Creator Mode vs. Editor Mode

I can't write and edit in the same session. Writing requires a completely different mood, energy, and way of looking at the world than editing.

When I'm writing, I need to be creative, confident, and open to taking risks. I need to believe that everything I'm putting on the page is good (or good enough). I need to be fast and rough. I can't overthink; it's all about putting something down on the page.

When I'm editing, I need to have the exact opposite mindset. I need to be critical and quick to cut. I need to be meticulous and cautious. I have to think carefully about the ways my words could be misinterpreted. It's all about overthinking.

I can't edit in writer mode. I've tried, and I just end up adding more tangents and details, not actually cutting or fixing anything. And I definitely can't write in editor mode. I'd never get anything done. The kind of writer's block that comes from being frozen in self-doubt comes from trying to write in editor mode.

I've noticed "creator mode" and "editor mode" in other areas of my life, too. At work, there are some tasks I need to do in an open, creative, generative mindset, such as coming up with ideas, or experimenting with new technologies. And there are some tasks I need to do in a critical, analytic mindset, such as bugfixing or detail-oriented planning.

Both modes are usually needed for any given project, but not at the same time. If you try to do both types of task at once, you'll get in your own way, either as an individual or as a group. Have you ever been frustrated in a brainstorming meeting because someone in the room kept shooting down ideas as soon as they were suggested? Or maybe you've been trying to nail down the details of how a plan will actually be executed, while your collaborator was still throwing out new pie-in-the-sky proposals?

In Creator Mode, You...
  • make
  • produce
  • generate
  • brainstorm
  • daydream
  • add options
  • sketch out a rough outline
  • look at the big picture
  • keep an open mind
  • work quickly
  • be confident
  • be idealistic

In Editor Mode, You...
  • criticize
  • analyze
  • cut
  • judge
  • plan
  • decide
  • fill in the details
  • drill into the minutiae
  • look for problems and pitfalls
  • take your time
  • take care
  • be realistic

Creator Mode and Editor Mode in Shopping

While I've been aware of "creator mode" and "editor mode" in my work and hobbies, I've begun to see it cropping up in other areas of my life, too. Recently, I realized it applies to shopping. I believe that some of my pitfalls in shopping have come from a failure to separate "creator mode" from "editor mode."

In Creator Mode Shopping, You...
  • add lots of things to your cart/wish list
  • find everything appealing
  • feel "hot" and emotional
  • easily see the benefits of products
  • seek 5-star reviews
  • find a lot of options
  • prefer the best or fanciest
  • don't care about price
  • feel happy if you make a purchase

In Editor Mode Shopping, You...
  • remove things from your cart/wish list
  • just see a lot of junk
  • feel "cool" and logical
  • easily see the drawbacks of products
  • seek 1-star reviews
  • zero in on one or two options
  • prefer the cheapest or simplest
  • super care about price
  • feel happy if you leave empty-handed
I think everyone is capable of both modes, but it can be hard to see them both in yourself. Consumerist, advertising-driven culture really encourages us to get into (and stay in) "creator mode" because that is when we will spend the most. So, many people may find it difficult to get into "editor mode" at all. People who tend naturally to "editor mode" - frugal people, underbuyers, practical or contrarian people - may see their way as inherently better, and carefully guard it, understanding it to be under constant cultural attack. You may tend toward one mode or another depending on the type of purchase. I love clothes, but I don't care about electronics. So it's hard for me to narrow down my options when it comes to shirts or scarves, because there are so many variables and it's fun for me to think about all of them. But it's comparatively easy for me to say, "Just give me the cheapest phone that will run for a couple of years." Then, I don't think about different types of phones until the next time mine breaks and I have to buy a new one.

Shopping Pitfalls: When You're In The Wrong Mode at the Wrong Time

The most obvious pitfall is never getting into Editor Mode at all. You go into a store (or onto a website) in open, spendy Creator Mode, add a ton of delicious-looking things to your cart, and then just buy them all! Stores make it very, very easy for you to do this, because this is what they want. You may get into Editor Mode later, when you're decluttering your house, but by that time, it is too late. But I also think it's a mistake to skip Creator Mode altogether. When in Creator Mode, you are open to emotional responses; in Editor Mode, you are trying to suppress emotion. But the fact that a certain product aroused an emotional response in you is important data, and I think it's helpful for your Editor self to know that. The times that I've entered a store in ruthless Editor Mode, just looking to leave with some practical thing I needed (like work pants for my first day of work the next day), I've not been happy with the purchases I walked out with. Typically, they are cheap knockoffs or overly frumpy, practical, unobjectionable, unlovable things. Things that on paper have all the attributes I wanted, but which lack that Marie Kondo "spark joy" feeling. These are the first things I declutter when I'm able to upgrade. It's a waste of money to buy things you don't really want. But your Editor self is much more cut off from what you really want than your Creator self.

