Giving time to creativity

Giving time to creativity

Why do non-writers think writing is quick? The words “That should only take you five minutes,” drive me batty with the sheer lack of appreciation they show for what needs to happen before a single letter touches paper.

Depending on the brief, a single line can take an hour or a week. Not a full week you understand: I’m not justifying 40 hours billing with ten words, no matter how brilliant. No. This is about having time for the brief to brew and bubble away on the proverbial back-burner while other projects progress, giving it some but not all of my attention until such time as the ideas have reduced down to a stronger, more potent stock.

Ask me to write a promotional email in an hour and the result will be far less interesting nor ultimately effective than if you’d given me a week. But the art of creation is often not included in an assessment of how long quality copy — or quality anything, for that matter — will take. There is no hurrying the process, no template or push-button production line to creativity. It takes time.

A few weeks ago, the social media hordes unearthed this old video of John Cleese talking about creativity, giving it a second life on YouTube. In it, he talks about how creativity should be managed in the workplace, and how it so often runs contrary to most workplace environments. If you can’t watch it now, certainly bookmark it for later with a cup of tea. It is amazingly good.

In case you misunderstand me, I’m not advocating that you should abolish all deadlines, giving everyone as long as they want. I’m not justifying time-wasting as creativity. Absolutely not. But allow time for the ideas to prance and gambol in the mind. Then after a period the deadline helps focus and force the resulting creative ideas on to paper. A balance is needed; offering a deadline with enough room to allow the creativity to form before fingers touch keys.

Give too tight a deadline or overload the writer with too many competing tasks within the same period, and it forces them to put fingers to keys before the mind has had its time to play — and the final work will suffer for it.


  1. Hi Jonathan,

    I think one reason so many creative people end up being self-employed is because they have better control of the creative process. Even when I was swamped running my own business, I was able to allow time for the creative percolation necessary for a great product. I simply told the client when I was able to complete a project and queued it up somewhere in my subconscious.

    Often my most inspiring ideas occur when I’m not at work but in the shower, out for a run, doing the grocery shopping and even sleeping. I have a pad and pen on my bedside table to capture those shards of brilliance when they present themselves as I’m about to drop-off or wake me up from a slumber.

    Now that I’m no longer working for myself, I find I’m often under pressure to perform at short notice. Sometimes it works but usually not as well as the percolation method. I may spend the same amount of time physically putting words on a page and editing them into something reasonably intelligent, but the spark is often missing.

    Here’s another reason to allow creative people time to work out their ideas; job satisfaction. It can be soul destroying to have to come up with the goods on short notice then live with the result for days, weeks or months to come.

    • Kimota says

      Absolutely. Even if we meet our aggressive deadlines, if we know the product is sub par it becomes demotivating. Once our creative skills have been reduced to merely mechanical activities, everything that made us writers in the first place disappears.

      You’re not alone. The shower is one of my most creative spaces too. Or the car. I fact, anywhere where I’m left alone, uninterrupted with my thoughts for a period.

  2. Wonderful article Jonathan! And John Cleese’s video is nothing short of brilliant. Thanks.

    Yes, time for the idea to marinade and mature. Creative work is never the same without it. It’s the same principle with painting. My strategy is to paint until I think it’s finished, then put it facing the wall and forget about it. Then when I pick it up again I can see it’s not finished at all. So I work on it again until I think it’s finished. I repeat the process until it comes to life and tells me it is finished.