Simmer or Sear

Some creative work requires the application of quick, definitive force if you want to take what’s in your head, commit it to a distributable medium, and get it out the door in a shape that’s true to what you pictured in your mind.

Other creative works, though, necessitate the slow, consistent application of effort and energy over time if you want to avoid converting desirable matter into unpalatable char.

The distinction between these categories of work is partially down to the ingredients used (some conceptions are more suitable for extended-duration effort, while others are ideally served essentially raw), but is also related to what kind of output we’re hoping to achieve and the intended purpose of the final product.

A book is distinct from an essay not just in its word-count, but also in the sprawl, scope, and number of connections it contains: there’s typically more complexity in a book, and that means conceiving of, refining, and tending to a wider variety of theses, entangled ideas, and intentionally arranged, pre-packaged takeaways.

An essay can also contain multitudes but its richness will tend to be in service to just a few entwined points; any more than that tends to muddle an otherwise clear and focused message.

Switching between these two stances can be tricky: cranking up the heat from simmer to sear requires time and energy, and experience is required to accurately determine when things have cooled down enough so that we don’t accidentally burn a simmerable work.

I find it helps to practice this transition between creative states so that I have a better sense of when I’ve reached the optimal conditions for one type of work or the other; I can then set aside time for different sorts of projects when I’m primed for them, while also having the option of turning the dial if I’m feeling misaligned with something I’d like to work on.

It’s an imperfect equilibrium, though, and if you’re not accustomed to keeping track of and managing your creative temperature, you can end up with a lot of dangerously undercooked and inedibly burnt creations in the process of learning to strike this balance.

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