Pitfalls of Only Shopping in Creator Mode
  • You just plain buy too much stuff, including stuff you don't need or even want, or too large quantities.
  • You spring for the fanciest model, even when something simpler would suit your needs just as well (or better).
  • You refuse to consider price, freely spending extra for only marginal improvements.
  • You fall prey to sales tactics that rely on emotion.

Pitfalls of Only Shopping in Editor Mode
  • You don't buy things you actually need.
  • You pass up something that "sparks joy" for a lesser version, only to regret it, or upgrade to the joy-sparking one later anyway.
  • You refuse to spend money, even for quality, and end up with subpar merchandise.
  • You fall prey for sales tactics that rely on the appearance of practicality.
But I actually think the most common pitfall, for me, is trying to do both modes at the same time. That is the worst of all worlds. I lust after stuff, but loathe myself for it. I simultaneously see enough advantages of each product that I want it, and enough disadvantages that I feel I "shouldn't" want it, and know myself to be making a poor decision. I buy just as much stuff as I would in pure Creator Mode, but don't really enjoy it because I feel so guilty and conflicted. Then when I inevitably return or declutter some of the items, I snap at myself, "I told you so!" I'm Gollum, basically.

Use Both Modes Sequentially for Better Shopping

The best shopping involves both modes, one at a time, in different shopping sessions.

Use Creator Mode for what it's best for: coming up with a ton of options you're genuinely excited about. Feel free to have fun with shopping in this mode… but don't buy anything. Instead, take note of your findings for later. This might be in the form of a wish list, a pinterest board, a dog-eared catalog, a bunch of photos on your phone, or, if you're particularly organized, a spreadsheet of the attributes of different backpacks. (Not that I've made that or anything.)

Before you can purchase anything, though, you need to get into Editor Mode. It takes some time to shift gears. You can't just say, "Now I'm in editor mode," because most likely you are still in Creator Mode and lying to yourself, or in that horrible no-man's land of both modes. You need to actually go away from the store or website and do something else to clear your mind. I think this is a large part of the function of the "wait to buy" strategy advised by many frugal shoppers: the time out allows you to shift modes.

When you do come back, be prepared with a clear-eyed, critical, perhaps even curmudgeonly attitude. In other words, be in Editor Mode. You'll now be willing to find and accept negative information, which you can't really do in Creator Mode. You'll be looking for reasons not to buy the various options, not reasons to buy them. You should be able to eliminate a ton of options off the bat.

If you end up with something you still believe to be a good, solid purchase even in the throes of Editor Mode, only then are you ready to make a purchase. Since you did your idea-generation in Creator Mode, you can be confident it is something that will satisfy you emotionally and logically.

If you don't - if you've eliminated every single thing your Creator self loved - then don't try to generate new ideas. While you're still in Editor Mode, it will be hard going, and you may end up with things you don't actually like. You should not buy anything right now.

It may be that you don't need anything at all, and you're done. Your Creator Self said "Yes," and your Editor self said "No." This happens a lot.

If you do still need or want something in this category, you can always circle back later (after shifting gears again) with another round of Creator mode, generating new options or even just new excitement. For a large purchase, like a car, you will certainly need several rounds of Creator/Editor/Creator/Editor to eventually narrow your field down to the most exciting and practical choice.

To some extent, I think I am already doing this - not intentionally, but typically when I do shop in multiple sessions, at least some of them end up being more creative and emotional and materialist, and some of them end up being more frugal and discerning and incredulous. My best purchases have been approved by both sides of myself. Typically, that happens naturally if I manage to think about a purchase for long enough (if I can prevent myself from buying it right away, in the first throes of Creator Mode). So I think that an easy way to force myself to do this is to just make sure that the first time I see and learn about an item is a separate shopping trip or occasion from the time when I purchase it. The old "wait to buy" technique, in other words.

But I'm also hoping that making the distinction between the two "modes" will help me to convince myself to actually do the pause and make sure that each purchase it clear by both me's. It's hard to convince myself, when I really want something, that I might be being irrational. Nobody likes to hear, "You're being irrational," not even from your own brain. It makes me defensive. But "You're in Creator Mode" is less judgmental, and it's something I've managed to work around in other areas, like writing and work. So hopefully I can internalize this with future shopping trips, too!


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