Friday, September 6, 2013

Take the time you need



Here's something I was ruminating over some time ago, and the importance of it struck me again. 

Have you ever wanted to get immediately to work on a new writing venture but your ideas are scattered in many places? Or maybe you have a couple of ideas and don't know which to focus on. Then again, perhaps you want to have a good idea, but nothing is stirring yet. I know the feelings when ideas are bouncing around in my mind, but haven't crystallised into a smooth plot. It actually took me a decade of mulling over the plot for my novel, "Best Forgotten" before it became clear that I should work on it. In the meantime I was working on other projects. But I know it's easy to get a bit frustrated when ideas are pushing each other around and not coming together quite as quickly as I'd hoped. I get anxious to commence the writing part, when I'm knocking off chapter by chapter and growing a pile of A4 pages.

But I've learned a few lessons. The first was from an interview with John Cleese. He said that one of his secrets of creativity is to take all the time necessary to ponder or ruminate over an idea without rushing it. Another member of the Monty Python team who he considered more naturally gifted than him (and he didn't say who), never seemed to come up with the unique ideas that Cleese did. One day, the reason dawned on him. His friend wanted to feel as if he was a productive worker so when he was focusing on script writing, he'd leap on the first workable idea that occurred to him with a "that'll do" sort of attitude.

Cleese, on the other hand, would take as much time as he needed to make his scripts as polished and original as possible. His advice struck a chord with me. I thought, "That's it!" Daydreaming doesn't look productive because we have a lot of ground-in attitudes erroneously programmed into our cellular make-up. First, there's the Protestant work ethic, which convinces us that we need to work hard and have something tangible and admirable to show at the end of each day. Secondly, to reinforce this, we have the 'instant' culture of the 21st century to contend with. Labour-saving devices, fast food drive-thrus, bombardments of blogs, emails and media press releases telling us how to be more productive, not waste a moment and get things done in a snap as soon as the thought occurs to us. We even get into the habit of speed reading the interesting articles that come up on our computers because our subconscious minds tell us that we must rush back to producing, impressing, working hard, having something to show for ourselves.

Even though I've got the slower-paced lifestyle of a writer/homeschooling mother, I still fall into the fast racing, rat-race style way of thinking. Of course, it's not entirely my fault. It's been drilled into all of us from our school days. We have a blank exam booklet placed before us and are told to come up with essays and stories which will wow a teacher's socks off within a time limit of 120 minutes. Didn't we used to get in trouble if we handed up just a paragraph or two because our ideas wouldn't come together? Didn't I personally, used to get scolded by my teachers for staring into space? We take on board what we're taught from those who are set over us as our guides and mentors.

It's great to get a grasp of the real truth. Daydreaming may not look productive, but when I'm doing it, I'm really working just as hard as I am when those chapters are flying out of my printer. Lying in the bath and thinking about story possibilities isn't time-wasting at all. Neither is going on night drives with music on, just because I know it gets my creative juices flowing. Even though it may look to the world (and myself) as if this is just wool-gathering and pointless, nothing could be further from the truth.

In the book of Nehemiah onwards, we read how our hero heard about the plight of his beloved city, Jerusalem, and decided to take his life into his hands by appealing to his master, the Persian king Ataxerxes, to let him return with a retinue of followers to rebuild the city. In my mind, the short chapters of this biblical book moved quickly enough for me to imagine that he had the idea one day, went out to approach the king the next, and had his group and supplies set up and ready to leave at the end of the first night. Not so at all. I read that scholars have figured out that Nehemiah took three to four months before he decided to approach Ataxerxes with his creative idea. During that block of time, he pretty much sat silently before God, fasting and praying the whole time. That's because a grand, creative idea takes time to germinate.

I want to be the sort of creative gardener who understands these things. It's not easy in a world where ideas are zapping around the globe, bombarding our in-boxes and Face Book walls while I type. We don't realise that when we fall into the 'success' traps of being productive, speed reading, multi-tasking and having something impressive to show critics and admirers alike at the end of each day, that we're actually pulling back from a life of creativity.

Paula Vince is an award-winning author of Australian Christian fiction. She had written four contemporary inspirational novels, a fantasy-adventure trilogy for young adults and taken part in a collaborated novel. She loves the power a well-told story has to changes moods and lives. Visit her at www.paulavince.com and follow her blog, www.justoccurred.blogspot.com

16 comments:

  1. That was encouraging, Paula. I'm the ideas in the bath-time sort of girl, too. I've also got some floaty ideas (like a school of fish)which I've not pulled together at this stage.Timing and circumstances = our lifestyle, sure do have a lot to do with our creativity.

