Saturday, September 8, 2012

Time, Creativity, and Productivity

The Devil's Plaything

Lately I've been hearing a number of poets complaining about their unproductive summer. There they were, many of them off from school jobs, with all that gorgeous time on their hands. They'd had exciting plans for lots of writing and lots of submitting. But now the summer's over and back to work they go—with big frowns on their faces because they somehow frittered away all that time and now find themselves with little or nothing to show. The folder is empty and the desk holds nothing. What went wrong?

I suspect that many of us are more productive when we have less time. I know that doesn't make sense, but it seems that a lot of time often means too much time. Then we get lazy. Because we have a bunch of time, it's just way too easy to put off that writing until tomorrow. Now all the tomorrows have been used up.

There's something about the crunch of time that forces us to be productive. When we have precious little time, what we have becomes more precious. We become better organized. It becomes easier to impose self-discipline. We find ourselves making use of snippets of time. We also become stressed and tense. Oddly, there's something about tension that's creative. Forces working in opposition to each other clash and sparks fly. Some of those sparks turn into flames.

There's something I've been noticing at Facebook that might also play a role in a poet's lack of productivity. The Games! I never got into Farmville or Mafia Wars, but I used to love all the word games. I also adored Bejeweled Blitz with its flashing lights. A year ago I found myself playing the games on a daily basis. I was playing rounds of games with other people. Some of those people challenged me to face-offs. I began to dislike several people who routinely beat me. I suspected several of those people of cheating.

But the worst part was frittering away huge chunks of my day. I became sort of obsessed. I'd sit down at the computer to check my email in the morning. Then I'd allow myself a few games. Then a few more. And a few more. When I was losing, I'd feel like I had to redeem myself. When I was winning, I wanted to top my best score. This morning time was my best writing time. I've known for years that my best head, my most creative head, is my morning head. But there I was using it up on those stupid games! After an hour or more at the games, I found myself feeling drained, numbed, cranky. I began to have days when my bad mood, a kind of depressed feeling, lasted all day.

One day I had a chat with myself and acknowledged that I suspected I was becoming addicted to the games. I didn't like that admission. I gave up the games, right then and there. Cold turkey. I've never played any of them again. Invitations to play get ignored. It wasn't hard. It really wasn't. My morning head came back and I began to write again. To return to productivity I had to figure out what was draining it. I had plenty of time. I just wasn't using it well.

What's your distraction?


  1. This has been one of the most productive summers of my entire life: traveling to the UK for readings and getting a new novel underway, editing the galley for my next poetry collection and self-pubblishing an ebook of short stories. When I took downtime and found myself distracted, it was usually by watching something on television or watching something on my Kindle Fire (the "Fringe" marathon went on for weeks). As for games, I will totally drain the battery on my phone over Angry Birds. lol

  2. Very productive summer for you! My 6-year-old nephew also plays Angry Birds. I didn't know adults did too. I'm sticking with the real birds in my backyard.


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