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Waiting around for creativity

Story 1: I have a big final project due next week in a class I really care about.  The professor told us to start thinking about the project at the beginning of the semester, and while lots of professors have told me that before, this time I actually listened.  All semester I’ve been mulling over ideas for the project.  I’ve come up with, and discarded, at least a dozen formats or approaches.  This morning I sat down with a promising idea, got about an hour into it, and realized it was stupid.  Got about 20 minutes into a second idea and discarded that, too.  Sat around for awhile thinking really hard, then finally gave up on everything and went downtown.  Sitting in a coffeehouse, pouring a cup of tea, I realized exactly what the project should look like.

Story 2: Years ago, I started writing a novel.  I mostly wrote when I was waiting around during the long, lazy days of the college admissions spring travel season, or riding to and from work on the empty train cars.  In these quiet times the characters became real – they talked to me and to each other and I had to write it down.  As life got busier though, the characters faded away, and even when I sat down and tried to write about them, nothing came.  Now as I try to figure out how to spend my summer, I sometimes daydream about doing nothing for three months – just hanging out.  And whenever I start thinking about this, the characters start talking again.

So what’s the point of these stories?  I think the point is that we can’t force ourselves to just sit down and “be creative.”  Creativity takes hard work – it takes turning ideas over and over, trying out paths and abandoning them, and mostly, it takes time.  To be creative, we have to give ourselves time for thinking – thinking of all kinds.  The mulling, the daydreaming, the trying out, the discarding, the staring out the window and the making tea.  All of this is important.  I need to give myself this time for creating and to remember that time spent considering creative work is not time wasted.

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