Mike Nichols on Down Time

A couple of years ago, Mike Nichols appeared on Inside The Actors Studio, the show hosted by what’s-his-name… you know, the guy married to Kedakai Turner Lipton?

When Mike Nichols said the following, I grabbed a pencil and paper, backed up the Tivo, and copied it down word for word. It may well be the best advice ever offered to to anyone working on a creative project.

The most unacknowledged factor in our work is down time. Time not “working on it.” You’ll find that – over and over and over – you can’t solve something… and you leave it alone, and you go away, and you come back… and you can.

That’s your unconscious. Once you’ve acknowledged that it exists and that it works in this strange way, you can begin to cater to it more, by “putting things away.”

This is really a very fancy name that I’ve given my own laziness. It’s literally true. All my working life, I’ve thought, “I really am very lazy.”

And indeed I am, in some ways. But we all feel lazy; there’s always more work that we know we should be doing. And everybody says, “Lazy?! Are you nuts?! You’ve made us work now 48 hours in a row! And you say you’re lazy?” Yes.

Put it away. So that you can rediscover it, or discover something else next time.

You know how, in rehearsal, almost invariably a very good day is followed by a lousy day. That’s the unconscious. The lousy day is as important as the very good day.

My only remaining battle with the studios is that since they are not creative people, and they live their life in meetings, they think that things you say in meetings are work. ‘Cause that’s their only work! Therefore they can’t be expected to love, as we do, process.

The whole point of process is that you can only have one or two good ideas a day. That’s all you can do! And then, with God’s help, you’ll have another one tomorrow, and another one the day after… and then maybe none for days.

If our process can include that reality, then we are encouraging the unconscious, and we are able to keep having good ideas, which is the only thing that makes us happy when we’re working.

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