, but the pressure to crank out ads sometimes/often outweighs the need to make them creative and eye-catching. It’s frustrating, to be sure. It makes you wish the higher-ups were able to see the larger picture and not just numbers divided by hours in a day…

  69. I’m both, and my secret is simple: Ass In Chair. While I agree that those lovely creative sparks we all have are generally the result of NOT thinking about your work too much, thought means nothing without action. The most successful artists, writers, etc. I know are the ones who put their ass in the chair every day and write or paint (or edit or improve) for at least two hours. And yeah, a lot of the time it’s forced, but it’s necessary.

    Long story short, you can’t wait for the Muse. You have to keep your technical skills up in the meantime, and that requires constant practice.

  70. Stefania Mereu

    I agree with most folks here that creativity come from hard work. You can have many ideas but the the sense of accomplishment only comes from the act of implementing the idea, which is energy and time consuming. But sometimes hard work kills ideas. Sometimes we work like robots and automatism is not good for creativity! Thanks for this insight, love your blog.

    1. Stefania, thanks…you got my larger point which is perhaps the most important. We run ourselves ragged but then complain bitterly we have no ideas or ways to find some….when we’re worn out, how can we?

  71. I’m more interested in being creative. However, I have to be productive, too. But, if I can make money off of writing books, then I can do a little of both. And, as another person on here said, that’s also being productive in a way–as long as I’m writing, I’m working towards my goal of becoming an author and using my creativity.

  72. excellent and right on, too bad it doesn’t make any sense the “waste of time” people who are not creative see pondering moments as.

  73. I appreciate the viewpoint on necessary downtime to re/generate creativity, and I agree.

    “Shutting down the production line for a while โ€” silence! solitude! no immediate income! Iโ€™m wasting time! โ€” can feel terrifying.

    Itโ€™s absolutely necessary. ”

    Now I’m going to play Devil’s Advocate. Where do you get the time and money to do this? Vast swathโ€™s of humanity throughout the world, like those who donโ€™t make enough money, or ones who must support children and devote time to their needs, never get the chance to stop working on the production line.

    (e.g., from the day she married to over 30 years later, my mother never had the liberty to โ€œtake time outโ€. In her late 60โ€™s, she started painting water colors when โ€œFree Timeโ€ suddenly arrived.)

    I understand this blog is likely directed towards people who โ€˜produceโ€™ creative works, and most likely live in Western Society (or a well-to-do enclave in the developing world).

    Since this post made it to page one in freshly pressed, I hope you will allow me, if I may, to address those reading it with this from another point of view:

    As citizens of a world who DO have the luxury to take time out – Do it, Enjoy it, and be Grateful you can.


    1. I’m glad you left this comment.

      I’m going to play devil’s advocate right back, though….You don’t money to create beyond (and yes these cost money) pen and paper with which to write or draw and some light (kerosene, candles, paraffin or electricity) by which to see after dark. Time is where you find it or carve it out, if being creative is truly important to you. When I refer to “production line” — if you are working for someone else for your living (as many do, but not all), then you do have downtime away from your job and it’s up to you to decide how to spend it.

      The world if filled with people who are able to create and who also: work for a living doing something else and/or have children and/or are not wealthy. My income last year was barely 25% of what most people assume it to be and more than a 50% drop in income from my last full-time job in 2006.

      I fully understand, having lived and traveled in developing nations, that affluence can breed leisure. But the wealthy are too often busy consuming — not necessarily using all their free time to create.

      1. Yes, it is often a matter of priorities. I have the good fortune of a long stretch of time off, set against the backdrop of a country where many people work long days for next to nothing. So I’m sounding off a bit, would like my compatriots back home to appreciate all the good things they have, as many have no idea how good they have it. Agreed on your remark about consuming.

        This time away also taught me you can be rich by living poor..

        Thank you for enlightening me on how hard it is to earn a living even as a published (book!) writer. Sound’s like you must be fast on your feet for an income stream.

        Congratulations on your book “Malled”. This reminds me so much of Barbara Ehrenreich’s “Nickel and Dimed”, I hope I’m not stepping on your toes by saying so.

