pressure, "balance," and creative productivity
over the last month, things have been all about experimenting around productivity, pressure and "balance"....getting really real with myself about how my productivity habits affect my actual work and how i feel, and digging deep with my clients and myself about how to uplevel the creative productivity in a way that doesn't overwhelm the creative impulse itself.
i learned some things.
from january-july of this year i ran a creative marathon. i directed a full production of our play HOW TO BE A ROCK CRITIC Off-Broadway and did all the associated press/etc; radically restructured and relaunched my coaching practice; had ROCK CRITIC picked up for film by our dream production company; dove deep into researching that film, structured and outlined it w my partner and handed it off to him to first-draft; created, wrote, filmed and launched an online course that synthesizes work i've been developing for 15 years; started a speaker series on narrative and social change; had my new novel Legacy come out; directed two readings of our two plays in development, and auditioned and coached my face off. also while being a mom and stuff. it was amazing and I'm grateful and thrilled with all the work....AND i was also a total spaz most of the time, occasionally scared the cat, and might very possibly have adrenal exhaustion.
after it was all over, we went to california and i sat on my butt in a garden and i told myself all kinds of stories about how when i went back to work i was going to be "balanced" and "integrated" and work at a more relaxed pace and generally practice chilling the F out. and then we found out we got a great development opportunity on our new film and i had to deliver a massive rewrite....in less than two weeks.
thus began an interesting experiment in learning to practice chilling the F out while working my face off.
the first thing i do with all my clients is help them design or strengthen their creative practice. with most folks, this is about creating a strong, consistent creative habit that gets their butt in the chair every day and churning out a fast-accumulating abundance of material. there are a lot of reasons creators struggle with this, from resistance and procrastination, to feelings of unworthiness, to difficulties prioritizing, to just needing some backup with time management or guidance breaking things down into component steps.
as a creator, i'm discovering, my struggle is often the OPPOSITE of most of my clients'. i'm cool with butt in the chair. i don't struggle with writer's block anymore (one concept freed me from it forever- which i love to share for FREE- get it here if you haven't already). i can churn it out, and I'm ridiculously deadline-motivated. AND: i'm discovering that there's a downside to that, too. i'm highly productive, BUT: that hardcore grind mode doesn't always leave room for stuff to form organically. for the idea to show up out of nowhere in the middle of a walk. for the meaning of a moment to synthesize and crystallize. for the flow state to arrive. when i'm always in grind mode, i meet my deadlines, but i don't always do it with grace. and then i gotta spend MORE time getting the grace back into the work.
i've always been a little puzzled by the concept of "balance"--or, i should say, i've been puzzled by how to actually manifest it. life is full. late capitalism is expensive. artists work HARD. deadlines or shoot dates or rehearsal schedules are usually externally imposed. plus there's kids and family and showing up for friends and community. "balance" has always seemed like this mythical ideal and i've always kinda beat myself up for not "achieving" it.
this time, i decided to experiment with finding that "balance" INSIDE of a crazy-ass deadline. because the deadline existed non-negotiably, but i was about to burn out if i didn't do SOMETHING different.
i'm gonna say it right out: i didn't magically discover the answer. i don't have it all nailed. i made my deadline with some time to spare (and i'm happy with the work) but i DEFINITELY stressed out sometimes and slipped into "grind mode" along the way.
the one big difference: in the past i've slipped into grind mode UNCONSCIOUSLY. like, just by default. and i've sorta just let it happen, because the payoff is that I'm super productive, and if I'm being honest--being super productive is really comfy for my self esteem (I've totally got good student syndrome), plus it's culturally encouraged by late capitalism, plus it's an adrenaline AND a dopamine rush.
this time, i stayed present--the whole time. and i noticed that when i went into grind mode it drained me faster and made the work more workaday and less....magical, or something. now: workaday is great. especially early on. a lot of what i needed to do was basic structure and building-blocks stuff, so it didn't all have to be magical. but magic makes its way in, even early on, if you make space for it. and grind mode doesn't make space for anything but the grind.
i started experimenting with taking breaks every hour in which I GOT OFF THE SCREEN. that helped. i started experimenting with short walks outside. i started experimenting with not just pushing myself as long as the adrenalin lasted, but sometimes taking a pause BEFORE it ran out. i allowed myself to spend pockets of time researching while i was rewriting--so i was providing myself with a lot of INPUT rather than pushing to be all OUTPUT all the time. all those things helped A LOT.
i finished the first big push early, and then i had a couple days to work my way through the script a few times with a lighter touch. without rushing. just seeing what was there, allowing what occurred to occur and not using the deadline stress as an engine. i eased up on the gas. and guess what?
that's totally where all the good stuff happened.
i'd be cutting and pasting, and two disconnected things would "accidentally" align to answer a major question or address a major theme. i discovered a core philosophical connection within the material that i hadn't cracked in NINE YEARS of working on the play this script is based on. i even came up with some funny lines (clever's not my strong suit--i usually leave that to my writing partner).
like i said, i have NOT finished nailing this one for myself. it's a practice. like all of it is a practice. i work with clients a lot around the practice of getting your butt in the chair to write. i'm not off the hook myself just because that particular practice has become a habit for me. because for each practice that we make a positive habit, there's ANOTHER practice right beyond it. creative evolution is ongoing and endless. i'm good with the butt in the chair. my practice is staying CONSCIOUS when my butt's in the chair, and not defaulting into overdrive.
so: ongoing experiment! I'm sure the universe will give me many more opportunities to practice this one in the months ahead. and i'm stoked to share whatever i discover about it with all of you; hopefully it'll resonate!
i'd love to hear what you all have discovered around these questions- here OR on my insta which has got lots of stuff like this (and lots of dialogue around it) going on! @jessicacblank