In our fourth episode, we talk about idea and personal distractions–and how sometimes we encourage these distractions because we’re worried about what might happen when we’re done. We also read three-pages from a fan submitted script called BECOMES THE PREY.

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Hello and welcome to episode four of Coping with Creativity, a podcast for creators about coping with that unrelenting need to create, our mental health, self-imposed pressures, actually succeeding, and everything in between.

My name is Jesse Lawson, and in this episode, we are going to be talking about distractions.

Now this episode is especially ironic for me, since, as you may have already figured out, I am one day behind on my goal of publishing one new episode each week. That’s because I spent a lot of this week working on my audio drama, which is something that makes e really happy (writing) so I wont apologize for it, and of course working–I do work full-time, too. And, something else I was working on this week was learning some React–a JavaScript development framework–and writing an idle game. Because why not, right?

I mention irony because I had the idea for this episode about two weeks ago, when I was trying to rebuild myself back up a little after sinking a bit into a dark hole for a while. It was an episode I needed, and so I started planning it out. As the weekend approached and all these other things started taking my attention away, it quickly sat there at the end of the day as something I not only needed for myself, but also something I just needed to do.

Maybe you’re like me. Maybe you jump from project to project, never giving up, but never really going back–and I mean really, honestly going back–to breathe life into that stack of ideas and half-finished drafts in the drawer…

You know, I am very jealous of people who can start a thing and then just work on it everyday until its done. I’m jealous because I cannot, for the life of me, work on one thing from start to finish. I can’t. My brain will hyperfocus on a new project idea for anywhere between a day and a week, and then out of nowhere another great idea comes along and suddenly I’m working on two projects.

Eventually, that first project isn’t as fun as the second project, so the first project gets abandoned, and filed away in the drawer in my desk full of ideas and projects that I always tell myself I’m going to finish “one day.”

I know I’m not the only one who goes through this. I’m not. Chances are, there’s something you can think of right now that you started maybe a week, a month, a year ago, and it’s been in the back of your mind ever since, and you’ve been giving yourself excuses for why you haven’t finished it. “It’s still a draft,” or, “I need to think about it,” or my personal favorite, the one I use all the time, “Writing a story is like cooking with a crock pot. You add all the ingredients up front, then let it simmer for a long time while everything slowly comes together.”

I’ve been using that excuse forever–I still do–and there is some merit to the idea that sometimes, your drafts need to just sit in a drawer long enough for you to forget about them so you can re-engage with them with a fresh set of eyes.

But I’m not talking about those kinds of projects. Those are projects that you are still working on, even while they’re simmering. I’m talking about projects that you started, worked on, and have completely abandoned for something else. I’m talking about that weird thing we do where we work on one thing, get bored, work on another, get bored, work on another, over, and over, and over, while we ignore that thing we’re supposed to be working on. I’m talking about this cycle of avoidance via project-hopping.

Project hopping is the ultimate bane of any creator because despite what we tell ourselves about our cool new project or whatever new thing we’re sure will be amazing, the only thing that’s really going on is that we’re getting distracted.

And it’s not always us–sometimes it’s our social norms and mores that are doing it to us. In today’s world especially, distractions are so ubiquitous that if you don’t have twenty social media accounts that you operate 24/7 and if you don’t blog and if you don’t network, you’re seen as a hermit and a weirdo.

But don’t let this dictate how you need to spend your time. Don’t. I’ll never forget a conversation I had with a friend of mine a long time ago after my book about data science in higher education came out. He was always talking about working on his own book, all the time, but never actually did any writing. He’d always tell me how easy writing is, though. Go figure. This guy would also constantly harp on me about not being active on Twitter or Facebook. He would say things like, you’ll never build your brand if you aren’t tweeting at least once an hour. You have to stay engaged! You have to stay connected! You have to…

That guy still hasn’t written that book he always says will be so easy to write–but he’s the first person who will go on Twitter and complain about how he has writer’s block. But you know what the unfortunate part about it is? People like him aren’t doing anything out of the ordinary; they’re surviving in a world that places value on celebrity and attention–but the problem is they’re letting it get in the way of creating.