        I look forward to reading it after April 14.

      2. I’m seriously glad to hear a point of view from someone in a far less affluent place….Americans who have never traveled have NO idea what a lush life many of us lead.

        I am thrilled to be writing books (two in seven years…not so many!) and hope to sell my third very soon…The only way to create a real income stream is to crank out book after book after book (with increasingly high advances!)…And I am not that full of saleable book ideas.

        What non-writers don’t realize is that advances are: 1) low; 2) taxed; 3) lose 15% to your agent 4) spread out over more than two years! Very few people living in the US could survive on $10,000, for example, for a full year with no other income. Yet I decided to really give Malled my all and it seems to have paid off, as reviews are really good.

        I’m delighted to be in N & D’s company; the spirit of Malled is very similar; here’s a review that compares them.


        Hope you like it! If so, please consider leaving a review at amazon?

  74. Congratulations, dear bsb, on being Freshly Pressed! How wonderful and certainly well-deserved.
    I find it much more gratifying to be creative, rather than just productive, although being unproductive is a scary place to be. I don’t think I’ve ever written blog posts for the sake of writing them, but now that I can only manage one or two a week, I feel a bit more relaxed.
    Sunshine xx

  75. Great Post! I often find it difficult to balance creativity and productivity as well. When you’re a creative service like I am; marketing and advertising, most of your clients want to see results immediately instead of letting you have that *eureka!* moment. When rushed, your eureka moment never arrives quite right and you’re not always allowed to give the fullness of your abilities. It’s tough, but when you nail it, oh so satisfying.

  76. Being in advertising, most of the time I have to be both creative and productive. Finding a good balance is not easy, but being in this field long enough has made it more like a lifestyle ๐Ÿ™‚

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  79. Dang! I go back and forth and feel like I have a never ending battle in my head trying to decide what needs to be done practically and productively, and what I want to do creatively. A constant wrestling match. But for me, creativity seems to win most of the time. And I’m okay with that!

  80. congrats so much for being on our Freshly Pressed.

    I agree that when someone has nothing to blog about its ok to just breath those days.
    What I know for sure by now is that I do not need to do it all a ยท s ยท a ยท p
    I can do one thing at a time & keep it simple.

    The wind is whispering; Listen! (- lars muhl)

  81. I love this book!! It’s been a huge inspiration to me. It’s full of pencil marks, arrows, doodles in the margins, coffee stains and all. It’s a book to be devoured.

    As for creativity and productivity, I find that deadlines are crucial. They demand me to be intensely focussed and force me to get to a very creative place. I leave myself open to creative opportunities knowing that the demands of needing to produce something by a certain time work really well for me. There can be a danger in having too much time on my hands.
    So I say yes. They can certainly go together.

    1. It’s so great to discover this huge community of creative people! Where I live (snobby, boring NYC suburb) I’m such a misfit.

      I find very few books about creativity to be truly helpful, so it’s great when there is one this useful.
      I also need a deadline right above my head to get it DONE. But I am also able to write very fast — which allows me more time to think through what I want to say.

  82. I love this and your questions! There is so much I could say!

    I’ve often put off a creative task with “productive procrastination”-something vaguely useful like reorganizing my closet or cleaning the refrigerator. The sense of satisfaction I gain from that activity then helps push me to work on whatever it is I SHOULD have been doing. (Perhaps similar effect to the drawing class you mentioned in a comment above)
    For a long time I was trying to push myself too far into the productive category, which sabotaged my success in both. (ironically, regarding one of your comments about policy makers, I did an MA in public policy and was working for the government. Definitely NOT a particularly creative environment). Lately I’m enjoying a bit of a personal renaissance, embracing my creative side. The satisfaction I’ve taken from my relatively new blog has been pushing me to do more and be, I suppose, even more productive in ways that I feel much more proud and happy about.
    I definitely think the two can be supportive, not exclusive, if we are comfortable giving ourselves some space and time!

    Thanks again for a great post!

