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a:That Thing You Do: Results of a Survey on Process


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50171581962_85699c65ed_c-525x295.jpgAt the height of my obsession with the creative process as it relates to writing, I couldn’t find answers to all my questions so I decided to do my own research. Now, keep in mind, I know nothing about how to create actual data. I’m no researcher. This didn’t stop me. I put out a call to writers and surveyed one hundred of them, and the responses were fascinating to me.

The survey asked them to self-identify between a range of high- to low- producers. The first question began like this: On average over the last five years, how many pages have you written per year? (Generated, not polished and published)

When comparing answers from the two high-producer categories (a book-length work and more than a book-length work) with the lower-producer categories (under ¼ of a book-length work and ¼ to ½ book length work), the following results stood out.

When it came to the way one thinks about writing and flow, high producers seemed to have a more constant and ongoing processes:

  • High producers were much more likely to muse about creative work when doing other daily things.
  • High producers were much more likely to purposefully think about creative work, in a consciously thoughtful way, when they are away from their desks.
  • High producers were much more likely to jot notes when away from their desk about their creative work.
  • High producers were much more likely to have figured out situations most conducive to being hit by a great idea and create them, actively.
  • High producers were much more likely to report having moments in their creative work when they hit a kind of “flow” and were less aware of their surroundings, sometimes even the passage of time, because they were lost in the work.
  • High producers were much more likely to work on multiple large-scale projects at once.

Though the internet posed problems for both groups, the less productive group reported it was much more of an issue.

Both groups seemed about equal in reporting how often they were working to eliminate internet distractions from impacting their writing lives.

Both groups reported having trouble finding the mental space to work creatively if they didn’t have an extended amount of time they could rely on.

Overall, higher producers were less likely to report a struggle with concentration and finding themselves trying to get out of doing creative work because it’s taxing.

None of the above came as a surprise to me. My research and own experience were echoed in the results. But there were more questions, and some of them get a little weirder and more personal, sparked by my own curiosity.

When it came to psychology, I found that:

  • High producers were much more likely to report they have a chip on their shoulders — perhaps an insecurity from deep in childhood — that drives them. (Yes, I asked this question)
  • High producers were more likely to report that they are hypochondriacs and fear they might die abruptly and/or will become senile and this pushes them to write.
  • High producers were much less likely to believe in innate talent and more likely to state firmly that they need to write.
  • Both groups reported that they clearly remember stories from their own past and stories that people have told them, just as both groups seemed to equally report that if someone were to name an object or type of event, they would have a series of stories that would naturally pop up into their minds.
  • Both groups generally affirmed that they feel healthier mentally when they’ve written, though the higher producers were more emphatic.

Two things about lifestyle. 

  • High producers were much more likely to purposefully keep their lives simple so that their creative life takes hold.
  • High producers were much more likely to eat while writing or take breaks to eat.

When it came to criticism:

  • High producers were more likely to report that they have gotten more immune/numb/less affected by rejection/criticism over the years.
  • High producers were much more likely to seek out criticism and to continue to work while waiting for others to respond to their work.

When it came to generating ideas and editing work:

  • High producers reported generating content faster today than when they started writing.
  • Less productive writers reported that creative work has become harder to generate as their careers have progressed.
  • Both groups edit faster now than when they started.

Over the last few years, I’ve broken down my take on these responses and woven them into Efficient Creativity, a 6-week audio series, to help writers investigate their own creative process. There’s too much to unpack here, but there is one important note.

What most interested me about the survey was the number of respondents who wrote me after taking it. Again and again, they stated that just taking the survey made them more aware of their processes. It shone a light on things that they’d simply accepted. They found that taking the survey invigorated them.

This is something that I firmly believe in. Simply acknowledging that you have a creative process, being mindful of it, being willing to engage and make changes to that process – to have a more agile process – is incredibly helpful, especially for writers in for the long haul.

With that in mind, here are the survey questions. Answer them for yourself, and see.

Please note: This survey isn’t “live,” so you won’t be able to click anything to receive a score. Answering these questions is purely for self-awareness.

PROCESS SURVEY QUESTIONS

 

I am mostly a daily writer with a fairly set writing schedule.

1. Never 2. Rarely 3. Occasionally 4. Often 5. Very Often

 

I am not daily because I mostly write when I have a stretch of time and can immerse myself in the work and my life doesn’t always allow for this.

1. Never 2. Rarely 3. Occasionally 4. Often 5. Very Often

 

I am a weekend writer.

1. Never 2. Rarely 3. Occasionally 4. Often 5. Very Often

 

I write only during summer (or another singular season of the year). 

