Creative Drift Raises Continents

Raised in the high discipline world of ballet, I grew up believing that results were achieved by hard, grinding, relentless work. Work at the barre, work at center floor--always driving, pushing, straining. Some of this was useful training for a writer, or for anyone who must work daily to accomplish a goal (writing a novel) that may take years.

Some of it was not.

It took me years to understand that such an attitude toward work, beneficial as it may be for muscle training, can be counter-productive to an art form that demands a high level of creativity—such as fiction writing. Gradually, I’ve redefined my definition of hard work. Here is what I’ve learned.

Swinging in a hammock under a maple tree while turning over some story problem in my mind is far more likely to result in a creative solution than beating my head against the computer. So is taking a walk or gardening, or any other activity where I consciously allow my mind to drift and hover over my story.

Consciously is the critical word here. I’m not talking about the popular notion of “refilling your well” though that’s important, too. I mean holding an idea about plot or character or concept loosely in my mind and playing with it in order to generate new ideas. This is like a child holding a marble in her hand and turning it randomly to see the different ways the light catches the colored depths. Sometimes my thoughts do stray from the story, and that’s fine--drifting is part of the process. As soon as I realize I’ve strayed too far, I gently bring my thoughts back to the story problem.

Because this process is conscious, because it produces results, such time certainly counts as work. It COUNTS. Almost always, after fifteen minutes in the hammock, I find a new solution. My BEST work is now done in this manner.

Our culture has conditioned us to believe in the “ballet” method of working because it can easily be seen and monitored by others. A person in a job at a company typing away at a screen “appears” to be working. Put her in a hammock under a tree—there you can’t measure or monitor her the activity of her  mind and subconscious. People watching believe she is just being lazy. But I believe new continents rise from such creative drift.

Imagine a company where people do creative work. Imagine that each employee has not only a desk but a hammock. And each person has been taught to consciously drift to solve problems and generate new ideas. Now stretch your imagination to the limit and imagine the company actually valuing this method of working. How dazzling forward the world would leap.