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Creativity coach, writing and creative process instructor, speaker, author of Around the Writer's Block: Using Brain Science to Write the Way You Want (Penguin/Tarcher 2012) and Dancing in the Dragon's Den (Red Wheel Weiser), Teaching Artist at the Loft Literary Center.

Creative Writer or Efficient Writer?

multitask canstockphoto6171135Some of my students and clients fret about investing time and energy in an idea that might not develop. They worry that it’ll take too long to finish a piece. They want to be efficient.

Other students and clients resist making time for Process because they don’t want to waste time playing around. They want to be efficient.

The truth is creativity is NEVER efficient.

Creativity is, by definition, exploring the new, seeking the unexpected, discovering the novel association. Efficiency is repeating a learned behavior to achieve the same result again and again with minimum investment of time and energy. The two are mutually exclusive.

As Seth Godin says, you either work in the lab or the factory:

“To work in the lab is to embrace the idea that what you’re working on might not work. Not to merely tolerate this feeling, but to seek it out.

The factory, on the other hand, prizes reliability and productivity. The factory wants no surprises, it wants what it did yesterday, but faster and cheaper.”

Leave Efficiency at the Door

The question was “To be or not to be”
Not “How to maximize output”

You simply can’t have assembly line efficiency when you’re doing something you’ve never done before.

Oh, you can be efficient in how you prepare your workspace and materials, in how you get started and how you finish, but at some point you leave the familiar behind to enter the mystery of creativity.

At that point, expectations of efficiency have to be left behind as well. Exploring mystery is NOT going to be efficient.

If you’re not willing to be inefficient in your creativity, you’re doomed to either censor yourself into an enormous and painful block, or be perpetually disappointed in yourself.

The Real Work Begins

When you enter that mystery, the real work begins. Before that, it’s just preparation and maybe a little procrastination and posturing.

There are no guarantees. You may spend months, even years, on a writing project that “never goes anywhere.” You might never figure it out. Creative mystery is not for sissies. Or for efficiency freaks.

waterslide mysteryThe mystery is also where the real fun begins. Your willingness to surrender to the mystery and uncertainty, to not know exactly where your writing is taking you, how you’ll get there, or even if you will get anywhere at all, that willingness is the wellspring of your joy.

You throw yourself on the water slide and let the current carry you through the tunnel to who knows where, screaming “Whee!” all the way.

When I remember that I write because I need to surrender to the mystery that will lead me to joy, I stop worrying about whether I’m wasting time and I have a whee of a time! I hope you do, too!

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2 Comments on “Creative Writer or Efficient Writer?”

  1. Joel D Canfield July 26, 2013 at 7:20 am #

    Since you already quoted Seth (h’ray!) I’ll refer to one of his mantras: “This might not work.”

    Embracing the experimental aspect of things helps with my tolerance of mess and risk.



  1. Is the “Efficiency Trap” Blocking Your Writing? | The Bane of Your Resistance - February 10, 2014

    […] is why I need to change it. As I’ve said before, creativity is not efficient and efficiency is not […]


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