StoryStudio Chicago Words for WorkStoryStudio Chicago Words for Work

by Jill Pollack

I usually don’t mind waiting, as long as I’m not running late. There’s a patience required that can elevate waiting to an art form, a test of one’s nature, a private measure of endurance I can test myself on. A sort of zen mindset that makes the void of waiting bearable.

Whenever possible, I like to think of waiting as forced time to just be. This notion of lost time sounds like a cliche now, but I am working against it every day: we have all lost the ability to just be, to exist, to not look at a screen, to not be composing an email in our head, to be content to just notice what and who is around us.

Can Multitaskers Be Creative?

I’ve been taking the arguments against multitasking seriously these past few weeks and experimenting with working on one task at a time. It sucks. It feels like I’m not getting anything done.

Not surprisingly, the toughest part has been to not look at and answer emails as soon as they arrive. Can you imagine walking to your mailbox every time you think a letter has been delivered? 

Types of Waiting

My dog is lying at my feet at this moment. She has been following me around all morning, reminding me that we have not yet gone on our morning walk. She is being patient today and seems content to wait. But as soon as I get out of my chair, she’ll be up and leading me downstairs, tugging me toward her leash.

My dog has to wait for her walks, for her bowl to be filled, for her 7pm bone, for us to finally go upstairs in the evenings so she can sleep on the bed.

What do humans wait for? We spend our lives waiting for:

  • The microwave to ding.
  • The water to boil.
  • The plane to board.
  • The light to change
  • A table to open and your name called to be seated
  • To win the Nobel Prize
  • For our ship to come in
  • For a Yes
  • For an Idea
  • For Inspiration

Waiting for the clock to feel as stuck as I am

That thing I said about going to the mailbox once a day? Hah! You know I don’t mean it. If I got as many letters as I do emails my Fitbit would be screaming with joy for all of my steps to the front door.

Time is moving much faster these days than it did ten or 15 years ago. Can we blame it on technology? Sure, why not. I run my business through emails and online communication so of course I’m going to check it a lot and be as responsive as I can to my clients and students.

But when we look in the mirror, we know that we only have ourselves to blame. Our sense of wanting more, the need to fill our plates to the rim, this Herculean notion that we do can get it all done. 

Time, like money, is a slippery bugger. The more we have, the more we need. It’s just never enough.

My dog is lying down again. trying to keep her eyes open. She doesn’t wear a watch and so she doesn’t know that I’ve been at this blog post for about a half an hour and I’m still not sure I have found my way with it. She isn’t calculating in her head how much walking time she is losing, or that it’s already three in the afternoon, or that she hasn’t even looked at her ToDo list today.

Waiting for the answer to fly in and wait patiently at my feet, just like my dog

I’m always telling my students that stories are about questions, that writers ask Why or How and spend their time searching—sometimes fruitlessly—for the answers.

Waiting for The Best Idea Ever

It’s this last kind of waiting that I’ve been thinking about. Waiting for inspiration. It’s such a romantic conception. And while I do feel a teeny bit bad about it, I disavow this notion whenever necessary with students.

I don’t know where my ideas come from. but I know where they go to. They go to my desk and if I am not sitting there, they will go somewhere else.–Philip Pullman

Recently, we went to hear Questlove talk about creativity at the Chicago Humanities Festival. His new book, Creative Quest, is an honest look at not only his methods, but also his questions. And of course, his thoughts about waiting for inspiration.

During an interview, he was asked about the waiting period before new work appears to the public. How long does it take to write a song? A book? A poem? (OK, I know the answer to that last one. It takes five minutes. But that’s another story.)

Then the discussion landed on this idea that the more we know about our art, the longer it takes to create.

True. And Not True.

Whichever side of that argument you reside on, we can all agree that creators create. Sometimes those creations are good and sometimes they need more work.

What we can’t give in to is this notion that we can wait until only the good work appears on our screens or in our studios. Waiting in line may be polite. But waiting until your creativity is a fixed, full, completed thing is wasting time. You heard me. Stop wasting time waiting and just get the crap on the page. Build a clock that doesn’t work and then take it apart to fix it. Make a cake in your Instant Pot and have it come out looking like a brick and put frosting on it anyway.

If you don’t want to waste time and inspiration is eluding you, here are some games to play while you wait:

1. Choose one detail and describe it in excruciating, well detail. For you creative writers, use the chair you’re sitting in or the pen you’re writing with, or the fading poster on the wall, or an overstuffed drawer, or one brick in the wall.

For business writers, choose one physical element of the project, one slide from the deck or the desk of one team member.

2. Grab pen and paper and move somewhere else, preferably near a window. Or even better, to a coffee shop. Choose someone in the vicinity and write their life story. Start by describing their clothes or what kind of coffee you think they ordered.

3. Write a blog post that may not quite hang together, but is still filled with keen thoughts, exciting insights, hopeful metaphors, and inspiration for one and all. (You may use this post as a model.)

Jill Pollack
About Jill Pollack
 Jill Pollack is Chief Story Wrangler of StoryStudio Chicago, where she founded a creative writing school and the Words for Work business writing training. She now co-leads the Story Mode program with Beth Nyland, working with company teams and business people who are really artists in their hearts to become great storytellers, presenters, and creatives. She was a co-founder of the content marketing conference, Content Jam in Chicago, IL, and is a frequent podcast guest and speaker on the power of stories in our personal and professional lives.
The Art of Waiting; Or What My Brain Does When It’s Not Looking At A Screen