My brain can really only do one kind of thing at a time.
When I’m writing, I can’t edit. When I’m editing, I find it difficult to write fresh words.
And that’s true about cooking for me as well. When I’m focused on cooking (by that I mean trying a new recipe, changing up an old one), that uses up my creative mind and I can’t write. I can edit, but writing fresh words is harder in that situation. I can cook a regular meal – something I cook regularly and fairly often – and go right back to my desk and write. But if I’m trying something new, or complicated, or trying to fix something I’ve tried before and didn’t really work for me the first time, I can’t focus on something new.
And I’ve realized that it’s because they’re two different things for me. I have writing friends for whom editing seems to come from the same place in the brain that writing fresh words does. They don’t see much difference at all between editing and writing. But for me? Editing is work. Writing something new is entertainment, joy, fun. I can lose myself in writing. I can’t lose myself in editing.
Oddly, I just figured this out yesterday. I tried out a new recipe last week that sounded, on the page, really good, but in practice, it was boring and just didn’t work. But I really liked the idea of it – an easy pasta dish that used Greek yogurt (and yes, now I’ve got it working, you’ll get the recipe on Friday) – and wanted to see if I could change it up so that it worked. First, I had to figure out what was wrong. That was relatively simple, mostly because there aren’t a lot of ingredients. Then, I mulled it over, to figure out how to fix it, and tried it again. And it worked. But that contemplation took up enough of my creative brain that I couldn’t get back to writing yesterday.
Now I know that I can only do that kind of creative thinking when I’m not using that part of my brain for anything else, which means that if I’m going to do that kind of work – coming up with something new or changing something that doesn’t work – I have to do it after I’ve finished my writing for the day.
I suspect this is true for all artists – not that their process is the same as mine, but that there are certain things they can do when doing an original piece and certain things they can’t.