1. Never 2. Rarely 3. Occasionally 4. Often 5. Very Often

 

I am more of a binge writer who writes best under deadline.

1. Never 2. Rarely 3. Occasionally 4. Often 5. Very Often

 

I rely on inspiration and have long fallow periods followed by stretches of time when I’m fully immersed in my work.

1. Never 2. Rarely 3. Occasionally 4. Often 5. Very Often

 

I muse about my creative work when doing other daily things.

1. Never 2. Rarely 3. Occasionally 4. Often 5. Very Often

 

I purposefully think about my creative work, in a consciously thoughtful way, when I’m away from my desk.

1. Never 2. Rarely 3. Occasionally 4. Often 5. Very Often

 

I allow my daily life and my work life to blur and set up as few boundaries between them as possible.

1. Never 2. Rarely 3. Occasionally 4. Often 5. Very Often

 

I jot notes when I’m away from my desk about my creative work.

1. Never 2. Rarely 3. Occasionally 4. Often 5. Very Often

 

I’ve figured out situations most conducive to being hit by a great idea and create them, actively.

1. Never 2. Rarely 3. Occasionally 4. Often 5. Very Often

 

I have moments in my creative work when I hit a kind of “flow” and am less aware of my surroundings, sometimes even the passage of time, because I’m lost in the work.

1. Never 2. Rarely 3. Occasionally 4. Often 5. Very Often

 

I believe it’s important to throw away work that’s not very good and starting from scratch.

1. Never 2. Rarely 3. Occasionally 4. Often 5. Very Often

 

I hoard my failed work so that I can use it for spare parts to build new work.

1. Never 2. Rarely 3. Occasionally 4. Often 5. Very Often

 

I try to stay away from people who drain my creative energy.

1. Never 2. Rarely 3. Occasionally 4. Often 5. Very Often

 

I struggle with concentration and find myself trying to get out of doing my creative work because it’s taxing.

1. Never 2. Rarely 3. Occasionally 4. Often 5. Very Often

 

I have trouble finding the mental space to work creatively if I don’t have an extended amount of time I can rely on.

1. Never 2. Rarely 3. Occasionally 4. Often 5. Very Often

 

I put in a set number of hours or word count per day and stop when I’ve hit that mark.

1. Never 2. Rarely 3. Occasionally 4. Often 5. Very Often

 

While I’m waiting for others to respond to my work, I continue to write.

1. Never 2. Rarely 3. Occasionally 4. Often 5. Very Often

 

I set boundaries with others so that I can make the time I need to write.

1. Never 2. Rarely 3. Occasionally 4. Often 5. Very Often

 

I work on multiple large-scale projects at once.

1. Never 2. Rarely 3. Occasionally 4. Often 5. Very Often

 

I clearly remember stories from my own past and stories that people have told me.

1. Never 2. Rarely 3. Occasionally 4. Often 5. Very Often

 

If someone were to name an object or type of event, I would have a series of stories that would naturally pop up into my mind.

1. Never 2. Rarely 3. Occasionally 4. Often 5. Very Often

 

I purposefully keep my life simple so that my creative life takes hold.

1. Never 2. Rarely 3. Occasionally 4. Often 5. Very Often

 

I purposefully seek out adventure to have more material to work with.

1. Never 2. Rarely 3. Occasionally 4. Often 5. Very Often

 

I eat while writing or take breaks to eat.

1. Never 2. Rarely 3. Occasionally 4. Often 5. Very Often

 

I do something physical when I’m stuck in my creative work.

1. Never 2. Rarely 3. Occasionally 4. Often 5. Very Often

 

If I don’t write, I feel guilty.

1. Never 2. Rarely 3. Occasionally 4. Often 5. Very Often

 

I use my jealousy of others to spur me on.

1. Never 2. Rarely 3. Occasionally 4. Often 5. Very Often

 

My jealousy of others hinders my work.

1. Never 2. Rarely 3. Occasionally 4. Often 5. Very Often

 

I dwell more on criticism than praise.

1. Never 2. Rarely 3. Occasionally 4. Often 5. Very Often

 

I seek out criticism.

1. Never 2. Rarely 3. Occasionally 4. Often 5. Very Often

 

I believe in the importance of innate talent.

1. Never 2. Rarely 3. Occasionally 4. Often 5. Very Often

 

I hate the solitude of writing.

1. Never 2. Rarely 3. Occasionally 4. Often 5. Very Often

 

I seek out collaboration when my energy is flagging.

