According to Ecclesiastes—and The Byrds—“For everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under heaven.” But is there a season for creativity, and how does creativity relate to time? (Tweet this quote.)
In Chapter V of our Options: Constructing Your House of Fiction (2014), we advocate that each writer “Establish a work schedule. . . . Try also to find a specific time to write.” Our feeling that waiting for the muse to strike—and, no, the Greeks did not have a muse for the general notion of creativity—is a form of procrastination that can prevent the next sonnet, piece of flash fiction, or even blog from being written. But is setting aside a specific block of time really the best practice?
Responding to Creativity Research in October 2014
According to recent research, the answer is yes . . . with some explanation. In a forthcoming article in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (referenced by Rachel Silverman in “Wish You Were More Creative,” Wall Street Journal, 1 October 2014 and Bourree Lam’s “Clocks Make Workers Less Creative,” The Atlantic, October 2014), Avnet and Sellier (2014) explain what some research into creative thinking demonstrates.
First, the duo divides time organization into “clock time” and “task time.” Clock timers establish a specific block of time to get something done—e.g., 9:00-10:00, answer email—while task-timers develop a to-do list, work their way from task-to-task, and, regardless of the amount of time it takes, they check off each task only as it’s accomplished. From time to time, most people belong to both groups, and clock-timers tend to be more efficient.
On the other hand, task-timers feel they have more control and flexibility, a situation that leads to greater happiness as well as creativity.Task-timers seem to recognize when something positive is happening and go with the flow.Task-timers function best in creative pursuits, such as ad copy writing and academia, as long as they have huge chunks of time in which to develop. Creative strategies seem to work optimally when they aren’t governed by time. For instance, brainstorming, the researchers claim, should never be ruled by the clock.
A Case for Building in Time to Be Creative
So were we wrong in advocating setting up a schedule to write? Not if you do it right. Beginning writers and creative thinkers often start with small blocks of time they carve out of the day—e.g., before the family wakes up, between lunch and taking the kids to soccer practice—but what we have learned over the years is to try to increase that block of time in which you wish to create.
By all means, start small, but try to lengthen the time period available for the task. Night owls, who represent about 10% of the country, like to begin work late. Not only does the rest of the world tend to be asleep, but if the owls attain any results, they can keep going. Maybe there was a reason that Peter Pan’s world of imagination, Never Never Land, could be found at the “second star to the right and straight on till morning.” (Tweet this quote.)
In short, mired in the midst of a to-do Tuesday, isn’t it time for you, as Ecclesiastes suggests, to break down and find “a time to build up”—to create?
Dr. Russell Carpenter is director of the Noel Studio for Academic Creativity and Program Director of the Minor in Applied Creative Thinking at Eastern Kentucky University. He is also Assistant Professor of English. Dr. Carpenter has published on the topic of creative thinking, among other areas, including two texts by New Forums Press. In addition, he has taught courses in creative thinking in EKU’s Minor in Applied Creative Thinking, which was featured in the New York Times in February 2014. Meet Russell.