Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Creative Procrastination

This week Omega wrote a very good breakdown of procrastination (read it here). The passive and active kinds, she notes, are important to the creative process. It reminded me of Rollo May's observations in his book "The Courage To Create" written in 1975. Interviews with creative types and his own experience convinced him that those breakthrough moments - the ones where solutions pop up seemingly out of nowhere when we are not actively trying to find them - are not the product of some force outside ourselves (you know - the way we artists so often attribute our insights to the muses, for instance). These aha moments don't come unless we have been trying to work something out. In our break moments, when we go do something totally unrelated, he believes, the tiniest bit of stimulation may trigger the memory of something we need to complete our work, or just letting the subconscious brain chew on the information it has without our conscious getting in the way will result in creative solutions. This quotation sums it up nicely:

"Obviously, poetic and creative insights of all sorts come to us in moments of relaxation. They come not haphazardly, however, but come only in those areas in which we are intensely committed and on which we concentrate in our waking, conscious experience."

In other words, what we may think of as procrastination, he may term relaxation, and without doing that periodically, we miss out on the best insights.

Both May's words and Omega's are encouraging. How often are artists described as "dreamers" in a negative context? How often do I feel guilty because I'm not putting in 8 hour days actively sewing, designing, cutting, producing? A finished quilt, poem, painting, sculpture is proof of our hard work. Less easy to justify are the moments of dreaming, pondering and just getting away from the work long enough to let the subconscious mind work out solutions while we walk through the park, page through a magazine, write on our blogs. It's good to hear that our "relaxation" or "procrastination" is an important part of the creative process.

Yet let's not get too cocky here. Omega warns of a third kind of procrastination which is procrastination and nothing more. I call it avoidance mode and all it is is non-productive time, wasted time that only prolongs the inevitable and in the end makes me feel worse about myself, not better.. May alludes to that concept too when he points out that relaxation only works in areas we are intensely and actively committing our time to.

For another Rollo May quote on creativity, see my blog entry here.

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