Let’s say it’s Thursday morning and you have some type of creative project due Monday. You’ve postponed the project for weeks because the right ideas weren’t forthcoming. But now, the deadline is looming, you feel as if you’ve been living on diet pills and black coffee, and you’re trying to determine how to generate the creativity you need in such a short time frame. Let’s say the project is something like, oh, a blog post.
Seeking an environment sure to stimulate creativity and concentration, you decide to join a friend in the mountains for the weekend. While she attends a conference, you’ll have long, uninterrupted hours of joyful productivity.
You check into the hotel, your friend heads to her workshop, and you wander around the hotel room. You spin the dial for the ceiling fan trying to figure out which direction makes the fan go slower. You look out the courtyard window convinced you’d be more creative if only you had a river view. You eye your folder full of notes on the coffee table and feel like you’re back in college avoiding a term paper on the history of journalism.
White noise! That’s what you need to stimulate the creative juices! You gather your notes and trek down to the lobby. On the way, you see a sign for the hotel spa and before you know it you’re inquiring about a hot stone massage. Relaxation! That’s what you need to be creative! You hear the price and quickly calculate you can either purchase one, 50-minute massage or two pairs of on-sale shoes. You opt for the shoes, thank the muscular blond woman behind the counter, and continue your search for a creative work spot.
You round the corner into the lobby where you see, of all things, a hotel library complete with dark floor-to-ceiling bookcases and overstuffed chairs. That, for sure, is the best place to get your project done.
You settle into a wingback chair. It’s a little drafty on your ankles so you move to another chair where the pillow is too big so you move once again. Finally, you settle onto a couch and smile at a middle-aged woman who is reading a paperback on the loveseat nearby. She seems upset with you for some reason.
After reviewing your notes, you close your eyes and try to settle your mind in an effort to let the best creative ideas emerge. Instead, you become distracted by a conversation about a lost luggage tag.
“What do you mean you lost it?”
“I mean it was here a minute ago and now it’s not. How hard is that?!”
“Don’t get snippy. You always get snippy.”
“I’m not snippy. I’m trying to get our luggage.”
You open your eyes. There must be an idea here somewhere. Laying blame. Finding fault. Miscommunication. These are excellent topics! You watch the arguing couple — both of whom are overweight and dressed in fringed western wear — and your enthusiasm for the topic fades.
Opening your notebook, you force yourself to jot down several potential story ideas. Acquaintance versus friendship. Loss and forgiveness. The secret to a happy marriage. You look, disgustedly, at the brief list. Nobody wants to read about these things.
You pull out a fresh sheet of paper and, with great effort, jot down a few more ideas, one of which grows into an enormous half-page doodle involving flowers and lightning bolts. Tapping your pen, you smile at the paperback reader who is glaring at you once again. What’s her problem, anyway?
You gather your materials and head back to the hotel room where you spend twenty minutes deciding where the most creative place would be. The couch? Too stiff. The bed? Too tempting. This is ridiculous. The environment has nothing to do with creativity and deadlines. Discipline does. Sit down and start working.
Once again, you pull out your notebook and start thinking about how difficult it is to come up with creative ideas on your own. Brainstorming is so much easier in a group. All that energy adrenaline forces good ideas to the surface. This project would be so much easier if only you could work with other people.
Or would it?
You cock your head, look at your list of rejected ideas, and realize every single good idea for any project you’ve ever done has always been preceded by a long list of very bad ideas. Hard work. Frustration. The pull of an overpriced massage. You always feel these things when you face an important deadline. Haven’t you learned you can’t rush the process? That creativity is not inherently easy?
You hear the ding of the elevator in the hallway and it dawns on you that brainstorming — both alone and in groups — may be frustrating, but it’s a necessary part of the creative process. Why? Because you never know when and where good ideas will arise. The key is to keep going, like a child’s wind-up toy, past the dread, past the doubt and past the early sense of disappointment that always accompanies an important project.
If you keep working and quit looking for quick fixes, the work will get done. It always does. And usually without the benefit of a massage.