The manic artist who spends weeks splattering paint on canvas long into the night. The musician who locks himself in a cabin for a winter and writes an amazing album. Kerouac and his bennie-fueled manuscripts.
Great works often come out of circumstances like these. Perhaps I’m mythologizing here, but these bursts of output are fascinating. Like an ocean wave, creative bursts roll in (often quickly), peak, and recede often as quickly as they appear. Periods like this can last for days, months, or longer. They come in waves, and the people I mentioned in the intro are riding the wave.
Wave riding is a conscious decision to best utilize the gifts of a particular wave. You recognize the wave type and determine how to make the most of it. Many people already do this when they plan their daily routine. They know at what times of day they function best on a task, and choose to work on it at that time. Why can’t we do the same for waves?
Why Ride a Wave?
Like a meteor shower, waves are a rare and mysterious gift. Use them to help you reach your goals, or just enjoy them for the sheer hell of it.
- Waves increase your base levels of focus/creativity/energy. Think of them like power-ups found in video games. Power-ups have many different properties. They can increase your health or magic points. Sometimes they make you immune to ice damage. As with power-ups, some waves help you focus, others nearly drown you in creative energy.
- When a wave comes, you have instant inertia. Inertia is hard to increase and easy to lose, but on rare occasions it falls in your lap.
- Often, when a wave recedes, you’ll be at a higher base level than before. For example, a writer has a burst of creative output and starts cranking out 3,000 words a day. Before, she struggled to hit 1,000 a day. After the wave recedes, 3,000 is tough, but 1,200 is easy. Her base level increased. Over time, she rides more waves, pushes her limits, and gradually increases the ceiling on what she can accomplish.
What Causes Waves?
Frankly, I have no idea. I’ve searched fruitlessly for studies on varying energy and creative output levels. That doesn’t mean they don’t exist, and that doesn’t mean I can’t speculate about the causes. Here are some armchair hypotheses.
- Big emotional changes. Romantic troubles are a perennial favorite. An exciting development on your big project.
- Lots of new input. Check out (Inspiration Binge Link).
- A new environment. Our surroundings influence us profoundly.
- A good conversation, especially when it stirs up lots of new ideas or connections.
- Varying the conditions for creativity often result in waves. Check out Creating Conditions for Creativity for more.
How to Ride a Wave
- Figure out what kind of wave you’re experiencing…and how to use it. Don’t squander your wave by working on something that doesn’t take best advantage of it. The middle of an energy wave probably isn’t a good time to sit around and read. Don’t waste your creative wave by clearing your inbox and backing up your hard drive.
- Re-arrange your schedule then milk it for all it’s worth. Figure out how to use the wave energy for your most important work. Ignore the other stuff. Some things can be skipped, others delayed.
- If you realize you’re riding a wave, don’t delay. A wave is a gift, but it has a shelf life. Set to work as soon as you can. Use it or lose it.
Finally, let me clarify something: I’m not suggesting you only work on your amazing project when you’re in the mood to do so. You should already be taking consistent daily action towards your goal. A wave just helps speed things along.
Waves. Ride them.
Over to You
- Any ideas for calling or inducing waves?
- What do you think causes waves?
- What was your most recent wave?
- Any examples of work you’ve completed after riding a wave?