At 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. Consider, too, the power of coming back to this and re-taking it in 3 months or 6 months, or both!
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.