1. Never 2. Rarely 3. Occasionally 4. Often 5. Very Often

 

My partner encourages my creative work. (If you don’t currently have a partner, leave blank.)

1. Never 2. Rarely 3. Occasionally 4. Often 5. Very Often

 

I write best while under deadline.

1. Never 2. Rarely 3. Occasionally 4. Often 5. Very Often

 

I have chip on my shoulder — perhaps an insecurity from deep in my childhood — that drives me.

1. Never 2. Rarely 3. Occasionally 4. Often 5. Very Often

My intellect is one of my strongest attributes.1. Never 2. Rarely 3. Occasionally 4. Often 5. Very Often
 

My ear for language is one of my strongest attributes.

1. Never 2. Rarely 3. Occasionally 4. Often 5. Very Often

 

I get lost in research.

1. Never 2. Rarely 3. Occasionally 4. Often 5. Very Often

I am neurotic and have many nagging fears.1. Never 2. Rarely 3. Occasionally 4. Often 5. Very Often
 

I am a hypochondriac and fear I might die abruptly and/or will become senile and this pushes me to write.

1. Never 2. Rarely 3. Occasionally 4. Often 5. Very Often

I need to write.1. Never 2. Rarely 3. Occasionally 4. Often 5. Very Often
I feel healthier mentally when I’ve written.1. Never 2. Rarely 3. Occasionally 4. Often 5. Very Often
I like to control the world of my writing because I feel helpless to control the real world.1. Never 2. Rarely 3. Occasionally 4. Often 5. Very Often
 

I display grit and perseverance in my creative work.

1. Never 2. Rarely 3. Occasionally 4. Often 5. Very Often

I find praise to be helpful.1. Never 2. Rarely 3. Occasionally 4. Often 5. Very Often
I find praise to sometimes be as difficult as criticism.1. Never 2. Rarely 3. Occasionally 4. Often 5. Very Often
I have gotten more immune/numb/less effected to rejection/criticism over the years.1. Never 2. Rarely 3. Occasionally 4. Often 5. Very Often
I’ve gotten more immune/numb/less effected to praise/success over the years.1. Never 2. Rarely 3. Occasionally 4. Often 5. Very Often
 

I am competitive with other writers even though they don’t know it.

1. Never 2. Rarely 3. Occasionally 4. Often 5. Very Often

 

I have a writer who is especially inspiring to me.

1. Never 2. Rarely 3. Occasionally 4. Often 5. Very Often

I have a writer who is my nemesis — whether they know it or not.1. Never 2. Rarely 3. Occasionally 4. Often 5. Very Often
My creative work has become harder for me to generate as my career has progressed.1. Never 2. Rarely 3. Occasionally 4. Often 5. Very Often
 

I generate faster now than when I first started writing.

1. Never 2. Rarely 3. Occasionally 4. Often 5. Very Often

 

I edit myself faster now than when I first started writing.

1. Never 2. Rarely 3. Occasionally 4. Often 5. Very Often

 

I feel like the internet is a major distraction and takes up too much time from my creative work.

1. Never 2. Rarely 3. Occasionally 4. Often 5. Very Often

I work to eliminate internet distractions from impacting my writing life.1. Never 2. Rarely 3. Occasionally 4. Often 5. Very Often
I rely on the money I make from writing for the majority of my income.1. Never 2. Rarely 3. Occasionally 4. Often 5. Very Often
 

I rely on writing for a solid amount of my annual income.

1. Never 2. Rarely 3. Occasionally 4. Often 5. Very Often

 

I’m a person of faith and believe that my writing is part of the act of faith, maybe even a true calling. 

1. Never 2. Rarely 3. Occasionally 4. Often 5. Very Often

Have you had any insights?

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About Julianna Baggott

Julianna Baggott is the bestselling, critically acclaimed author of over twenty books. Her novels Harriet Wolf’s Seventh Book of Wonders and Pure were New York Times Notable Books. She writes under her own name and pen names Bridget Asher and N.E. Bode — most notably, The Provence Cure for the Brokenhearted, and, for younger readers, The Anybodies and The Prince of Fenway Park. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Washington Post, Boston Globe, Best American Poetry, and on NPR’s Talk of the Nation, All Things Considered, and Here & Now. She’s the creator of a six-week Jumpstart program to get writers generating new material and Efficient Creativity: The Six-Week Audio Series; listen to the first episode is available, for free, on SoundCloud. Learn more about Julianna and her books on her website.

http://feeds.feedburner.com/~r/WriterUnboxed/~4/ahB1yvmMMsQ

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