The Practice of Creativity

Do you cheat on your creative work? If not, here are two reasons why you should

Posted on: September 26, 2011

I am a cheater. I don’t cheat on my partner, taxes or commitment to healthy eating. I do, however, cheat on my major writing projects all the time and to great satisfaction. What do I mean by this?

Revising and completing long writing projects is daunting and requires multiple strategies for success; cheating helps: Writing has its peaks and valleys. For me, it’s often demanding and grueling and only occasionally transcendent. I’ve found that many people get stuck somewhere in that last 10-20% morass of revising or finishing a long project.

So, I have embraced a psychological orientation that helps get me through long writing projects (academic books and now a novel). Longer works demand a kind of focused attention, a ‘creative monogamy’, if you will. And, as wonderful as being committed to a long project can feel, well, we sometimes just want a break from our routine. I draw on the energy and imagery of cheating to allow me to flirt with new ideas and imagine how much greener the proverbial creative grass is on the other side.

This kind of cheating doesn’t get you into trouble and can provide benefits: Now cheating in real life carries risks and often nasty consequences involving arguments, punishment, shame and occasionally jail time. The cheating I’m talking about is a mental game that I play that helps break up the difficult stretches of work and when I get into a ‘I don’t wanna’ phase of revising. When I’m blocked or bored by my novel, I fantasize about my current idea crush. It may be a poem, a nonfiction book proposal or even an op-ed letter. In my mind’s eye, I toy with it, reveling in its novelty.

I am thrilled and teased by this idea’s very existence. I coo at my new wisp of a project all the while denigrating my current work about how boring it is, uninteresting, that the sparks have almost gone out, etc. I fantasize about how obedient this new project will be, how much there is to discover about it, how I can’t wait to leave my current work to be with it. It is truly a love affair that feels deliciously wicked. After a few minutes of this fantasizing, I’ll jump up and announce, “time to cheat”, grab a journal and make clandestine notes.

This kind of ‘ritualized’ cheating refreshes me so much that when I come back to the main project, I am rested, relaxed, and in better spirits. I settle back into a domestic writerly bliss. It also leads to the completion of smaller pieces of writing.

And, what’s great is that my mental excursion hasn’t cost me anything! Not extra calories or IRS visit. I’m in the process of revising a novel, but I have used this technique with the academic books that I’ve written over the years.

Below are two recommendations that I routinely use with my coaching clients. Try them. You might have more fun that you think. Happy cheating!

-Make a ‘love affairs’ folder. If you’re in the middle of a long work that has lost some of its zest, this might be a perfect adventure for you. Get a beautiful folder and decorate it with delicious sayings (or naughty sayings if you like), using words that entice you. This will be your ‘love affairs’ folder. When you get bored, this is where you can go and allow your imagination to sift through ideas. You can use this file as a repository for images and gathering sensory data for your next project. This also works with a gorgeous journal that is just for your noticing and wooing new projects.

-Write a ‘why you turn me on’ paragraph Write one paragraph about the new idea that you’re all crushed out on but don’t have any time for. Celebrate the one idea that’s being rattling around in your mind and every time it pops up, you think ‘If only I had time, I’d give you some attention. ‘ You do have time! Set a timer for 10 minutes and start with “You make me hot just by thinking how we are going to…” Or “10 things that I notice about you that take my breath away are” or “My vision for us together is” or “What makes you so fascinating is” or “You’re so different than my current project because”.

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Michele Tracy Berger

Michele Tracy Berger

Author, Academic, Creativity Expert I'm an award winning writer.

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