Connecting is important, but connecting isn’t creating.

Look, I’m not trying to tell you how to live your life. Some people need that connection and social media is actually their only way of staying connected to the world. I get it. We’re social creatures.

But as creators, we’re already susceptible to losing focus by anything that will take us out of our creative minds, so we must train ourselves to manage distractions so that we can get in and stay in the most important mindset of all: creative flow.

Creative flow is that mental state where we are one-hundred percent engrossed in our work, so much so that time does not exist, the world does not exist, and all that we are is this link between our subconscious mind and the art we are creating in that moment.

To help get us to and keep us in a creative flow, we must train ourselves on how to recognize and take steps to manage two things that are the enemy of creative flow: life distractions, and idea distractions.

Life distractions are things that pull you out of your creative thinking that you can’t necessarily control. For me, my three kids are the biggest distraction to getting into a creative flow. That’s not a bad thing; I love my kids and part of being a parent is sacrificing some pieces of yourself in order to help these little sponges grow up into amazing and capable people. For me, I hope they’ll all be creators themselves. In a way, you might say they’re my own art project–the ultimate synthesis of what I can contribute to this world.

But my trade is writing, and to write well I need silence, I need a dark room, and I need more silence. For those of you who don’t have kids or a spouse or a house or are just able to come home and not worry about obligations, I am so jealous of you. I’m jealous because when I was there some ten, fifteen years ago, I didn’t fully appreciate just how much opportunity I had to learn and grow as a creator. I really didn’t. And it’s sort of funny now that I am older and don’t have the time I’d like to work on creating, how my ability to focus has become sharper and the quality of my work has gone up.

So for those of us trying to manage life distractions, I do have some suggestions that might help you get to a place where you will have fifteen, twenty minutes to yourself–or hopefully longer, depending on your situation. These are things that worked for me at various stages of my life as a creator, but I have to remind you that these work for me and your mileage may vary.

The first thing I would recommend is to find a way to separate yourself from your life distractions. Ideally this means a physical separation–a closed door, a dividing wall, or even working in your backyard or on your porch. When I was in the Marines sometimes I would go out to my car during lunch and do all my writing for the day in that short twenty-minute window. Anything to remove yourself from the world and get into the world of your head will have a positive net benefit to your work.

If you can’t physically separate yourself from the real world, try tuning out so that you can tune in. Try to pick up a pair of noise-cancelling headphones if you don’t already have some. If you’re like me you can use the “one ear in” method. Since I have kids, I can’t always just headphone-up and ignore everything, so I do what my wife does when she’s trying to get some work done on her laptop at the kitchen table: I cover up one ear with some type of noise-cancelling earbud and then keep the other ear free to listen for moments of necessary parental intervention.

Once you’ve figured out a way to separate yourself at least in some way from the real world so that you can tune in to the creative one, the next thing you’ll need to do is start setting “work” times. I don’t have the ability to stick to a rigid schedule; I know a lot of people who set their alarms early and wake up and write every day before work, and I know a lot of other people who have dedicated time each night to writing. I can’t do that. Just knowing that my dedicated time frame is coming up would be enough to give me so much anxiety about getting something accomplished in that period that I would end up just moping in the guilt of having set this dedicated time away from my family and obligations instead of actually writing.

Everyone is going to be different–maybe you can set a schedule and work off it. For me, I work better when I am semi-spontaneous. If I am doing something and then suddenly realize I could go disappear upstairs for an hour, that is how I am most productive. Other times, I’ll just make a mental note like, okay, tonight I’ll be writing at least a page of draft.

Sometimes you just have to get creative with how you dedicate your time to your work. Only you know what will work for you. But whether you’re able to get away or just have to hide with headphones, life distractions are only part of the puzzle.

The other type of distraction we have to train ourselves to mitigate are idea distractions. This is the worst type of distraction to creators, because it’s when a new idea creeps in and takes over all of our creative juices. I used to have what I thought was a good strategy for when new ideas would come into my head: I would write as much of the idea I had on as many pages as I needed, then put it away until I was done with what I am currently working on. That would never work, though: all that energy I put into the new idea would quickly take over my attention and the old project wasn’t fun to work on anymore–not when I had this new one to play around with.

