Quit Treating Your Creative Mind Like a Machine

There’s process and productivity, know the difference, and become a better and happier writer

Ah, productivity. Did you ever see the Lucille Ball classic where she’s working at a factory and can’t keep up with the conveyor belt? It’s funny, and yet, how many of us have worked jobs where our productivity is measured by how much we churn out?

And writing has its own demons in the productivity space. Yeah, I’m thinking content mills.

The truth is, our creative mind is amazing and so much more than the number of words you can put on a page, or even how fast you do it.

The ability to see your talent and the skill needed to pull together ideas and information in a coherent and enjoyable way is far more than a piece of linear work. What you do as a writer, and how you do it, is different than a programmable machine with a set output.

Certainly, consistency is important, but that’s more than just the writing. It applies to other aspects of writing that aren’t productive in the accepted view. So whatever your bill-paying job taught you about productivity, let that go. Or at least, widen your view so you can allow the creative necessities room to breathe.

Once you do that, you can start thinking of yourself and writing, differently, and never again doubt how you’re spending your time.

Even better, you’ll know what constitutes productivity for you as a creator and what’s reasonable for you in any given workday.

Creatives and athletes share an important trait, mental preparation

Writers and athletes have a lot in common, mental preparation.

You see, before an athlete heads onto the playing field, they’ve spent time mentally preparing themselves for the action.

Yes, they spend a lot of time on physical conditioning, but games are won and lost by what happens in the mind.

It’s why they take the time to gather information and study the course. From golf to bobsledding, the athlete is studying the course, so that as they go through the paces of their physical activity, they’ll have a clear picture. Then they can break down what’s needed for each part of the doing so they know what they need to focus on.

Now, what about you as a writer? How do you prepare for your “on course” time?

Drum roll…

The Pre-Writing Phase — Information Gathering

Where does your work start? It’s not at the keyboard.

As a writer, you too have processes that benefit your work and one of these is information gathering. The other is a less focused but still important activity.

First, let’s consider the process of information gathering.

There’s so many options for how you acquire the information you’ll use in your writing.

For instance, I’m currently researching information about web3, VR, and the metaverse. Things I’ve heard of but don’t know about. This means deliberate searches online -articles, podcasts, and even social media, along with reaching out to people I know in the field. I’m soaking it up.

But then there’s what you pick up by chance, from a book unrelated to the topic but has a tie-in.

Or conversations that spark an idea that you want to pursue.

All of this information gathering is important. Not only for the topic you’re interested in now, but potential ones down the road. That’s one of the beautiful things about a creative mind, nothing is wasted.

This leads to the second part of your pre-writing phase.

Pre-writing phase, part two. The percolation process

Outside of your writing, there are activities that allow for thought percolating randomness. The percolation process is a gift to your overall productivity.

This is a time when all the information that’s been swirling about your head has a chance to bubble. As it does, you’ll want to have a notebook or recording device handy, so you can scribble down ideas or snippets of thoughts.

The happy part of this process is that it comes from the mundane.

Yes, you know, all the other stuff you must do in your life, that doesn’t take any brainpower.

The marvel of housework and other mindless activities as part of your writing process

Housework. ..it has to be done….eventually.

Why not celebrate it for how it relaxes and opens your mind to other thoughts?

Consider the act of handwashing your dishes. Hands immersed in warm sudsy water. As you scrub, fragmented thoughts flow.

You notice the volume of soap bubbles with this brand you got on sale, compared to the one you usually buy. That leads you to thoughts about the news article you read about inflation, which in turn sparks your memory of that book you read and the podcast you listened to.

Bits and pieces of information, all floating around, ready to be pulled into ideas.

All the while, observations and memories vie for your attention as your hands wash, rinse and place items in the dish rack.

You gaze out the window and a bird lands in the leafless lilac bush and your mind flips over to spring….and the weather…and climate change, and the conversation with your neighbour. So rapidly you don’t give it a thought. Until…

…an idea or two or three pops up about topics you want to explore.

All of this, and so much more is part of the process. The pre-writing that gets your neurons firing.

So that when you finish that last pot, empty the sink, and dry off your hands, you’re ready to sit down and begin.

Productivity is so much more than words on paper.

The creative process, that leads to productivity is that mysterious blend of thoughts and ideas pulled from your surroundings and the many ways that you interact with the world.

Hemingway didn’t hide away, apart from the world. He was in a bar, drinking, conversing, and observing. Regardless of whether you choose to write surrounded by others or in a quiet space of your own, don’t mistake your time away from the keyboard for being unproductive.

Cherish, relish and embrace the other very necessary elements that lead you to have something to say when you’re at the keyboard. That way, you can release any shame-inducing thoughts from your old work and realize that productivity is both a thinking game and a numbers game.

Yes, you do need to write consistently, but you also need to do the pre-writing work consistently too. Get the balance right, and you’ll reduce your chances of burnout or writer’s block and increase your chances of writing something worthy of being read.

Originally published on Medium.


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