There’s a metaphor: creativity flows, like water through a pipe. Julian Shapiro calls this the Creativity faucet. He writes:
Visualize your creativity as a backed-up pipe of water. The first mile of piping is packed with wastewater.
This wastewater must be emptied before the clear water arrives.
From the perspective of this metaphor, the wastewater looks like bad work, which is an inevitable part of the process to getting to good work. It also aligns with how making a high quantity of acceptable work eventually allows for something remarkable to emerge. From a macroscopic perspective, this is what Ira Glass talks about in closing the gap between taste and ability with a high quantity of work.
Even from a microscopic perspective—like, the everyday—I find that my creativity needs a warm up. When I was editing Creative Doing, I actually spent the first 5–15 minutes on copywork, often typing out 1,000+ words from other books that made me feel the energy I wanted my book to provide readers. Once I was done the copywork, I could go into the book with fresh eyes, and my brain felt primed and ready to edit. It was exhausting, boring, and incredibly reliable.
Nowadays, even if I go without writing blog posts for a day or two, I notice that the wastewater has already accumulated. I start writing, then I close the document, and I start a new one. Eventually, something is acceptable—like this post and idea—and then there’s clear water again. In a piece for Human Parts, I wrote, “Clog naturally accumulates, so every day I work to unblock it, another small piece at a time. All of this came from hard work, not sitting around with creative thinking. It came from creative doing.”