My friend Steve, the perpetual Organization Man, recently noted something after reading a book about business leadership. There's a division between the "gruntwork" and "creative play" sides of any creative endeavor -- the times when you just need to put words out, and the times when you need to toy mentally and daydream. (Cue the old joke: "You're not working, you're just staring out the window!" "You don't know this job very well, do you?")
Writing is not some seamless continuity of creativity but is different kinds of activities coming together. If we do not see these differences, then we miss when we’re ready for Redwork, when we’re ready for Bluework, and when we need to stop one kind and switch to others.
Spot-on. I looked at the way I've been working on Unmortal and saw this dynamic there. Days of simply lining up words one after the other in Microsoft Word alternate with days of me sitting with a Folio article open asking myself "What if this? What if that? And then what?" Each feeding back into the other; each requiring different kinds of time and attention. Writing sessions can be metered more aggressively than creativity sessions -- do a thousand words in 90 minutes, that kind of thing -- but creativity sessions are more open-ended, less governed by time and more by whether or not we have the needed insights.
I think one of the lessons Steve teaches me time and again is that we end up having to formalize creative work whether or not we like or, or even whether we're aware of it. This doesn't mean straitjacketing our powers. It's just the understanding that patterns exist in the work habits, and if you don't pay attention to the patterns and do what's complementary for them, you just make things tougher for yourself.
The older I get, the less enamored I am of the romance of creative work, because all of the things that are important about it exist despite the romance and not because of it. For too long we've been in love with the idea that it's all about lone geniuses and inspiration that hits like lightning, because we've learned all that stupid flibber from lousy role models -- from people who might credit that stuff for their success, but that doesn't mean it was actually due to any of that. Good creative work requires discipline found from within, including the discipline to handle different aspects of the job (and it is a job, even if you don't get paid for it) in complementary ways.
I've long been averse to what should be the more "fun" side of the job -- the worldbuilding, the coming-up-with-stuff part of it. Some of that I can trace directly to the time-manglement [sic] issues outlined here. But the rest of it is an outgrowth of those things, a second-order effect. Because I've not been very conscious of how to handle the just-coming-up-with-stuff phase vs. the get-the-words-down phase, I get averse to going too deeply into the former at times, to avoid becoming ... well, unproductive! I feel like that way lies drowning, where I end up writing an encyclopedia about my setting instead of writing the actual book.
An overreaction, I'm sure. But it comes from somewhere specific. The more conscious I can become of it, the less I'm beholden to it.
New York City
Other Lives Of The Mind