Creative work is different than other work in so many ways. Less boring. More uncertain, for starters.
And one of the most uncertain elements in a life of uncertainty is the element of time. Understanding how time and timing works is the difference between being able to withstand the pressure of a life in the creative arts or giving up.
One of the reasons time feels like such an enemy to a lot of creatives is that essentially, time is the natural born enemy of creativity.
Time comes from a PIE word which means to divide. And the essential nature of creativity is to connect. To experience wholeness. To transcend time. Maybe we need to understand this element of division as the dot in each side of the yin-yang symbol. We have the element of time and division to help us understand the essential wholeness and growth in creative experience.And vice versa.
10 YEARS OVERNIGHT SUCCESS
We’ve all heard the phrase 10 year overnight success. 10 years is actually optimistic. But we tend to want the overnight overnight success anyway. In the big picture and in so many smaller ways. The first draft that doesn’t need any work. The project that goes to market and meets its perfect buyer in the blink of an eye. The not needing to do voice exercises in order to become the great singer you know you can be. The lack of mistakes.
We are essentially talking about patience. I wrote about that for in a fun piece for the LA Times here. And if you don’t feel like clicking through, the biggest take away is this equation:
The absence of yes, over time, equals no.
That’s Hollywood Math.
The problem is that in most of life, time can be accurately assessed. At least by some people. I’m not great at it. But I know that GPS can predict my arrival to the minute. I just have to remember to ask in order to leave enough time to leave in time! Which means giving myself extra time to shower and get ready because I am always under estimating how long things take. My executive functions skills in the area of planning can be very dysfunctional. I don’t have a way of calculating I just always figure, it will take a little longer.
I read efficiency tips like a traveler in a foreign country. Because in creative fields, the time element is part of the mystery.
This is why sometimes it’s best to work with time creatively. I’m going to write for an hour a day. Sing 3 songs 3 times each. Paint until the water is too dirty to use any more. I personally am driven to complete. Which means sometimes I’m working longer than expected. And by sometimes I mean all the time.
I also find that my students often under estimate the amount of time it takes to make it happen. How much work they need to put in to get great. Or even good. The 10k hour idea. Is it 10k hours? Sometimes it’s less. But sometimes it’s more. The point is consistency. Doing it a lot.
PAIN + TIME = COMEDY
In comedy there’s the adage pain + time = comedy. Time is an actual element. The time between the pain and the talking about it. But during that time you aren’t just waiting and not doing anything. You are writing, you are trying it out, you are testing the waters. You are asking too soon? And doing other material. Working on it all. Not waiting! Waiting without waiting is how I like to think of it.
While waiting for the second shoe to drop put the first shoe back on.
Timing is one of the keys in a creative life. Feeling in your bones that its the right time for a project. But that doesn’t mean you have to feel like working. Work anyway. Even f you don’t feel like it. Of course there’s nothing more important for comedy than timing. A comedian with great timing can get away with less than stellar material. You just enjoy their timing. Its the element of surprise. But your own great timing will lead you to great material sometimes. The rhythm of your voice is the wave your inner truth rides in on.
Stand up for she bends time. At the beginning it feels like it’s speeding by and going so slow. At the same time. Though a beginning stand up is usually not very funny it can be fun to watch them anyway because you get to watch and sometimes feel them experience this.
In comedy the term for is my time up is, did I get the light? There’s a flashing light in the back of the room saying wrap it up. Sometimes it comes too soon. Sometimes you can’t believe how long its taking.
I started thinking about this because one of my students told me that something she had done took much longer than it usually does. And it occurred to me we live in a world where things do often take a certain length of time. Reports, meetings, travel. Self care, check ins, appointments. Its a time organized world. And creative work is a deep dive into an ocean of mystery. Treasure hunting. You never know how long its going to take. Or of you will even succeed. That’s part of the thrill, the flip side of the scary part of the uncertainty.
Thanks for taking the time to read this. I hope it helped. Reach out and lmk if you have questions about creativity that I can help with. Subscribe to my newsletter here.