The Creative Timeline

17 Nov

The creative process

A friend of mine recently posted a nice illustration of the creative

timeline on my Facebook timeline. The timeline showed how one

typically goes through the creative process and it stated it like

this: Start project, mess around for days, panic, then do all the
work in the last minutes while crying as the deadline slaps you in
the face. I can definitely relate to this as a writer with deadlines.
I used to freak out even more about deadlines until I read a nice
little essay by a teacher of creative writing named Natalie Goldberg
who defines the ‘messing around’ phase as necessary and she calms
your nerves by calling this part of the process ‘composting’. She
says your thoughts, reading and notes have to decompose through your
subconscious for a spell before your ideas hit you and roll through
you like a tidal wave in a creative burst to help you complete the
project. This really helps to conceptualise the whole phase of
procrastination and indeed many people have pointed out that
procrastination is a very necessary part of the creative process and
there is no point in battling against it in agony. Ride with it and
let it take you where it takes you.

Last
summer an artist friend of mine from Chicago arrived at my apartment
in Berlin en route to Kassel to present her work at the international
contemporary art show Documenta. She was very definitely in the panic
stage of her project. ‘I couldn’t manage to get my boot off when I
was going through customs.’ she said, recounting the story to me with
exhausted frazzled jet lag. ‘The boot was simply stuck to my foot’.
That, however, was the least of her problems. She had hired an art
student to cut out thousands of white paper spiders that were
supposed to be part of her project and she realised with horror that
the student had failed to produce enough spiders. She sat up half the
night, distraught, cutting out paper spiders in a frenzy. I was
little help to her as my mind had gone completely blank. I was trying
to write an inspired essay under pressure and I was getting nowhere
with it. ‘Why?’ I queried ‘Am I able to write something great and fun
when I have no deadline, and not when a deadline is given. ‘You
better learn,’ she warned, ‘If you really want to be a successful
writer.’ I was in bits. ‘How do you learn this?’ I asked. ‘With
practice and determination’ she said. She clearly had more practice
with with the creative process than I did.

Thankfully
we both got our projects completed to our satisfaction. She presented
her spider project at the show and I got my article published. We
joke about it now, and I sent her a message recently telling her that
I had found yet another stray spider that had somehow made it under
my couch. I keep it on my desk as a souvenir of that panicked
creative night that we agonised through last summer. On and on we
work to the next stage of procrastination, panicked work and
satisfied completion of a project. It can be terrifying at times, but
there is nothing I would rather be doing than writing and
understanding the workings of and becoming more comfortable with the
stages of the creative process.

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