Creation Can Be Agony: Thoughts on Crafting a TEDx Talk

Crafting a creative product of the mind is a slow and torturous process. It is characterized by fits and stars, hills, valleys, and a long plateau.

For me, creating something goes a bit like this:

  • sudden inspiration
  • feverish attempt to capture and shape those ideas before they disappear.

If they came in a dream, or through daydreaming, or maybe during the working day, where I don’t have a way to write down and record the ideas, sadly, they are often lost.

If they are captured, the process continues.

  • make slow progress on the idea, sketch it out a bit, although it may still look half-formed.

At this point, sometimes the creative “thing” sits for days, month,or even years. Sometimes, it disappears into Google drive, or drafts, or a scrap of paper in a drawer.

The plateau is next. I often turn the idea over to my subconscious mind. That is, I think about it, without thinking about it. On a conscious level, I may fret about not making any progress. Meanwhile, the subconscious does its work.

The subconscious mind is very trustworthy. Creative procrastination is real.

Here is how creating my latest TEDx talk worked.

Come up with the idea, “Math is Play”. This idea was worked through in a trial form, in an Ignite talk.

  • set the idea aside

I set it aside for months. Then produced a halting, tentative script for the TEDx talk of the same name.

Here is a sample from that first draft. It’s clearly not fully formed. It’s spare, unfinished. It’s full of half-formed thoughts.

I have spent a lot of time thinking about what I want for kids in mathematics classrooms. I have spent a lot of time thinking about what I want for my own kids in their own mathematics classrooms.
I know I want them to be surprised and full of wonder at the power and beauty of mathematics. I know I want to them to explore and investigate and play with interesting math.
I have spent a lot of time thinking about the very idea of “mathematics”. What is it?
See what happens. Kids are born to wonder, because they are human. Humans are born to think, and we have developed a powerful tool called mathematics to help us think. Math classrooms are thinking classrooms.

Crafting some visuals came next.

This is one of them.

The visual story for me helps firm up the associations in my mind to what I want to say.

Now, practicing out loud, and making sure to have the key words and phrases memorized comes next. The story becomes clearer, tighter, closer to “finished”. I don’t do memorization though- speaking for me is associative, based on key points. The exact words will come out as they come out, when the talk happens. Memorizing a script, in my opinion, is asking to stumble and freeze in the moment.

If the time taken to craft the talk was a timeline, you would see that the plateau took up well over half the time. Creativity comes in bursts, and it can’t be forced. Your mental state may preclude you from working creatively, on any given day, for example .

Be patient, and the breakthrough will come. You will be in the grocery store, or at the gym, or walking in the park, and the breakthrough will come. That’s the unpredictable, lightning-like nature of the minds.

Creativity is painful and it’s easy to give up. Creation can be agony. We are born to create. Follow Ezra Pound’s imperative and “make it new”. Make something new.