    1. Thanks!

      I have been spending a lot of time on such tasks — I must have the tidiest linen closet anywhere, when I am supposed to be writing (ahem) a proposal for what I hope will become my third book. But I’m also fearful it won’t sell and easy, quick visible results are SO alluring! So tidying starts to look so much more compelling…

      We all need space and time. The challenge is to know when to stop dicking around and get ON with it! ๐Ÿ™‚

  83. It is hard to say which one is more important as productivity without creativity can not lead to a real satisfaction. There is nothing like a sense of creating something.
    In this competitive where package is more important than the real thing. As long as your creativity is not wrapped into something productive it is of no use.
    I believe it is a right blend of the two that matters most.

  84. webitis

    I will rather be creative. I am 18 years old and I don’t want to work for 8 hours daily and have heart problems.

    1. Well, I hate to break it to you, but you won’t work eight hours a day — you’ll probably work 12 or 16 if you work for yourself, certainly in any competitive creative field, in a recession.

      Everyone has the fantasy that if you’re “creative” and work for yourself, it’s stress-free. As if!

  85. I’m finding it difficult to be both creative and productive particularly with the immediacy of the web and the expectation of being both pretty much every day. I’m an editor by day but also a writer and it’s a constant battle between churning out copy and creating the kind of work that I need to be in my special space for – and that only happens about once a week. Great post by the way.

    1. Thanks!

      You and I know this intimately as writers…I’ve found these comments so fascinating, hearing from costume designers and fashion designers and graphic artists — it’s difficult to rush creativity, yet clients — and our quickquick culture — demand instant results that still pack plenty of punch.
      I have been doing almost no freelance writing (hm, income?) as I focus on promoting Malled, my new one and trying to carve out time to write the proposal for book three.

  86. Rich

    My ideal job is to be working on my creativity during an eight hour day. Ultimately though, I think It’s good to remember that sometimes you have to churn things out. Useful.

    1. Rich, I think it depends what field you’re in — and how much work you can afford to turn down! One reason I’ve begun to enjoy journalism much less is that rates of pay have remained very low for decades…When someone wants to pay me $500 or even $1,000 for a story, I have to calculate how many hours it will eat up, relative to higher-paying and far more creative work in hand — and work I need to be prospecting for.

      It’s tempting to spin the hamster wheel of “productivity” without noticing you’re producing crap.

  87. newauthoronamazon

    Congratulations on being freshly pressed. It is an achievement to be proud of.
    Do read my latest article ..its on what should influence our creativity.

  88. SandySays1

    I thought your article was very good and interesting and asked my human to read it. He agreed that time away certainly helps the creative process. It would be nice to be able to formuize that mystic break, but what “time away” drills into “our oil well” is very different because each of us is very different; by definition creative is different. However, he added, “No matter what you do each person is endowed with a cache of creative juice. Understanding what the limitation on the size their personal reservoir is, should impact what each individual writes. In some cases, writing creatively may not be where their efforts should center. It’s this way, Sandy, not everyone can play in the NFL, or sing opera, or…write creatively. Facing the fact isn’t easy if you love trying, and continuing the process is important for you your own enjoyment, but being crushed if it doesn’t happen… Keeping that in perspective helps the soul when we don’t have things happen like we’d like them to.”

    1. Thanks for your thoughts.

      I do think people are creative in many different ways and we forget how many ways one CAN be…it doesn’t have to be lucrative or high-profile. It might be a great surprise birthday party for someone you love. I’m intrigued by your notion of creativity as an oil well.

  89. I much prefer being creative. It’s definately the route to happiness. I don’t think that creativity and productivity have to be seperate entities, but under most regimes of what is regarded as ‘work’ creativity among staff is frowned upon. Hopefully one day this will change as more people realise that creativity and productivity aren’t mutually exclusive.

    1. I attended a lecture a few years ago where the head of the Rhode Island School of Design talked about why most big companies are terrified of creativity — it’s new! It’s untried! It might fail! Then what?????

      It’s one reason I think so many of us remain deeply frustrated at work, if we are creative and the people around us refuse to allow it or value it there.

