This November I’ve made a commitment to do National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). Normally I hit such an event with a clear outline. I don’t necessarily have clear goals as to how many scenes I’ll write in a day. I have only that number NaNoWriMo offers: 1667 words a day.
This NaNoWriMo I have very little in the way of an outline. It feels a bit like starting to write without anything. Each day I sit down there are so many decisions I have to make. What am I going to write? Whose point of view is it in today? What’s the most important part of any of this? Is it okay if I just sit down and see what sticks later?
Every time I sit down to write in these past few days, I keep coming up with the image of a raw egg. There are some boundaries, but not nearly enough to make this a coherent, cohesive whole.
Lately, I’ve been reading a book about automating your routines. The author of this book is not the first person that introduced the idea of the decision fatigue. For those of you who don’t know what decision fatigue is, it is a form of mental fatigue. Your ability to expend energy on making decisions has a limit. Each time you introduce a new question that you must answer, a decision you must make, you deplete a limited resource of decision-making muscle.
This author goes so far as to suggest that for her, the perfect eating plan is to eat the same thing for breakfast every day, to eat the same thing for lunch every day, and to eat the same thing for dinner every day. In doing so she decreases the amount of energy she needs to spend on what she’s going to eat at each meal, but in addition she also decreases the amount of thinking she needs to do how she’s going to prepare the foods. Actions are consistent. In doing that, her theory goes, she is able to save that finite reserve of decision-making power for more important things.
As an artist, you have two choices. One: Develop a routine outside of your work that eliminates decision making, allowing you to be full of all the decision-making power you need in your creative work. This way, you can allow yourself to have an exploratory process that doesn’t require outside constraints. Two: Create a process for your work that also limits the number of decisions you have to make. For example, in a StoryMakers podcast interview with artist Adam Wolpert, he describes a project where he limited himself to the same view at the same location over the course of the year. For that year, he painted a single spot at the pond where he lives, from a single angle, on a single-sized series of canvases. He generated a series based entirely on that on frame. Having made so many of his choices once for the whole year, he was then able to have the space to organically sense the how of his paintings each day. He was not choosing the what.
There is, of course, a third way, which is to find the places in your life where you’re making unnecessary decisions and look at ways to streamline. What decisions can you get rid of in your day-to-day life that will open up more space for your creative decisions? At the same time, ask yourself what part of your creative process can you streamline, or constrain, again to continue to open up your creative process. Let me know your ideal approach in the comments section below. I look forward to hearing your views on creativity and decision fatigue.