Does Pressure Help or Hurt Your Creative Process?
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When I was 16, I was commandeered, against my will, to write a poem. We were having an end of year arts competition at school and one of the activities included poetry reading.
We were all sitting around having a house meeting one fine afternoon when the house captain blurted out, “I nominate Lafani to write the poem.”
Startled, I replied, “I don’t write poetry. I don’t know how to write poetry,” but it fell on deaf ears.
“How hard can it be? You’re writing all the time, aren’t you? We need a poem to enter into the competition.”
A round of encouraging nods from the rest of the meeting members later, I had been converted from a fiction dabbler to a poet. The thing though was I wasn’t being modest. I really had no idea how to write poetry.
Everyday, I would stare at a blank sheet of paper in my typewriter and nothing came out. Everyday the house captain or someone else would ask me how the poem was coming along and I’d reply it was coming along brilliantly but I wasn’t ready to share it with anyone yet. I read Shakespeare, William Wordsworth, David Diop, J.P. Clark, Wole Soyinka and every poetry book I could find but nothing came out. Briefly, I considered plagiarising something but my hand refused to write stolen words.
As the day of the competition drew closer, I began to panic. I was going to be exposed as a charlatan and a pretend writer. Quite a lot of pressure for a 16 year old. The day before I was due to present the poem at a meeting, I went to a quiet area of the dinning hall, thought about teenage angst and in sheer desperation wrote 13 lines of what looked like crap to me.
When I presented the poem the next day, everyone thought it was brilliant. Say what? I concluded they were just saying that so they wouldn’t have to hurt my feelings.
Come competition day, the house captain chose someone to recite my poem as I was quite adamant I’d rather be shot than recite it myself. The hall filled with resounding clapping after the recitation. Again, I wondered what was wrong with everybody.
When they announced the winners a few hour’s later, my 13 lines of crap came in second. I couldn’t believe it. I was told I was too modest and the poem was fabulous.
I never wrote another poem. I think I was so traumatised by the pressure of creating that one poem, I just never wanted to again, or I just didn’t like writing poetry. I sure wish I’d kept a copy of that poem though.
Either way, out of that pressure, I experienced some mad spontaneous creativity that led to a big win. Since those days, some of the best writing I ever produced came out of being under pressure. Under the right circumstances, pressure can be a brilliant thing. It can drive you to locate depths to your being even you didn’t know you had.
Does pressure help or hurt your creative process? Share in the comments section.