Last week I wrote a bit about the creative process and how you must persevere past the “gap” between what you desire to create and what you can create. I thought I’d follow up with a quick post on one of the biggest enemies of creativity: comfort.
Man craves comfort, and comfort comes in countless forms. One of the forms is distraction. When you are distracted, you don’t have to be stuck with your own thoughts. It’s nothing new. But what is new is how readily available distraction is. Most of us have smartphones these days. Let me ask a question: when was the last time you waited in line without someone (yourself or others) pulling out a smartphone for some distraction? The device is incredibly useful, but requires discipline in its use. The same goes for social media: how easy is it to switch over and browse for just a moment on Facebook and end up wasting a good chunk of time?
The problem with this is that the best creative work comes from forcing out all of the distractions so as to leave you with no recourse but to work. That’s always difficult to do. There are (perhaps apocryphal) stories about the French writer Victor Hugo having a servant lock his clothing in a trunk so that he would be unable to dress and go out of the house when it came time to write. Around the country you can find artist retreats; places where writers and other artists can be secluded to work free from distraction. A lot of people seem to think that artists and creative types seek solitude for comfort and space to work, but in my experience solitude is the place where you go to be uncomfortable enough that creativity begins to wake up and shake itself into life.
In any case, I’m as bad at excluding distraction from my life as anyone else is. But here are some of my methods for working against distraction. Maybe some of them will work for you.
Scheduling it: I get albums that run about an hour and listen to them while I work. I make a mental rule that I cannot stop or check e-mail or the internet or anything but the task at hand until the CD ends. Or I will set a timer for an hour.
Switching it up: Sometimes working on the computer just provides access to too many distractions when coming up with general creative concepts. Sometimes I just need to break a mental block. So I will try switching to manual. Sometimes writing longhand or sketching cover designs on a notepad will wake things up and get the ball rolling.
Forcing it: Procrastination is exacerbated by distraction. Just start working on something, even if you think it’s mediocre. It can jolt the creative process into action. Jumping in often feels like being waist-deep in cold water, trying to work up the gumption to dive in all the way. But the more you wait the colder you get, until finally you jump in and things equalize.
I’d interested in hearing what others use as methods to eliminate distraction: comments welcome!