This morning I was making coffee and talking to my husband in the kitchen. The conversation turned to a question we’d been turning over in our minds the evening before as we sat out on our patio enjoying the long-awaited Northern European summer. (Finally, living on the continent, and not the blustery British isles, nor in the searing humidity of an East Coast summer in a hot-box brownstone in Brooklyn.) Why is it that working 10 minutes a day on a creative problem has worked for me (and others - since I stole the idea from Joan Bolker, who councils writers at Harvard in overcoming writers block and Elizabeth Gilbert’s Facebook post on the subject)?
My husband, whose job is intensely demanding and has little time to ponder important issues for a few upcoming commitments in his life, was considering how to make precious time to move his thinking forward. It sounds trivial, but I suggested carving out 10 minutes a day - maybe on his walk to work - to deliberately turn over a specific question in his mind.
I had done something similar after my first baby was born. At the time I was working on a PhD thesis and in a panic I took to talking out loud to my baby about esoterically abstract concepts. However mad it was, there was something in that desperate effort of the newly-minted time poor mother that worked for me. It turned out to be totally overwhelming to go on like this but once I honed it down to short bursts - like little sprints - it really worked for me. I’ve been a devotee ever since. But why did it work?
I hadn’t really unpicked this idea. In fact, I felt a bit self-conscious that I slog away at tasks instead of the more romantic notion of swashbuckling my way through big ideas and taking dramatic risks. Ten minutes a day is sort of an ugly duckling when you compare it to that. But as I took another sip of my coffee, pausing to tell my daughter not to put her hand under the scalding tap, I said, “You know, now I really get why the 10 minute thing works for me.” “It’s because it works on a subconscious level. It’s not really about the 10 minutes a day. It’s really about the seed that you plant in your mind. Once that seeds been planted it’s like your everyday life and even your dream life is devoted to working with this question and sort of figuring it out for you so that when you return to it the next day you’ve made a little progress on it. And in a way, this subconscious process, is the level on which any creative project gets made. It’s almost like you have to “sell your concept” to the unconscious.”
What’s your sales pitch to your unconscious? Find your ten minutes and find out.