Asimov, Bradbury, and Creative Work

Something I’ve always been fascinated with is how other people do creative work. It doesn’t matter to me if they do the same kind of work that I do. This is why I love documentaries about artists, actors, and even chefs. The urge to make things is universal, no matter what medium you use.

My wife Katie is an artist and an academic, and has written papers on the creative process. She shares my fascination with how people draw from a variety of influences to develop their own style, and their own unique work habits. While we each have our own list of people that have shaped us creatively, two of the influences we have in common are Isaac Asimov and Ray Bradbury. The catch is that I picked up the Bradbury notes from her, and she got the Asimov bits from me.

Asimov Style Work

This is based on something I remember reading many, many years ago. It was likely in an issue of Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine. Asimov was a prolific writer, writing and editing over 500 books in his lifetime. He used typewriters, even though computers and word processors were available to him. He would have several set up in his workspace, each for a different project. When he hit a block on one piece, he would slide over to the next typewriter and pick up on that. If that one was finished, or he needed to ruminate on it before continuing, he’d shift to the next typewriter. By the time he got back to the first one, he’d be ready to work on it again and pick up where he left off.

Applying Asimov Style

I always have several projects going at once. With my wondrous laptop, I don’t even have to move. When I get stuck, I can close or minimize one file and switch to another. Because I am a planner and compulsive outliner, it’s easy to find other things to do on other projects. The project with the closest deadline always takes precedence, of course, but working on something that’s not due until the far future is better than wasting time. The advantage, for me, is that when it is time to work on another project, a good portion of the work has already been done.

What Katie has taken from this is using downtime to begin planning the next project. While she’s waiting for paint to dry or adhesive to set on one piece of art, she can be sketching out a future piece. She can be measuring and cutting materials, so things are ready to go when she starts. There’s always something she can be working on, even if she’s not ready to dive into the next piece.

Bradbury Style Work

Katie has long been a fan of Ray Bradbury. There’s an essay in one of his books where he talks about his creative process, and it involves pointedly ignoring an idea. According to Katie, he calls it “provoking the latent beast”. As he worked on other projects, ignoring the idea, the details would start to work themselves out. In the back of his mind he’d be adding to it, figuring out the shape of it. When he could no longer ignore it, he’d sit down to write it and the story would come pouring out.

Applying Bradbury Style

She avoids doing sketches for a long as she can. By the time she does put pencil to paper to capture ideas, she already has a clear picture in her head of what it looks like. The same goes for making prototypes. Instead of making several test runs to see how materials and colors work together, or how separate pieces can be connected, she lets the thought experiments run in her head. By the time she puts together a test piece she’s already sorted out things that probably wouldn’t work, and the best ideas to try out.

I’ve found that elements of this have crept into my Asimov style work habits. While I’m working on one project, I’ll have a idea that fits into another. By the time I need to switch, I have something that has to be added to another project. It might be some word count, an idea that needs to be captured before I forget it, or items to add to the outline.

Apply This to Your Creative Work

My takeaway from all of this is that it’s possible to always be working on something. At the same time, allow some ideas to percolate in your head for a while before you dive into them. The processes are complimentary, even though they seem contradictory. You don’t waste any time and can be prolific. You’re also able to present the best possibly work because you’ve had a chance to woolgather and allow the concept to become more fully formed before to move to execute it. It might not work for everyone, but it’s been working well for the two of us.

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