More than the Holocaust or Hiroshima, what plagued writers after World War II were the “fleas of life” – the daily distractions of broken toes, aching backs, and family demands. That, at least, according to William Styron in his Paris Review interview from the 1950s.
Being a creative also attracts social gnats. Poet Stephn Dobyns sums up the matter this way:
The world becomes a tremendous distraction. It’s hard not to pay attention to it, to be caught up in ideas of success, ideas of publication, ideas that people are patting one’s head. “People like my poems, they don’t like my poems,” or bullshit like that. Ideally I should just have the poems themselves…. I’m not saying that would result in better poems—there clearly have been poets, painters, and musicians who have worked with that same steadiness of purpose whose work never amounted to anything at all. What I admire is that ability to work without interruption.
And then there’s the mind itself and its mosquitoes. The mind is given to distraction because of one of its primary functions: to think. Almost every sensory input – each drop of rain, each traffic light, each ray of sunlight – makes an impression on the mind and can send thoughts into action.
You sit down to write. Your back starts to hurt. The phone rings. A thought arises. A dozen thoughts arise: Soak my back. Answer the phone. Check emails. Forget this writing project. It sucks. I suck. Being a writer sucks. I’m going to become a house painter.
Thinking is not bad, per se; after all, no thinking, no creating. But thinking without a monitor, a vigilant and compassionate witness, often goes awry.
How do we motivate ourselves to stay on track with our big juicy projects and enterprises when a tree falls on the kitchen roof?
When the world’s knocking at our door every morning?
When our mind buzzes every which way except where we need it to?
There’s really no easy answer. Sorry. You can stop reading now if you wish. It’s taken me years to retrain a once highly distracted mind. Years. I’ve immersed myself in studying the nature of concentration and tools that actually work for myself and others. Not just Zen zazen, mindfulness, yoga. But also daily tricks and tools I’ve made myself.
Distraction and concentration are part of a larger puzzle of your brilliant self.
Distraction stems not simply from an inability to focus (circular, that). Getting off-track in a big way – and losing our creative momentum – also stems from
– feeling as if our work doesn’t matter
– feeling as if we have no control over the decisions we make
– feeling as if we need to prove ourselves
– feeling as if circumstances such as time and obligations direct us instead of us, them
– feeling as if we’re at the whim of a capricious muse and a cranky body
Stoking creative momentum is less about “correcting” yourself. Stoking creative momentum is more about appreciating who you are as you are. And then it’s about finding ways to coax your best self to show up on a regular basis without badgering it to death or slapping its palms with a ruler when it doesn’t show up. Who’s motivated by that?
Here are six resources you might add to your Creative Momentum Library to help you deal with your own insects:
Creative Momentum in Good Times & Bad Webinar Series. I’d be remiss not to mention the series that has me pumped about this subject. Purpose. Time-Sculpting. Vitality. Focus. Deep Ideation. Here are the details for this month’s mini-course. Would love to have you.
Insects in Dreams: Going Bugs by James Hillman. Okay, this talk by a remarkable thinker has nothing to do with creative momentum and everything to do with the deep creative psyche. For the record, insects fascinate me. And Hillman’s take on insects influenced my imagination years ago.
DROP IN THE HUT
What “insects of distraction” have you learned to contend with? What resources – books, videos, coaches – have you found useful in stoking your creative momentum?
See you in the woods,