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  91. The few times when I am crazily productive and crazily creative are heavenly. And then there are times when I seem to get a creativity block. And when I am blocked on creativity, I am not very productive.
    …but there are also time when creative but not productive, as you said!

  92. I’m hardly ever productive and creative simultaneously. It’s usually one or the other, and most often one is sacrificed at the expense of the other. At the fleeting times when I’d consider myself both, it’s usually first thing in the morning, after a fabulous nights sleep and a big cup of coffee.
    Most recently, I’ve been growing my concerned that my life is veering too far into the productivity world (get as much done in the least amount of time as possible without being too concerned about the end product). I need to build in more time for fostering creativity, exactly how you describe above.
    Thanks for the ‘stop and think’ post!

    1. Thanks for your comment.

      If this terrific set of comments has shown me anything — which I find a little comforting– it’s that this is likely a widespread challenge and has been for centuries. Some of our most revered painters, composers and writers had demanding “day jobs” and had to squeeze their own work around its edges.

      Only those with wealthy patrons, then or now, could afford to focus solely on creating….and then it was, and is, what the clients want. (Hello, Sistine Chapel?)

  93. vanimator

    Really a nice post !!

    I would definitely be inclined to a creativity than a productivity as i believe that if you are creative enough you will always get a chance of being productive. I’m a Graphic Designer and i absolutely tend towards creativity(Designer’s view-point).
    The mental block or a lapse in creativity is often a challenge to me as it can’t be prevented. Certainly pushing through it or fighting it leads to waste of energy and sometimes it gets frustrating and falls into short term creative lapses.

    Yet again that period is harsh but one needs to find a way out of that mighty labyrinth.

    Congrats on being FP’d


  94. Katie Gou

    Creation should always come before production, we should blog because we feel creative and leave productive to be the action that makes it all happen. Me? I prefer to be creative!

  95. I needed this, thanks. I was just talking to my daughter about something similar. She doesn’t want to “go into” art as a career although she’s a gifted artist, because she wants to create, not produce. Exactly it. I write all day for my job in public relations and communications for a college. I’m always having to be creative on some level but producing is king, and it is draining to the mind and spirit. When I then want to write “my stuff” after working all day (and also teaching writing on Wed. evenings), I am loathe to think in words. I should have been an organic farmer and wrote for fun, perhaps.

    1. I’m not sure what I would counsel a gifted daughter who wants to do art, but also needs to make a living.

      Productivity, as you know, is tiring, certainly when you are constantly at someone else’s beck and call, which most of us are in some respects in order to earn a (decent) living.

      When I took the retail job (that, to my surprise, became my second book, out April 14) it was initially a real relief to flee the keyboard and the isolation of working alone at home all day. Plus, working only with words….not directly with people. I eventually burned out on retail from boredom and nasty customers, but am glad I took that break. even part-time for 2+ years.

  96. Ah yes, I have had to realise this sad fact recently. I love creativity, but as a medical student, utilising that creativity often means being extremely unproductive in my studies.
    No secret as of yet – I suppose it really does help if your field allows for creativity though.

  97. After reading your blog I fed my Amazon “habit” and ordered The Creative Habit. I am always at my happiest when I am being creative, it’s just not always obvious how to earn a living from it so I look forward to reading this book very much. Thanks for pointing it out.

  98. Antje

    This is a really good blog post! It made me think about my work and the amount of down-time that I have, and it perhaps wasn’t coincidence that it took off half the day today and lazied around in the sunshine ๐Ÿ˜‰ I do have doubts about the distinction between creative/productive work. I’m an academic and I find that I cannot be productive unless I have relative freedom where to go with my thoughts. When I want to write a chapter or an article then the first thing I need is inspiration, a creative spark of sorts so that I have an idea about how to put things together in an innovative way. If it isn’t innovative or new, then it’ll be harder to get published. In this sense, academic work, insofar as it is productive, is pretty creative too!

  99. I’m glad you brought this up, I personally think that blogging daily is great. To sit and wait for a wave of creative inspiration seems lazy to me. To master your craft you have to practise – sitting and waiting for ideas is not great practise.

