A few nights ago I sat down after dinner with my journal and asked myself: If I HAD to write something today, what would I write about?
At first, I just sat there on the couch with my thoughts. But as I began to think through the day and the week so far, I was reminded of stories and lessons I had learned through different experiences I had.
And just like that, in about fifteen minutes, I had three stories I could write about.
It reminded me of a time in college.
When I was a sophomore in college, I took a research writing course. Part of our overall grade was to write a massive end-of-semester research paper. It had to be 15+ pages, include numerous primary and secondary sources, and be well written.
“DO NOT put this off until the last day of the semester, or you WILL NOT do good on your final research paper!”, my research writing professor kindly and sternly told us numerous times the first week of class, doing her best to drive home the point that we would not do well on our final paper if we procrastinated.
So what did I do? Unfortunately, I didn’t follow my professor’s advice, and I put off writing the paper until the day before it was due. (I do not recommend doing this, by the way.)
I knew what topic I was going to write about (church leadership). I was interested in the topic, and I was already reading a book on the topic as well. I sincerely wanted to start writing sooner, but I just… didn’t.
The day before the paper was due, panic started to creep in. I had devoted the entire day to writing the paper, but I literally had not started writing even one word for the paper, so I felt a little uncertain of my final grade. I figured I had two options: (A) Either sit down and write the paper (making the most of the opportunity to learn even more about the topic of church leadership), or (B) lie to my professor and make up some pathetic story about why I couldn’t get the paper completed.
I wasn’t going to lie, so I went with option A. The paper had to be turned into the Professor’s mailbox no later than midnight, so I had a good 12-15 hours to crank some stuff out.
As I sat down at 8am to begin researching and writing, something interesting happened. The pressure I felt to get the paper done seemed to turn on a creative switch inside of me. My thoughts were clear, research came easily, inspiration struck, and my writing was concise and persuasive. Not only was I making great progress on my paper (which was exciting), I was also enjoying the process as well.
At about 6:30pm – 10 1/2 hours after I had begun writing the 15+ page paper – I was finished. I walked to my Professor’s mailbox, and turned in the paper.
When I got the paper back a few weeks later, I was shocked. I received an A (93%) on the paper, and my professor strongly encouraged my research and my writing ability as well.
While procrastinating on this research paper was not a good idea, it did teach me one principle of creativity. Creative breakthrough can come about when we’re forced (whether hypothetically, or in reality) to produce something. When we’re ‘forced’ to create something, that pressure can cause us to think creatively and make something happen.
Have you ever had to create something by a deadline, and somehow, you figured out a way to get it done on time? Maybe you had a presentation to give, and the pressure to do well forced you to create it. Looking back after your presentation, you realized that it was actually a pretty good one, and you’re pleasantly surprised by the outcome.
The good news is that this ‘forced’ element can be real, or made up. You can impose a deadline on yourself, set a timer and create a consequence (or reward), and force yourself to get something done. Often, this will cause you to think creatively and create great work.
When we ‘have to’ create something, we find a way to get it done. Pressure can cause us to think creatively and make stuff.