By Simon Burton, founder of Charity Film Awards
I’ve made a terrible mistake.
I’ve told my dear friends at Fresh Business Thinking that I’ll write a regular column for them. A column about creativity. And there’s a huge problem. I’m not feeling very creative. Not writer’s block. That’s a different matter. That’s about not knowing how to continue an existing idea. No, I literally don’t know where to start. It’s a pretty big topic after all.
And then something interesting happened, my dear friends at Fresh Business Thinking asked me if it would help if I had a deadline. A deadline? Of course, that’s not going to help. That’s completely uncalled for pressure to deliver something, of passable quality, on time, for people I care about. I can’t be doing with that. How’s that helping? Why did I say I’d write something in the first place? I was just trying to be nice when I offered to write a regular column about creativity and now they’re going all “would it help if you had a deadline?” on me. Help who? I start out trying to be nice and now I’m saddled with unconscionable responsibility. Crushing responsibility. What kind of friends are they? I feel guilty now. That’s not helping me be creative. I’ve made a promise I’m struggling to keep and worse still it’s their fault. I was being nice and now they are taking advantage. With their deadlines and their “would it help ifs?”.
Oh there’s fire in my belly now. I’m incentivised. Did you know the etymology of incentivise is in part from the latin for “fire” like incendiary, “to put a fire under”, it also means to set the tune.
Creative can be calm and tranquil, but it can also be a whirlwind, unexpected, powerful, energising. When it is, go with the flow, don’t let mundane stop you, surf the wave. Burn it up baby.
The “5-minute sprint” is an idea that works well if you’re writing a novel or a presentation. Start writing without correcting or amending or researching for 5 minutes. Get the words on paper, as many as you can, don’t reflect or revise, you can craft the detail when you’ve got the broad shape. Get rid of that blank piece if paper. JFDI as I regularly say to procrastinating colleagues (but not to myself). Write, write, write. Try to get into flow. Don’t allow yourself to be interrupted.
At an average typing speed of 40 words per minute you’ll have 200 words. Editing some out and putting the missing ones in and joining up the thoughts properly should take 5 minutes and net out to about 200 words. And there you have it, 25% of that 80 word article you foolishly agreed to write in just 10 minutes. Now you’ve broken the back of it you can put it to one side and procrastinate to your hearts content until about 1 hour before that
500-800 words should be doable in that 5 minutes. The length of the column I’m supposed to write for those once dear friends at Fresh Business Thinking. Nrrgh wish I’d never promised to write about creativity, what a fool.
Five minutes of pure flow, in the moment. And then 10 minutes to craft it into something tolerable. Because sometimes tolerable is as far as you need creativity to get you. You’re not going to write Bleak House every time. Dickens didn’t write Bleak House every time. In fact, too much creativity will exhaust you – look at Emily Bronte and Wuthering Heights. One shot of pure brilliance and she was done, while Dickens churned the tolerable stuff out
And there you have it. A deadline made me do it. A completely artificial deadline by the way since, so scared was I of it that I wrote this whole piece in 25 minutes. And now have lots of time to spare.
And you might well say “and it reads like that was all it took.” But I’d say that’s missing the bigger truth. I had a challenge. I had a blank sheet of paper to fill. And I didn’t know what to fill it with.
Creativity was needed. As in business the problem needed a creative solution. But as with all things, creativity doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Imposing even a bit of structure let the energy flow. The imposition made pressure. The pressure made prose. And now I don’t regret my promise.
And that’s when it hit me of course. One of the best places to begin creativity is at the point you want to get to.
Next Month. Why creativity flourishes when you lose the shackle of deadlines.