  100. Hello. we are indeed difficult to distinguish between creative with productive. after reading your article so I better understand. thank you, this blog is very interesting. success for you and continue writing about new things.

  101. moonchild11

    Quite interesting! I’ve noticed that the busier I get, the less creative I feel, even if I am busy working on projects that are considered “artistic.” I very much agree with this post and I like the encouragement to take some down time (even when it is frightening). “By dignifying your creativity, you show it respect.”- enjoyed that quote ๐Ÿ™‚

  102. mysoulforsale

    First of all, congratulations on being freshly pressed! I am very productive and somewhat creative, but the two never seem to meet in my day to day life. I’m productive at work and at home, but my “creative” pursuits don’t tend to get finished. Unfortunately, I’m trapped in the I-need-to-be-productive trap, and so my creative endeavors tend to take a back seat.

    1. Thanks…

      I see this dilemma in many of the comments here.

      I wonder what would (?) spur you to finish some of your creative projects. A week away from paid work to devote solely to one of them? Knowing for certain there would be a market for whatever it is you are producing — not simply (as many of us do with such projects) hoping for one?

      I fear a life where I’ve “produced” a pile of income, but little that has satisfied me in any deeper way.

      1. mysoulforsale

        I don’t think you could be more right. I have been doing some thinking myself lately about what I’m going to be proud of when all is said and done for me, and I can’t say that I like what I’m seeing right now. Thanks for putting it so well.

        I think that I’d need a lobotomy or to be shipwrecked to actually be able to sit down and complete my creative projects. I’ll get there… someday (the finishing part, not the lobotomy part).

      2. It is very difficult to combine a life where, in this recession, we can carve out the time and energy from income-producing activity and longer-term speculative work whose financial return — if any — may be long delayed. I think we’re all in a “man the lifeboats” frame of mind.

        I agree about being shipwrecked. I had to end up in a hospital bed on an IV with pneumonia to get some REST. Now I nap much more often.

  103. Nice Post ..just started blogging on word press.. Though I have been blogging for about a 3 years now .. I really have never had any serious stuff … Nice post.. I am in the animation industry ..and I face that question a lot at the Studio .

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  105. I agree that down time definitely makes way for creativity. When I have time with no plans or commitments, I find myself being creative. For example, today, I made a video [shooting and editing] from 2pm-11pm the entire day. I need that down time to be able to know I can do creative things without worrying about work, or friends, or family. Although it’s nice when they are around. Free time to yourself is great for being creative. Make sure you make it for yourself.

    1. Becky…you make a great point. Thanks!

      You spent mine hours working on a creative project — hello, sustained effort!
      You devoted the entire day to this — which, de facto, insured you would make serious progress on it.
      You knew that others would be a distraction and had the determination to do it the way it needed to be done — without distraction — i.e. focused attention.

      You’ve made the most crucial point: you have to carve out that free time and make it a priority. We can waste entire decades wishing and hoping, or GET IT DONE.
      Good for you!

  106. Great post! Love to hear the thoughts of others blogging about creativity (on top of producing other creative works.) I’ll definitely check out Twyla Tharp’s book and perhaps feature it on our site.

  107. Great post.

    Ideally, I’d rather be both. But I’d currently rather be productive. It’s almost been a year since I’ve graduated college, and it feels like I haven’t done anything. I somehow became stagnant searching for something to be productive for.

    Anyways, congratulations on being “Freshly Pressed”.

    1. I suspect, between a horrible recession and its crappy job market and the sheer workload of college you might just be…tired! If “ideally” you want to be both, then you’ve got the drive and curiosity to get you there, I hope.

      Have you taken, or considered, any of the aptitude/skills tests that can help you better see your strengths and what sorts of jobs might allow you to use them? I recently took one — decades after college — and it both really surprised me and since helped me clarify my goals. It measured nine ways people want to be in their work,whether friend, defender, director, builder, etc…I came out (hm) with Creator as top driver, followed by Spirit and Seeker. I’m super practical, so this came as a real shock. But I’m thinking a lot now about what that means and how to make sure I honor these as much as I possibly can in my work. Once you’re aligned between your deepest values and work….it doesn’t feel like work!

