Creative people don’t think about it, they do it. They might think about it a lot between stints of doing, but when they want to be creative or get something done they take the first step, then the second… you know the routine (because that’s what it is).
By ‘creative’ I mean getting something done, not the floppy intellectual process that is often associated with creativity. I’m not knocking it; if you see yourself as a floppy intellectual and it works for you, fine. I’ve been there too.
Back to the story: In my case, I became aware of this (remember the opening paragraph?) while struggling to start writing my first book. I’d already spent the advance, and the deadline loomed. It was so close I couldn’t possibly deliver the book on the agreed date. That was discouraging. I was getting nowhere and I found lots of ways to slow the process down still further.
For example, instead of researching my topic (commercial photography), I went to the library and researched excuses for not writing by looking up as many things as I could find on why writers fail!
Eventually, though, the penny dropped: one-step-at-a-time! Just as when you are walking you take individual steps to move along, my daily task was not to ‘write a book’. It was to consistently take the steps that would lead to the completion of a book,.
It didn’t even have to be a good book. At that stage, I simply had to produce a draft that was good enough to be sent off to my editor.
So I stopped thinking, and over a single cup of coffee I wrote the steps I needed to take to get started (notice that I clung to my procrastination to the last):
Step 1: turn on the computer (it took several minutes to boot up in those days)
Step 2: Sit comfortably at my desk
Step 3: Refer to my synopsis to see what I was to write about today
Step 4: (Unnecessary) Write today’s topic heading on a new list (more procrastination, but also a tangible record that I am sitting at my desk – I even put the date at the top of the page)
Step 5: Write the same heading at the top of the page on the word-processor.
Step 6: Enjoy the feeling. Oh! the smug satisfaction! This is PROGRESS! (in the background a thought about taking a coffee break is quickly edited out).
Step 7: Write something (on the computer, not in my head)
Step 8: Admire my first line.
Step 9: Add to what I’ve written…
Step 10: Stop for lunch (I’d been writing for nearly four hours by this time).
For brevity here, I missed out about 82 steps. For example, Step 27, ‘shoo the cat off my lap’, because he kept helping me tap on the keyboard; and Step 19, ‘breath regularly’.
If, when you are walking you start thinking about it, pretty soon your rhythm and your pace go awry. You might even find that you trip (as I did when I tried analysing my walking in Bognor Regis High Street back in 1972).
That’s enough steps for today. I’ve padded this out sufficiently with inconsequential stuff to make a brief idea appear more than it is (I used to be paid by the word a long time ago and old habits die hard. But then, you already know that).
(Dedicated to Geoff Green, whom I admire)