What type of creative are you?

There are two types of creative modes: plodding and bursting. So which one are you?

Published

May 13, 2021

Have you ever thought about comparing your creative work to running? Generally speaking, there are two types of runners: the short-distance ones, called sprinters; and the long-distance ones, known as marathoners. There are crucial differences between the two, and though each can run in both styles, they are inherently distinct, having their own set of traits, physical capabilities, and body types. Marathoners are about stamina, endurance, and mental strength. The sprinters train for agility and explosive power.

When you stop and think about it, your work as a creative isn’t all that different from these methods of running. You might enjoy long brainstorming sessions, deep-diving into process-led projects, and overall leading a life built for this kind of daily work. But maybe you’re the type who gets ‘struck by lightning’, so to speak, finding impulsive inspiration to create something, then working all night long to complete the finished product.

In his 2012 essay, researcher and writer Steve Pavlina contemplated two modes of ‘getting things done’, plodding and bursting. He explores each mode as a behavioral type, its advantages, and shortcomings, as well as tips for making the most out of each one. While the original article is aimed at personal growth challenges, it could be very easily attributed to the lifestyle of a creative. Understanding and identifying your default mode can help you make the most of it.

So let’s get to it, what type of creative are you?


The Plodders

Plodding means ״persevering with a steady and stable workflow day after day.״ For example, a plodding writer would focus on writing every day, in essentially the same place, at the same time, and in the same manner. An example of such a writer is Elizabeth Gilbert, who famously said in her book Big Magic, that the only way she could ever become a published writer was by sitting down daily, routinely, and religiously to write — regardless of whether she had an idea or something specific to say. It’s about setting the conditions for inspiration to come to you, rather than waiting for it and then acting upon it.


The Bursters

Bursting, on the other hand, means ״working in short, temporary cycles of highly focused work while tuning out anything unrelated to the project at hand.״ It’s about attuning yourself to inspiration, and submitting yourself to it as soon as it arrives, no questions asked. If we stick with the writer's example, a bursting writer catches waves of inspiration and rides them to the completion of some creative work as quickly as possible. When ready to write the book, the bursting writer puts everything else aside and gets the job done, working long hours during that time to see it through to completion.


Figuring out your dominant mode

Maybe as you read this it’s very clear to you which type you are. But if you’re not so sure, here’s something you can do to figure it out. Think about previous experiences you’ve had - major life changes, situations in school and work, and ask yourself these questions:

  • Am I intimidated or energized by new, big ideas and changes?

  • Am I an initiator or a follower?

  • Am I good at maintaining momentum, or do I tend to abandon projects as they get tedious?

  • Do I enjoy predictability and stability? Repeated patterns and routine?

  • Do I like the variety of intense, short-term experiences with frequent, restorative breaks?

  • When I’m inspired by an idea, do I dive into it straight away, or do I ponder and think about it?

Answering these questions, you’ll see your pattern emerge, and it’ll be easier to identify your main mode.


Embracing your mode

Plodding and bursting exist along a spectrum. You may fall near the middle, feeling competent in either mode, or you may be near the edges, vastly preferring one mode over the other. Getting to know yourself and your preferred way of operating can make things so much easier. To make the most of it, fully accept that this is how you are. Instead of lamenting the areas in which you’re lacking, think about how you could get even more use out of your dominant mode. In other words, instead of trying to move towards the middle, consider exploring the extremes of your strength.


If you’re in a position where you can choose team members or partners to work with, try choosing a burster. The combination of the two types can prove to be a rewarding experience for all involved.

Optimizing plodding mode

If you’re a plodder, ask yourself how you can become the best plodder ever. Think about how you might structure your day into well-orchestrated little bits. Plodders can sometimes feel intimidated by big, ambiguous tasks, so breaking them down into smaller chunks that can be distributed throughout the day is always a good idea. Reduce everything you can into part of a routine you can trust—a plodder's mind needs stability and no surprises, and planning is key. For example, if the project at hand is designing a website, break it down into small tasks to work on each day, such as researching color palettes, wireframing three options for the about page, etc.

If you’re in a position where you can choose team members or partners to work with, try choosing a burster. The combination of the two types can prove to be a rewarding experience for all involved.

Instead of waiting for external time pressure, you can create a similar motivational pressure by setting inspiring goals and imagining them as real.


Optimizing a bursting mentality

If you’re a burster, then consider how you can burst your way toward your goals even faster. How quickly could you move beyond blocks and procrastination, and create something from scratch? Take all the unimportant tasks off your plate for a while, and focus on one project or task single-mindedly, as that’s your power.

Bursters work well on a deadline. The added time pressure of leaving projects to the last minute helps them focus, and this focus lets them plow through the work quickly. Instead of waiting for external time pressure, you can create a similar motivational pressure by setting inspiring goals and imagining them as real. Talk to someone about that imagined final goal and describe it—it will help you create that external positive pressure and get to work.

Lastly, remember that neither approach is better than the other. You can enjoy great success and happiness in both. If you can identify your dominant mode and leverage it to a greater extent than you are now, you’ll likely find you become significantly more productive, and happier while doing so.


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