  108. I am, and have been told and shown via psychometric analysis, to be more of an idea person than anything else: I love coming up with creative and innovative new ways to do things, although most of the time I think to quickly for others to keep up with my train of thought.

    This is balanced by my ‘enough talking already – do something’ tendency to want things finished once they’re started (although, I am not to fond of the bit in the middle.

    Congratulations on being freshly pressed!

    1. Thanks!

      I hear you on the idea/action thing…I also have tons of ideas and get really excited about them but sometimes find the actual execution tedious. This is why I hire researchers and assistants so they can get the boring bits done while I focus on what I do best. That way I’m not ignoring the dull-but-important administrative details that almost all successful projects require.

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  111. Thankfully your father had a beautiful creative spirit, seems like he was pretty productive too. I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to balance both and managed but there always seems a tilt towards the creative.

  112. I think you either are creative or you’re not. Or maybe there are different levels of creativity, depending of what you do or what you consider yourself actually good at.
    I think it all comes down to whether you are inspired enough to make your creativity become something which you might consider productive.

    1. I often think this as well…but I wonder how elitist this is and how many people might in fact be quite creative if encouraged to do so. So much of formal education and work is based on obedience and following others’ schedules and rules….which for creative people can be a nightmare. I’ve heard many people say “I’m not creative” but I wonder if they’ve tried a variety of skills or media within which to BE creative.

      1. That’s in fact a good point.

        I had a funny experience today about being productive. I have a very lively son who demands my attention constantly (who doesn’t!), but I always find a way to get pen too paper – or rather, fingers to keyboard – but with struggle. At the end of the day I wonder if I could have been more productive if I’d had some more time available to me.
        Today I had all the time in the world, tailor-made for me solely and I was stuck – for a long time, just staring at space and wondering about a UFO video I’ve heard about yesterday….

      2. I hear you!

        I work alone at home in silence and isolation. Arrrrrgh! I have finally begun to try to work in a library (rarely) and to have lunches and dinners with people, even if it cuts into work time as I also really need to rub brains, as it were, to find new ideas and insights and hone whatever stuff I think is worthwhile. I need silence and solitude to do my work without distraction and interruption — but I also really need to talk ideas through with others. That’s the challenging balance for me, anyway.

        I suspect many parents of small children are somewhat dazed to find they have quiet alone time and just enjoy it…:-)

  113. I think that to be creative you must be productive…although creativity, i find, does take you into almost a different world altogether..or atleast thats my personal experience ๐Ÿ™‚ But yes, i beleive to be creative you must be productive, although it dosnt work the other way around.

  114. Wow! This really hit home for me! Some of my best “creativity” (in my mind at least) is when I am sitting very quietly staring into space. This zombie look allows me to work things in my head, figure out what will work and what won’t, and ultimately saves me time when I execute.
    I can’t wait to read Twyla’s book–thanks!

    1. I’ve so enjoyed this comment thread because it looks like we’re all grappling with this stuff…The challenge, as you know, is to have the patience (and make sure others do with you) to just sit still and let ideas percolate….as they will.

      I like the idea that this thought-time (which appears unproductive without action) in fact helps you to be more efficient when you do act.

    1. I love working with my hands — i.e. NOT typing a computer keypad — as well. I love that combination of physical labor and the radio, too.

      I can lose an entire workday listening to NPR. I hope you”ll hear me there, April 18 on the Diane Rehm show and April 20 on the Brian Lehrer show talking about my new memoir, Malled, which is out on April 14.

  115. Great approach to a topic! And congrats on being freshly pressed ๐Ÿ™‚
    I think I would rather be creative; it gives me something unique while any person can eventually become productive. The creative life is always more fun ๐Ÿ™‚

  116. As much as I want to answer productive, I am still more inclined to say creative simply because I believe life is not always about getting something done (immediately). It’s also about doing things that makes us feel alive and happy though they’re simple in nature. Life is about doing things that we love because we put a part of ourselves in them. Who cares about not getting a by-line just because your editor didn’t like it when the piece clearly reflects who you are?

