Creativity is Inefficient—And That’s a Good Thing

As a kid, I loved to daydream. I would sit for hours, staring through my bedroom window into the backyard, imaging all sorts of characters going on quests and having adventures. My toys and LEGO constructions mirrored these daytime fantasies, and I enjoyed books that took me into other worlds too.

I started writing stories from an early age. Some of them were quite short, and most of them contained a simple magical premise of some kind. I loved writing them, and I continued to love creative writing right through my schooling years. 

Unfortunately, adulthood swept away the joy of writing. In the hustle of work and daily chores I forgot the importance of daydreaming. Even now when I sit down to write, I get caught up in that hustle thinking: ‘I’ve gotta get this blog out ASAP.’ I believe I have to be ‘productive’—even though that word gives me the heebie-jeebies. 

Why? Because productivity is the antithesis of creativity. 

Productivity is the antithesis of creativity.

Sure, some of my blogs come out fast. They are so clear in my mind that when I sit down to write, I already know precisely what to say and how to say it. On those golden days, I can write an awesome blog in about ten minutes. But other blogs can take a good hour or two to craft. 

Sometimes I have no idea what to write. It’s not that I have run out of things to say (like that could ever happen!) but it can take a while to daydream, let my imagination run wild, sift through the various ideas and settle on a good one. On those days, I might spend the better part of a day sifting, selecting and composing. 

It takes a while to daydream, let my imagination run wild, sift through ideas and settle on a good one.

I have long given up the idea of getting writing ‘done’ ASAP. Writing is ever evolving. Sometimes you have a great idea in the morning, but later in the day an even better one surfaces. Sometimes all you have are terrible ideas and all your drafts suck. Sometimes you’ve got nothing. 

I am learning that when my creative well is dry, it’s time to recharge. Expending creative energy requires creative infilling. Various things fill my creative well: reading a good book, watching a movie or musical, being in nature, looking at beautiful photos and paintings. And play—playing games and music and improvising helps me keep the spirit of play alive.

When my creative well is dry, it’s time to recharge.

There are times when I need to do something completely different or something I am no good at to get out of performative mode. So I do ‘pour paintings’ where you pour different colours into a cup, and then pour the cup onto a canvas. They don’t have to be ‘good’; they require no artistic ability whatsoever, and I don’t sell them or post them online. They are just for me. That is not a productive use of my time, but it’s playful and messy and awesome. 

Refreshment takes time. Brainstorming takes time. Daydreaming, pondering, percolating takes an inordinate amount of time. We don’t always know how much time our ideas need, but each idea needs an optimal simmering time, like dried herbs in a tasty meal. 

Creativity is inefficient, and that’s a good thing. Let’s reclaim the lost art of daydreaming and playing. And let’s refill those inner wells in order to draw fresh creative water again. 

Do you find it difficult to daydream and play without having to be ‘productive’? How do you resist the urge to hustle and get creative stuff ‘done’? What helps refill your creative well? Share your story. Let’s have a countercultural conversation. 

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