Monday, 30 April 2018


Creativity is a scary horse. Twitter is full of those comments like 'I want nothing better than to be a [writer/ artist/ insert creative calling HERE] but I'd literally rather do ANYTHING OTHER than [sit down and write/ actually make some art/ insert any favourite creative activity HERE].'

Recently, I was asked if I fancied doing a creative 'commission'. (I am a fully-fledged creative these days, with, alas, still a bit of Grotty Jobbing and some academic teaching thrown in to keep me afloat. I am also trying a new thing called 'living within my means'. It's HARD. Like, you can't just hop on the train and visit Paris whenever you feel like it.)

But anyway, back to my 'commission' (which is a commission in inverted commas, because I am not actually being paid for it; I'm doing it as a favour for a friend. I'm not really supposed to be doing work for free much anymore; I'm doing this new thing where I 'value myself' much more than that. But I agreed to do it because a) I want the work to exist, and I want to be the person who created it, and b) you probably guessed it - if I don't take the job, then I'll only spend that time cleaning under the oven or staring at my phone. At least if I take the job and do the work, even for free, at the end of it there will be a CREATION).

So I was offered the job about a month ago. Since then, each and every week and weekend has been filled with hope: maybe today I'll start on it. Maybe. Each and every weekend passed with the hope becoming a little bit more crushed: damn, I didn't make it this weekend. Maybe... soon?... Something else always takes precedence. It doesn't help if one of your day jobs is a teaching job. That shit ALWAYS takes more preparation than you think it will, and there's ALWAYS something more you could do to make it even better - always.

So basically, I procrastinated on it for a month. I finally told myself: right, this Sunday, I am doing it. I had a ton of planning to do for Monday (which I am still catching up on now) and I had to run to town to collect a thing of mine that had been on display and hadn't sold... I pushed all those things to the second half of the day and made a serious effort to make a start on the creative project. Result:

8-9 am (got up, breakfast, procrastination)
9-10 am (clean sink, do washing up)
10-11 (procrastination. Better put my washing on)
11-12 (shit. shit. Where are materials and tools for creativity? Wander round house ineffectually, looking for materials. Put some of them in one place. Keep forgetting what am doing. Open emails with project spec in them. Stare at project spec. Google things.)
12-1 (start making first draft of thing. It is shit. Make another seven shitty quick drafts. They are all shit. Panic and think, oh no, my 'gift' has deserted me. The creation has defeated me. have another go.)
1-2 (realise I have to run to town and get the thing, because if I don't go today they will charge me storage. Do a bit more half-arsed creating. Creation still resolutely shit. Gather things, get dressed, run to town.)
2-3 - town. (Look at all the people who do not have to create. They just consume happily. Half-compose an email in my head to explain why I won't be able to 'do the project justice', although only yesterday I told them that I've made a start and I'm on it, so it's a bit weird to say no now...)
3-4 I come home at some point. Rest. Come back to the making and the creating. Inexplicably, the draft I make now is GOOD. It definitely started off shit but is now good. I make a few more drafts. They are all, as far as I can tell, acceptable. One of them I am a little bit in love with.
4-5 I email the person a snapshot of my first attempts (half expecting person to say 'Yeah don't worry, we can still find someone else'.) Person comes back to me with words like 'MASTERPIECES' and 'the best I've seen' and 'love them' and 'how long do these take you to do?' (I wanna say: oh, one month procrastinating, and then just a couple of hours to get started and then a few minutes each, that's all.)
5-6 I'm on a roll, so I make a few more things. (I'll get tomorrow's prep done, somehow. Sometime...)

Wow. And I stare at the things I've created, really pleased, thinking: wow, I must be quite good at this, actually.

So here we have it. How to create a thing (this goes for writing a bit of your PhD, too) : procrastinate for a month, whilst thinking about thing with dread. Feel awful about procrastinating. Ignore requests for updates until the delay becomes ridiculous. Have a go. Produce rubbish thing. Have another go. Have a go again. Produce thing. Surpass own (and someone else's) expectations. Realise this was always how it was going to be. Realise that every part of this process was just right. I am doing everything just as it should be done.

I wish the process were more seamless and less procrastinatey, but there we go.

If this is creativity, then I guess I'll take it.





  1. I've been a long time reader of your blog, but never figured out how to comment anonymously, like you, until now. I also have my Ph.D. and struggle with writing and procrastination. Something I am working on now is being content with the creative process. Some people work well 9-5, while others need to have coffee breaks and walk to the market. This is okay. We all work differently and no one way is correct. At least this is what I am trying to practice telling myself. From one Ph.D. graduate to you, I thank you for sharing your "process" with the world. You are not alone and your candidness is helpful to many.

    1. Hey there!... Thank you for your lovely words!... I love what you say about trying to be content with the creative process - I think you are right - we focus so much on 'finishing', we forget that it's actually possible to enjoy parts of the ride!... I found the book 'The Now Habit' by Neil Fiore very helpful on this... and, guess what, I'm rereading it now, so look out for a new blog post about this soon!...

      Lots of love, CN Xxx