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Discomfort and Distraction

May 2, 2014 11:23 am | 7 Comments

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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!

John Herreid

John Herreid

John Herreid is catalog manager at Ignatius Press. In addition to catalogs and ads, he has also worked on the cover design for many Ignatius Press books and DVDs. He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with his wife and four children. You can also find his writing on his personal site at herreid.org.

Tags: creativity distraction procrastination

7 Comments

  1. May 2, 2014 at 8:50 pm

    Try praying to the Holy Spirit. I find he’s my modern day hero, because when I rely on my human capacities I always fall short one way or another. But he seems to sweep in and save the day. Only after calling upon Him for inspiration first.

  2. May 3, 2014 at 8:18 am

    You are talking about my daily struggles here. Thank you.

  3. May 3, 2014 at 11:24 am

    Sometimes a movie in the background gets me started or able to continue. During baseball season, a game on in the background helps when you need company. These moments help keep me going on those longer days. Especially effective for work which requires more concentration and/use of the computer, I turn to YouTube for a 2-3 hour or even 6 hour recording of music good for working/studying. The music helps my mind engage and then I can work without it. If I can’t stay focused on my own, the six hour recording does it for me. I also tell myself to just do it even if it’s done badly. Eventually it will be done well. (The learning is in the doing, the answer comes with starting something. Art, or anything in life, is action, eventually). If I am on a roll, I go with it and don’t worry about the other things that need to get done. Most likely the day before was (or day after will be) one of distraction, frustration, or doing life duties, so it balances out. A quick chat with a friend, a few lines on Skype, a cookie or two as a rewarding distraction, and back to work. Or reading a blog I left open for a day or two – – gotta get back to work.

  4. John Herreid

    May 3, 2014 at 5:42 pm

    Good thoughts here. I do try to work prayer into my routine—a rosary is always good as both as prayer and as a winding down exercise after my work day.

    FWK: yes, I also find adding in little incentives are good (finish this page and then you can break for coffee, etc.)

  5. Meryl Kaleida

    May 5, 2014 at 2:16 pm

    Great post, John! Distraction is my worst enemy these days! Setting aside a time to write, turning off my phone completely, and/or listening to good music (with no lyrics) are some of my methods.

  6. John Herreid

    May 6, 2014 at 9:24 am

    The “no lyrics” thing good. While working on the last catalog I started listening to a really good online radio station. I had to stop because I kept flipping over to the radio window to write down band names.

  7. Kate Casper

    May 9, 2014 at 6:06 am

    This has been a fun exchange. My husband has a computer he writes on and one he looks at internet on so he has to physically move from the one to the other. We have ‘dumb’ phones – no internet on them – so that helps – We’re all about the music sans words as well – However, there is a group that sings in Latin – Stile Antico – their best album for writing to for us is their debut album, Music for Compline. I write music, so can’t have any sound on for that – however, Stile Antico is great for resting or taking away tension as well, so it works in other ways…

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