Valuing the Gap Between Creative Actions
Creativity coach Elise V. Allan provides top tips on the creative life.
Posted March 11, 2021 | Reviewed by Davia Sills
It is much easier to catch an idea by sitting quietly than by trying to chase it. It is easier to come up with the idea for your next novel by walking around the lake than by banging your head against a wall. It is sometimes more productive to not produce anything new but instead to patiently catch up with yourself in silent reverie.
Producing is not the only face of progress. Especially if we are tired of what we are producing or if we are producing things mechanically, it may prove supremely useful to put our brushes down and allow for some space and silence. This is the theme of creativity coach Elise V. Allan’s post.
Many of us conflate our creativity with our productivity, maybe even over-compensating for the popular view of artists as lazy and feckless by holding a relentless work ethic.
With the exception of time spent on justifiably important activities, like looking after the family or earning a salary, the spaces in between creating or doing tangible research are often considered time wasted. Time spent incubating ideas or observing and reflecting—crucial aspects of creativity—often seems to provoke guilt and anxiety about procrastination.
Work is considered to be going well when incubation is pursued proactively: perhaps when the act of doodling or writing in a stream of consciousness kickstarts us into the next phase of making. When this doesn’t happen, we hope that going for a walk or a short pause to drink tea will provide sufficient space for new material or solutions to percolate up from the unconscious.
But often, we are so results-focused that we miss the deep understanding of the subtle outcomes of stillness. There’s a case for giving value to the spaces of not-doing. Deep immersion in these spaces, rather than a distraction from them, can provide or help us to build the foundations for the next period of creativity.
And when our practice has ground to a depressing halt, and something in us appears to have died, we might need to extend that immersion to discover what exactly it is that has died or become dormant within us and to take time to grieve and recover, rather than continuing to go through the motions of halfheartedly producing work without commitment, a sense of aliveness, exploration, or curiosity.
Outdated habits might still have momentum. In what direction—or in what loops—are our thoughts habitually taking us? To what negative patterns are our feelings magnetized? If we have reached a dead-end, rather than moving in a direction that gives our life a sense of purpose and joy, we may need to retrace our steps.
We might have been motivated by a feeling that’s run its course, an obsession that has now proven itself irrelevant, or an idea that has turned out to be flawed. We might be recovering from a loss of innocence, a personal trauma that has changed our perspective, or a loss of meaning. Or we might be physically depleted.
Devoting time to a daily "un-activity" of doing nothing can be restorative, enabling us to realign ourselves. Doing nothing might be meditation or simply watching the wind in the trees. Sleep can be transformative, muting any impatience and agitating distractions that have been keeping us on our old momentum. It might take longer to move beyond sorrow or frustration than we’d like, but eventually, in quietness, we are able to discern subtle pulls to new creative possibilities and understand how we want to adjust our course.