Friday, June 8, 2012

On Creativity: Time

When I took my first Philosophy courses in college, I remember thinking, “Holy crap. Other people have been thinking about this stuff, too?” (Dear Dr. David Goldberg and Dr. Lee Braver, my professors--thank you!). When I read philosophical texts, thought about them, talked about them, and listened to talks by professors, I could feel my brain responding in strange and surprising ways (twirling, or plummeting, or recoiling, or climbing the walls). I learned to read and think in new, slower try to chase down ideas in order to understand them.

I took a seminar on Heidegger’s Being and Time, which was both maddening and very enjoyable. My little joke is that they got the title wrong--(spoiler alert!); it should read Being = Time (the sequel is, of course, Being on Time).

Thinking about the way time affects us (and the way our experience of time is shaped) has long been an obsession of mine. A famous story in my family is about me on my third birthday, when I cried at my cake with a “3” candle on it, saying “Where’d my ‘2’ go?!” And my parents told me, “It went inside of you.” Maybe all artists identify with this.

Recently, I was watching this TED talk by designer Stefan Sagmeister (he is a master of this form, truly). In this particular talk, he discusses the value of taking time off; every seven years, he takes one year off to pursue creative “experiments.”

It’s not a year in which he just hangs out, sleeps in, and eats cereal everyday. And he certainly doesn’t stop designing for himself. He discusses how he plans his time, travels with a purpose in mind, learns, and develops ideas based on what he sees around him.

Now, financially, very few of us would be able to do this, exactly. But I’m not interested in thinking about how much it cost for him to take this year (or how much he makes)--I’m interested in how he is making use of time.

Sagmeister notes that many of his designs were starting to look the same, to feel stale. As an artist who writes at least 5 times a week, I very much relate to what he is saying.

In the video, Sagmeister says that for the seven years following his sabbatical year, almost every new idea came from that sabbatical. This is fascinating. I’m thinking about how I might make use of this idea. I know it would be useful, as a’s not that I wouldn’t write during this time, but I wouldn’t be drafting one poem each day and sharing them the way that I am now. Even the two-day break of the weekend (I don’t post poems on the weekend) makes me excited to start writing again to begin my week.

Thinking about how I use my time is a large part of my process. I usually spend 45-90 minutes on each poem/post. That’s about 6 hours or so a week. But I also spend time revising, making manuscripts and chapbooks, sending out submissions, looking at art, reading books, and commenting on other writers’ blogs.

I do very well in the day-to-day making process, but I’m starting to crave bigger thinking and larger projects. I want to experiment with the amount of time I use to write a poem, and see what happens.

Your turn: How does time factor into your process? Would a sabbatical be useful to you? How might you adapt this concept for your own work?


  1. My goal is to post one poem at least every seven days. I tried for more, but found the work suffered due to rushing (I deleted six poems from that higher output period because they were below par). I already put a huge amount of pressure on myself regarding content and style, so even a moderately strict deadline would make writing way too stressful.

    A sabbatical probably wouldn't help me, as I need my regular life to provide material (i.e., things I don't like).

  2. I tend to lose a sense of time when I'm writing; my focus goes deep. One I'm satisfied with the beginning of a draft, I'll leave it for a bit and always go back.

    I post a new poem once a week. Last year I did a project of writing not only every day for my blog but writing a response, in the form of a poem, to a posted quote. It was an incredible challenge.

    Often, the more I write, the more I write. And I tend to be composing poems in my head even when I'm not at the computer (I rarely write long hand any more).

    Because I'm retired from professional editing and have a number of uninterrupted hours to give to my writing, a sabbatical for me probably would take the form of working intensely, one on one, with mentor-poet. Or not. I think traveling and getting out in the world also benefit writers enormously.

  3. BTw, that project I did was a month long. While I was satisfied with my results, I found the posted quotes became tiresome and too repetitious. I haven't done a month of 7-days-a-week poetry writing for National Poetry Month.

    Another kind of sabbatical I'd enjoy is collaborating on a project with a visual artist.

  4. Good to read you again time has recently been devoured by monsters. Sabbaticals are the best investments of time in the academic world, especially for the something new without the worries of everyday grunge. It is too bad that it is somewhat limited to academia because everyone can benefit from such TIME. My private time is used frequently to recover, reflect, and think outside the box where everything is more fun. I do that every chance I get, sometimes early early mornings, I close my eyes and literally feel entering a different place...frequently I don't have the opportunity to put the thoughts into action but sometimes I do.

    Happy weekend to you!

  5. I need to watch this when I get home tonight (the place I am currently on contract with doesn't allow any video or music streaming).

    I have a bit of trouble with time. When I'm home with Xander I have to piecemeal the time I have for writing. I get so sucked in when I write, but want to be attentive to his needs and interact with him, too. My family is my #1 commitment, and I don't want to let anything fall by the wayside.

    I'm trying to be more business-like about the time I use to write, though. I have some good, solid alone time coming up soon, and I am going to work on my deadline-intensive projects, and work at them like I might a project at work. I'm hoping with strict guidelines, some good things will bloom. Like a sonnet, I guess. :)

  6. I'm always amazed at how frequently you write you write your poems. It makes sense to me that you are craving "bigger thinking and larger projects." It's natural to evolve.


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