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Creating During the Wash Cycle

Creativity coach Marj Penley provides top tips on the creative life.

Eric Maisel
Creativity Coaches on Creativity
Source: Eric Maisel

It isn’t easy to move from doing some ordinary task, like washing the dishes, making dinner, or returning emails, to a creative task like working on your current novel or painting. Most folks can’t make that transition—and so another day goes by without any creating happening. That’s the theme of today’s post, from creativity coach Marj Penley, who tackles the subject of using small increments of time to work on our creative projects.

Marj explained:

“I don’t have time to be creative.” I’m sure you’ve heard that familiar lament. When we believe there is “no time,” that is what we experience. But we don’t need vast amounts of time for our creativity. We really don’t. In fact, creativity experts often declare that we should stop thinking about years, months, weeks, days, or even hours and instead think about minutes. Or even seconds. Some creativity experts suggest that you take just the tiniest actions, ones that take only five or ten seconds each. Of course, those five seconds might lead to five more seconds, which might lead to minutes, which might lead to ...

To put it another way, I’ve learned not to scorn small increments of time, not even a minute here or a minute there. My instructions to a client might be to get a pen and a piece of paper and write just one sentence or get a tube of paint and just squeeze a dab of paint out onto a piece of paper or just picture one scene in your screenplay. Do the same thing tomorrow and the same thing the next day for the whole week. Each day you write one sentence, dab one new color of paint onto the paper, imagine a different scene and, via baby steps, bring creations into existence.

Of course, we might be saying to ourselves that we don’t have time for even five seconds here and five seconds there. We just have no time at all and so much to do. While that may be true, it’s also possible that we might miss some interesting moments from which to procure a creative adventure because there’s always some lost or wasted time in our lives. We’re in the waiting room at an airport, waiting for our flight to be announced. We’re on the phone tending to some business and we’re put on hold. We’re at the laundromat, waiting for the clothes to finish the wash cycle. Just take a moment and recognize all the chunks of time that often, even usually, are wasted.

To utilize all those usually wasted minutes, we need to be prepared. We’ll need some supplies readily available. We won’t need much—for example, just some paper and drawing pencils or a pen for writing, a small container of water, watercolors and a brush or two, a chunk of clay wrapped in plastic to keep it moist.

An artist friend of mine keeps all of her art supplies in a small basket and carries it with her wherever she goes. Another person I know has set up a small table in her kitchen with all the supplies she needs on it. One man carries his drawing pencils and paper in his briefcase. Any method will work as long as the art or writing supplies are available for you.

It is said the longest journey begins with the first step. An artistic or creative path can begin with your first sketch or just a few words on paper—just something you can easily do while the clothes are going through a wash cycle.

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