There are many things to love about AMC’s Mad Men (hello, Don Draper!), which chronicles the drama of the advertising industry in the 60s, but one of my favorite aspects is its portrayal of the creative process — particularly in Don and Peggy. While there’s no lack of hard work on their parts, they are often struck by their inspiration in an organic and spontaneous way. They will sit for hours with pen and paper at the ready… but it’s later, out of the office, that a passing moment inspires the winning idea, scribbled onto a cocktail napkin. Despite the pressure to produce under a deadline, the whole game ultimately hinges on this one elusive spark.
While there’s a lot of romance in this notion of a creative process punctuated by moments of spontaneous genius, I do think there’s something to it.
As I’ve mulled over my own struggle with procrastination, I now see that what I have often thought of as procrastination is actually percolation (at least for school work and writing). When I finally sit down to write, the clock ticking down to the deadline, the words come easily because I’m basically transcribing something I’ve already composed in my head. That single creative spark is often just the moment that coagulates the thoughts generated after days of mulling.
It works, but it’s a difficult process to work with. Your time is limited. You need to produce NOW, yet your productivity is reliant upon this squishy, evasive thing we call creativity — a thing that does not respond well to pressure.
While I’m taken with the thought of a writer’s retreat or the Amtrak Residency for Writers, leaving my current responsibilities for weeks at a time is not a reality right now. One day, perhaps. But in the meantime, I need to figure out how to fit my creative side into a life that is full with chasing, feeding, cleaning, and coaxing into sleep my adorable little toddler.
Here’s what I’m finding helpful to spark my creativity and turn it into productivity:
- Reading and listening to good radio.
Ideas for my writing often come from other things I’ve read or heard. Even in my busy mom life, I can flip through a few quick blogs before bed or listen to the radio while making dinner. I recently started using Feedly to keep track of some of my favorite blogs (like this one by Jaime Lee Wallace for the New Hampshire Writer’s Network blog, which helped inspire my post and provides some great links on creativity). It might not be blogs or radio programming for you — figure out what inspires you.
- Writing down ideas.
Working on this one. I’m no good at “scribbling” notes onto my phone, but if I have a pen and a notebook with me, it’s bound to get confiscated by the child. Nevertheless, I need to be ready to catch the good potatoes when they appear. I now have a notebook sitting up high where it’s safe from the little paws!
- Scheduling my time.
It sounds contrary to creativity, but when I know that at a certain time, I will sit down and get going, I give myself the space to spend the rest of my time thinking. It has taken me nearly a year and a half to finally schedule time for writing. It’s a chunk of about 3 hours once/week in which to squeeze out my “creative genius.” It doesn’t always work (and those will be the posts that aren’t really all that genius). But if I’ve been chewing on a good idea for the better part of a week, my three hours are a smooth write, edit, post.
Unlike Don Draper, my current job does not rely on my creativity (as a writer, anyhow — entertaining and troubleshooting a kid requires other forms of creativity). The writing is sidelined for now. But I do believe that this challenge of being productively creative while taking care of a wee one full-time is a valuable one. I am learning my own creative process and honing my skills so that one day I will be able to make the most of some dreamy writer’s retreat.
How do you fit a creative life into the pressures of your every day life? What sparks your creativity?