Like most people, I get frustrated when a project hits a snag. Whether it’s a sculpture, script or novel, if something interrupts my creative flow, the project stalls. If repeated attempts to solve the issue don’t succeed, I soon find myself absently surfing the Web, checking email or doing something equally unrelated to my project. I do this so I can “come to it fresh later.”
These breaks can be helpful if they are short and inspiring. Too often however, one diversion leads to another and I lose precious time in an unproductive state because the activities have hijacked my focus.
So, how do artists keep from getting derailed when their muse appears to have gone on holiday? How do we fight off distraction, avoidance and procrastination? A recent interview in NEA ARTS magazine with Marc Bamuthi Joseph suggests one possible answer and it is a practice I have adopted in my own work. Marc says:
“Inspiration is a tool like blood, like breath. As removed as we are from the auto action of respiration, there’s a way we can have a more active relationship with [it]. In the same way, we can have an active relationship with our inspiration to be healthier, more generative individuals. So, don’t sleep through inspiration.”
This struck me immediately as a call for mindfulness – a call to meditate – a practice often centered on an active relationship with one’s breath to raise awareness and avoid succumbing to one’s inner auto-pilot. I’m not talking about sitting cross-legged with the incense burning (though that can be useful too). No, I am advocating a general awareness that fends off fear and avoidance commonly disguised as idle distraction.
So, when I become aware of the little voice in my head telling me to “take a break,” I try to recognize it for what it is. If a break still seems like a reasonable idea, I make that little voice commit to an end time and an activity that allows me to remain receptive to inspiration. Then I can take a break without losing my clarity of purpose.
The challenge of course is in identifying the distraction before it … distracts you. I’m still training myself to do this. It’s not easy but the more I practice the better I get at spotting them in time.