I have this problem. This procrastination problem. I understand a lot of people have this problem, so at least I’m not alone. This grad school year has been teaching me a lot about this problem and how perhaps it is only part problem and part process.
Generally, we have been taught that creativity takes time and that there is a process to creative output. Even so, I would say that in my experience, creativity has seemed like a mystical endeavor that is only accomplished by very special people. “The Process” is rarely seen by those outside of it and instead output seems “natural,” as if there is something inherent to that person and their abilities. In this way, being creative can seem frustrating.
In high school I enjoyed visual art class. I went out of my way to take a class every year until I graduated, even striking a deal with my mother to remain in French classes (which I was very bad at). I had romantic dreams of being a “starving artist,” creating my deeply talented, renowned works in my loft/studio/ apartment in a re-purposed factory/barn/Victorian attic. I would have torrid love affairs and probably have a small drinking/drug addiction that would only add to my brilliance. But even with all that dreaming, I knew I didn’t have the natural talent that seemed to pass genetically from one artist to their children. Or at least that was the message I received from my ninth through twelfth grade art teacher who, when going down the class list, would announce that “talent is in the room” whenever a local artist’s child was on the roster.
I lack confidence in my own work and strive for perfection, which often leads to a desire to avoid any work that I can not automatically perfect. My avoidance has culminated in years of procrastination and last minute work. I have learned to work under pressure or only when fancy brings me to creativity. This has put a strain on my academic creativity and no where has it been more obvious to me than in the last year.
Grades are not the most important factor to me in academia but I can use them to realize how being aware of my process has changed my output. I am still a procrastinator, but I am also a “do nothing” creative. I was once told by a very wise mentor that a large part of the creative process is “doing nothing.” At the time, this was a great excuse to the procrastinator in me. It may look like all I’m doing is browsing the internet for hours or playing video games or hanging out with friends, but really I’m being CREATIVE. I would then find myself frantically researching/writing the night before something was due, swearing to never do it again… until the next time.
No, my “do nothing” is more nuance now. “Doing nothing” means that I have actually done reading. That I have researched. That I have spoken to other people about my ideas. That I am thinking through my ideas so that when I do sit down to write a paper or presentation, it is there. I need the pressure of a deadline, I work well under that pressure so long as the “do nothing” was productive.
I am learning to have more confidence in my work and to let go of perfectionism. To be honest, the last minute deadline writing is another way that I avoid issues with my desire for perfection. If it has to be out of my hands at a certain date and time then I am happier to just let it fly out in one go. That way I don’t have to fuss over it or stress over it. I am an editor while I write so instead of having a full document then going back, I often spend a long time on single sentences or words as I go along. Perfectionism drives me crazy and so I walk this line of stressing myself out and just letting it go. I don’t think I’ve perfected it yet (ha!) but I am more aware of it.
I still worry that I am not a brilliant as I want to be or should be and I have a hard time not comparing myself to others. This Importer Syndrome, feeling like you’re not good enough, is a tough nut to crack. But I think it is just another part of the process. I think being creative has a lot to do with sharing one’s self and that can be intimidating, even paralyzing. I’m working on not being paralyzed anymore and taking the risks that come with opening yourself up.
Are you a procrastinator? Perfectionist? What is your creative process?