The reality of your own nature should determine the speed. If you become restless, speed up. If you become winded, slow down. Then, when you’re no longer thinking ahead, each footstep isn’t just a means to an end but a unique event in itself.

—From Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

For a long time, I’ve followed the advice that a lot of writers give, which is to separate the writing and editing phases. The writing phase is fast and intuitive, and it gets you into a mindset where ideas can flow freely. You write quickly so that the brain doesn’t have time to interrupt and edit. The editing phase is slow, careful, and logical. It’s used to improve something you’ve already written and decide what to keep and what to cut. I find that these phases apply to many types of creativity, from painting to learning a song on the piano.

I didn’t realize until recently is that it’s possible to go too fast during the fast phase. I made the mistake of thinking that it’s best to go as fast as possible during the initial idea generating phase so that you outrun the inner critic that is afraid you’ll say something foolish. But if you go too fast you can lose focus on what you’re doing, and it makes it more difficult to switch to the slow mindset when it’s time to switch.

For example, when I was painting recently, I covered the canvas as quickly as I could with a rough sketch and layer of paint, but I went so fast that I didn’t take a little bit of time to keep defining the object I was painting as I was going. When it was time to go back and refine the painting, I didn’t have a strong foundation.

I think Buster Benson summed it up best: “Write quickly but not in a hurry.”

When you hurry as quickly as you can, that energy influences the quality of the results for better or worse. The fast phase needs to be fast, but it should be more like a calm, quick jog than desperately running for your life.


Kevin McGillivray

Kevin McGillivray is a web developer, painter, and writer in Wisconsin. He writes about creativity, online and offline neighborhoods, and vegetables. He paints and dives.

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