    Did you hear about the guy who approached his boss and said 'We should fire that fellow on the sixtieth floor. All he seems to do is stand and gaze out the window, wasting your time.'His boss replied, 'You've got to be kidding. That fellow has made more money for us than all of our employees put together. He's our ideas man.'

    So, dream on writers!!!

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    1. Hi Rita,
      I love that story! What a great reminder not to take on board popular opinions of what constitutes 'work'.
      Some of the best and most creative moments are those when we believe we're relaxing. A good reminder to remember that making these moments is part of work.

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  2. Thanks for a great post Paula. I love your point "Daydreaming may not look productive, but when I'm doing it, I'm really working just as hard as I am when those chapters are flying out of my printer." and concur totally. My ideas always germinate in my head first before I put them down on paper/type them into the computer - sometimes half unfurled, sometimes a sprout and often fully formed. Where we be without day dreaming.

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    1. Hi Jenny,
      Yes, I love it when ideas can come in different forms to us just like that. And I love it that just because people can't see the work happening, all sorts of energy is taking place in our heads.

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  3. What a great article, Paula. Makes me feel so much less guilty when letting my thoughts drift around a topic... Now I can remind myself I am actually doing something productive :)
    Liked the picture as well. Thank you!

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    1. Hi Margaret,
      I used to feel guilty about this too. Not only are we really doing something productive but the productivity may not even be evident until years later, as it was for me with "Best Forgotten"

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  4. What a wonderful Blog with an enlightenment to societal influences on our perspectives. I love the point that "time wasting" is from another's perspective to what you are undertaking and their placing pressure on you to meet their expectations. I also enjoyed your discovery in your study of the book of Nehemiah. May we all learn to be productive in the light of God's time-frame instead of others.

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    1. Hi Linda,
      I definitely agree. What a trap it can be to listen to people who tell us we're wasting time. I thought that was pretty cool, about the Nehemiah story too. We needn't get so stressed about time restraints as we often do. Sometimes I think many of them are a product of the 21st century.

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  5. Thanks for an encouraging post Paula. It's one to take note of in this fast paced driven world. Thanks for setting us writers free to daydream now and then or even far more often than that! I like to think that God has been preparing me for my writing career well before I decided to run with it as a career or vocation. All those years of reading and reading and reading, of immersing myself in God and His word - are being used now - in ways I didn't dream they would - in my writing. So often God uses non writing times for our good. And yes, God's time frame is often different to ours isn't it?

    I shall now day dream with pleasure! :) Bless you Paula.

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    1. Hi Anusha,
      Keep reading and daydreaming. It really charges us up. As you've discovered, I've no doubt the dreams you're having now will also play out in your future. You're right, God's time frame can be completely different and unpredictable.

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  6. A while ago I was reading, How to be idle by Tom Hodgkinson. He wrote that it was often said a person was a genius in spite of their laziness whereas Hodgkinson felt they were a genius as a result of their apparent idleness because it gave them time to consider, reflect and contemplate.

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  7. I find it exciting when a good story slowly unfolds. Like a good garden, in a way. It doesn't all bloom on one day. I quite often ask for ideas from Him when I'm feeling a bit stuck. Then again, I'm not the sort of writer who plans everything in advance. Some days it all seems to happen by itself, other times I leave it for a few days.

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    1. Hi Geoff,
      I know what you're talking about, as I'm sure many of us do. I think your garden analogy is very true. I love it how nature reflects what's happening in our lives. And I love those times when the flow suddenly seems to be turned on, as you mentioned.

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  8. Oh, how I love to daydream about my stories, and listen to the characters reveal themselves. Sadly, lately my mind seems too cluttered with the business of life and pressures, that it doesn't have the space to wander freely. I find that when I write, I am basically daydreaming it straight onto the page - which means lots of editing later I think. LOL

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    1. Hi Amanda,
      I love your method of daydreaming onto the page. The busy editing that follows is the natural follow-on from working that way, but it's so worth it. Sadly, it's so easy for the mind to get cluttered too. I wish there were more than 24 in the day sometimes.

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  9. I find walking is the best time for me for kind of creative thinking, and letting stuff germinate.

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