I don’t want to lose new ideas, but I also don’t want them to take over all of my creative energy because I want to finish what I am currently working on. So now, instead of stopping to pour all of my thoughts out, I’ll force myself to condense the idea into a single notecard–or just enough words to fit into the equivalent of a tweet. From there, I’ll file it away to work on after I’ve made some progress on my current project.

If you’re like this, you’ll have to do what I do and actively avoid your new ideas. My brain is like a spigot, and I will drown in the new idea and forget all about what excited me about what I’m supposed to be working on. Ironically, this podcast is a perfect example of that: I should be working on my audio drama–and I am–but I have decided to double my workload and do this podcast. And a game. And music. And my novel… I’m a wreck.

Hopefully by categorizing your distractions as either life distractions, which you have to physically separate yourself from, and idea distractions, which you have to creatively separate yourself from, you’ll find ways that work for you to focus in on your creations and finish them. In next week’s episode I’ll be talking about perseverance–especially through the low points–and mitigating distractions is the key to doing that. I think it’s right after the honeymoon phase of a new project–you know, when the cosmic existential doubt about the project, your work in general, and then your very existence overcomes you and your thoughts–that we start to become susceptible to distractions.

In a way, we might even be subconsciously be welcoming these distractions because, deep down, we are afraid of what’s going to happen if we ever really did finish this project. Finishing it means we have to share it. Finishing it means other people will see it and judge it. Finishing it means that it’s no longer in our control. And that scares us.

That’s okay. We’re not robots. We’re going to feel scared. But just like with our children, we have to learn to let go–let our art go out into the world and just be itself. That’s what art does, and that’s what we do as creators. We create, and we let go.

Don’t fall for the trap of distractions. The grind must drive you. Get into your creative flow and stay there. Get your work finished, and get it out there. You can do it. Manage distractions while you’re focused on one idea, and manage new ideas so they don’t become distractions.

And like I said last time, for the love of everything in this universe, never stop creating.

Immediate Questions

Alright, it’s now time for our next segment, Immediate Questions, where I read a script that you’ve submitted and give you all the immediate questions I have as a means of giving you a little bit of insight into what one audience member (me) may be thinking.

Today’s three pages comes from a script called BECOMES THE PREY by Taylor Jones.

My Immediate Questions:

  1. The relationship between Deangelo and Ray—it obviously pre-existed the new relationship dynamic that was to come from wherever they were—the place where Deangelo mentioned as “being here.” Is this a bond that is strengthened by whatever inhumanity occurred with the prisoner? Or will whatever happened—I’m assuming it has to do with Deangelo, Ray, and the ax—pull the proverbial thread that starts to erode whatever they have between them?
  2. The voice over with Nikko asking if he felt god—I can see this as something that pertains to the prisoner scene but also as a Chekovian hint at a future philosophical argument about whether killing someone with an ax is justified or not based on whatever we discover that the prisoner did—is this in fact Chekov’s moral dilemma, or is this a hint a different type of future interaction, one between this Nikko and Ray as a sort of shedding a skin of innocence and diving deep into the immortality that is felt by cold-blooded killers?
  3. The story goes back seven months, which is a long time before we’re here with Ray about to kill someone with an ax. Is Alex the prisoner? Is that what’s going on here? Or is Alex going to represent for Ray some sort of emotional loss or turmoil that exacerbates Ray’s proclivity toward whatever violent or criminal or whatever activity that leads directly to the opening scene?

So those are my immediate questions. Thanks again to Taylor Jones for submitting that script.

And that wraps up this episode. I appreciate you taking the time to listen, and hope you’ve found it useful. The full transcript of this episode and all other episodes is available online at copingwithcreativity.com, along with links to my Patreon page where you can support this podcast and all of my work. Also, my Patreon page has a new intro video that’s quick, fun, and to the point, so check it out and, if you want me to keep producing podcasts like this one, pledge a dollar or more each month and I’ll give you behind the scenes access to the production of Coping with Creativity, Blank Page, Evolved, Cain, and any other project I’m working on.

Thanks for listening, and goodbye.

 

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