    1. I agree!

      But I can assure you that if you’re unlucky enough (as I have been) to work in a place that values “productivity” over creativity (and they are hardly exclusive, as many believe) you’re toast. When I was laid off from one of my jobs, I was told, with disdain, that I had been “unproductive” — after having more than 60 bylines in the paper (I was a feature writer) in a year. That of course didn’t include the stories they simply refused to edit or run….which (funny thing) made me appear “unproductive.”

      1. Yeah, that’s tough. It’s difficult when you meet people like that, and it’s kind of discouraging, but life goes on. We can’t please everybody after all. What’s important is that we do what we love and what makes us happy (without hurting other people in the process, of course).

        I’m still pretty scared to get out there and deal with the “real world” ‘coz it sounds like crazy, but i hope i can be both creative and productive in my own little way when i get out there and get a job in two to three years’ time. ๐Ÿ™‚

  117. One of the things I’ve discovered about writing is that as my skill develops, I spend less time writing and more time thinking. The non-writing activity is absolutely productive as it allows me to work out the message in my head and then capture it as efficiently as possible once I am ready to write.

    I don’t think creativity and productivity are mutually exclusive unless you are writing abstracts for a living. The ratio is the piece that’s up for grabs.

    1. I agree that the ratio is key — the challenge I think every freelancer faces is how much time and energy you can carve out for your own creative work beyond whatever work you’ve got to do (some of which is creative) for others for your income.

      I appreciate your point — I spend a lot of my time thinking through what I want to say long before I write it, then I can write very quickly. I produced 35,000 words of my new book within two months (i.e. 1,000 words every day) and that was after four months’ reading and interviewing and thinking about the contents of those chapters.

  118. Absolutely right!!!! Give them a creative idea – they go ballistic over how much time it would waste. Just hand them a dustbin thing and Voala! they worship you.
    If a person gets a job where they pay you for your creativity and allow u to be productive in that sense – you’re one lucky man!!!

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  120. Oh gosh, this is such a dilemma I face constantly. It’s come up more frequently in recent weeks, since I am considering leaving my job to make myself free to do more creative (AND productive?!) endeavours. It IS definitely a scary thought, but I think it’d be so much better for me, and lead to a happier existence. Ultimately I think that outweighs suffering through something that doesn’t allow skills to be used to their potential.

    I definitely think people can be both creative and productive though. It all depends on how you view the results of creativity.

  121. I’m working on being both these days!

    And see, I go away for the weekend, and I come back and see you on Freshly Pressed. Made coming home and getting back to real life a little more fun! Congratulations! ๐Ÿ™‚

  122. As a fashion designer, I’d like to think I am both creative and productive. I split the day into tme reserved for thinking and pndering and time reserved for answering emails and so on. Every day is different, I don’t have a strict schedule.

    I like the idea of the boxes to keep other projects in focus, will have to try that. Will get the book too, seems interesting.

  123. Shayna

    I love Twyla…best choreographer in modern day! Thank you for the recommendation on her book. I’m picking it up… and to answer your question, though both attributes are important, my immediate internal response was loud and clear…. PRODUCTIVE!!!!! If I have to choose one over the other, I’d rather be productive…. but I sure love to be creative, too.

    Smart and entertaining writing! Thank you!

    1. LOVE her work….I can tell from the name of your blog you must be a dancer! I studied ballet and jazz dance for years and adore how she melds both. I so wanted, for a while, to be a choreographer who could so intelligently combine both as she does.

      Thanks for stopping by!

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  125. Productivity/creativity discussions seem to be weaving their way thru my life recently. Austin Kleon says don’t wait to know yourself to make things, and write the book you want to read. Seth Godin says get it out there, because having something produced is satisfying and attainable compared to the pursuit of perfection. You speak the truth Real Life demands quantity, but our souls need quality to breathe.

