It’s always a mistake to try to generalise too broadly form personal experience. What may be normal to me could be a strange quirk to others. But I’ll share this personal observation here because I’d love to know if anyone else has had similar experiences.
I’ve found that it takes three distinctly different mindsets for me to do something creative and, because it’s fun, I’ll name them as follows:
As of the time of writing I’ve not submitted one of these blogs in well over two months. I usually do one every two weeks! But that isn’t to say that I’ve not been writing. I have been. Notes, scribbles, half finished, half planned and messy, not quite there sort of proto-blogs or, bloglets, if you will, litter my hard drive. In many ways the last couple of months have been a real creative purple patch for me. I’ve had lots of those flowing moments of output, little ideas, new connections bubbling away. Fluency, I believe it’s called.
Also, during this period, I’ve been developing various themes. Many of these have been around ideas like failure and intent, issues of how one knows if the work one is doing has purpose, questions of how managers should behave, what a manager should be in a creative economy, and how employees should think about their own work. I’ve been in the sort of mood, intellectually, whereby I can mix and match these things. I suspect that had I cornered someone at a party of networking event I could easily have talked their ear off.
To put it another way, I’ve been very much in those first two mindsets. I’ve been seeing a lot of new sprouts coming through, developing a lot of them, but not harvesting much. I’ve been very much in the beginning and the middle phases of the process and not really entering the third phase, until now.
And here is the rub, I think I know why; it’s all about environment. Just as there are seasons for sewing the seeds and growing the crops, and a season to harvest it all, the climate in my personal life has been dictating my ability to have new ideas, mix them up and develop them, and to bring them to maturity, to the point when I’m ready to publish.
Two months ago my girlfriend moved in with me and, at about the same time, I made some big decisions about my day job, things that have set in motion a lot of changes, making my work life and my personal life a little less settled. I have, in short, been in a very changeable, very unsettled environment. This is brilliant for having new ideas because new experiences are fertile ground. It’s also OK for some of the development process because, for me at least, an unsettled environment leads to a situation where I keep more fluidity around my thoughts, keeping the dust floating around, not letting it settle. But part three needs quiet. Finishing something off means letting things settle. To do part three you need a third, different sort of mindset and it’s hard to get there when the environment isn’t conducive.
And then today happened. Today is the first day I’ve had pretty much on my own in the last two months. It’s sunny. It’s quiet. It’s still. Today things are settled and my mind has clicked over into that third phase and all the thoughts and ideas that have been scattered are just sitting there, waiting for me to slot them all together.
To the outside world, someone stuck in inspiration and exploration may well look like they aren’t doing much. Anyone looking at my blogs would probably conclude that I’m off my game or just not bothering with it. But, in reality, creative work isn’t smooth; it’s clumpy. In order to be creative and not to feel like you’re losing your touch every time you fail to publish like clockwork you need to keep this in mind.
You can try to manipulate the environment of course. Find some way of introducing a little chaos if you’re struggling for new ideas, or find somewhere nice and quiet when you want to move on to the finishing phase, but you can’t force it. In many ways the best thing to do is take advantage of whatever phase you’re in. If you find yourself pumping out new ideas at a rate of knots then don’t interrupt it! Go with that flow and save them up. If your natural urge is to toy with ideas, try to break them to see how they work, then do that.
And when you reach phase three, make sure you’re not disturbed!