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  129. bridgetbakernow

    Great post! And to add to this, if I might add, a virtual way to make that creativity box, is through a program called Evernote (http://evernote.com). You can use it on your home computer or your mobile phone. No matter where you are, it is always with you, takes up much less space than a shelf full of carboard boxes, and is much more eco-friendly, to boot. You can even take pictures, and pull clippings from websites to sourcce your creativity.

    1. Thanks for the tip. I had not heard of that.

      I tend to be super tactile and feel so attached to my computer I personally want things I can handle and touch. But I love the idea of this electronic vision or ideas board.

    2. @bridgetbakernow — you are a GENIUS! This is the “light bulb” I needed, and I already have an Evernote account. ๐Ÿ˜‰ My virtual creativity projects need virtual creativity boxes– it’s perfect. I’m energized now, thanks for the idea!

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  131. Freedom, by the way

    Your question/headline intrigued me. I am at my very best, most happy, most fulfilled when I am being both creative and productive at the same time. Whether it’s writing an article or blog post, designing a new flower bed or planning a party–it’s when the two energies of creativity and productivity collide–BAM! What a ride! Unfortunately that awesome collision doesn’t happen all the time and one must produce something acceptable almost daily in life.(It seems that creativity, not productivity always get the short-shifted.

    1. So true! I am at my happiest when I have a book contract and advance in hand/the bank. It means I get to be creative for months (yay!) but will also, de facto, be productive because there will be a book at the end of it.

      I think creativity gets overwhelmed because we get tired and distracted by the tedium of daily life, whether child care or work or housework and chores.

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  134. To my perception creativity is what matters. Exploring new dimensions, new routes, new ways is what leads someone to reconsider current activities / mechanisms etc thereby becoming more productive and efficient in the future.

  135. Thanks for the interesting post, Caitlin. Productive doesn’t mean creative sometimes. I need to think, observe what is happening around when creating something I can not be distracted by other things. I must devote all time to creative process.

  136. Pingback: Would You Rather Be Productive Or Creative? (via Broadside) | eloisie

  137. For me creativity leads to production. If I can see it in my head, I have to do something with it. If its an idea for a book, a piece of dialogue…it has to have its own document and own place. If its how something looks, I have to sketch it out. Lord, what my house would look like if I created a box for every different project I wanted to develop or pay attention to. I don’t think I’d be able to move in the space.

    Really, I like the product that Google offers; Google documents. I use it for almost everything and it becomes my working doc. Something I can work on anywhere so long as I have access to a computer. Works for me!

    Follow me on twitter at http://twitter.com/erinjamisoncom or check out my website at http://www.erinjamison.com.

    1. To each his own….I don’t have room for a ton of boxes, but whatever consecrates and formalizes your ideas is a good thing. Anything that pushes them to completion that works, is your best choice.

  138. I thought this was an interesting subject. I used to believe productivity was the most important thing. My new book just came out and I finished another project and suddenly found myself completely fried. I have no desire to write at this moment. I know I need to recharge. I love writing and it’s as important to me as breathe, but I find myself baking cupcakes and enjoying the spring. melaniethompsonauthor. The virgin Shifter, The Secret, The Shifter and Sex Slave Shanghai

  139. Wow, great post. I think I tend to try to be productive rather than creative, but as any creative person knows, it’s impossible to ignore that creative drive! Journalism really does not satisfy me creatively at all. I started blogging because I wanted to have a simple daily outlet for writing that wouldn’t require tremendous inspiration (a la fiction or poetry) and wouldn’t have a set deadline other than those set by myself. It’s wonderful, really.

    1. Thanks!

      Journalism, in its classic form, becomes rote and boring for many of us: fact, anecdote, quote, analysis, kicker. ZZZZZZZ.

      My dream life would consist of blogging, writing books and paid speaking engagements, which is what (yay!) 2011 looks like. Can I sustain it? We’ll see.

  140. Of Life and Laughter

    I’m going to buy this book after work! Great post, made me realize I’m trying to hard to do both, when it seems like if you do one comfortably, the other will likely follow suit. Cheers.

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