Goddamn, I’m doing it again. I’m letting myself get distracted. Panic sets in when I look at the clock. Damn! Three hours gone and nothing.
Sound familiar? Here are my four steps to exit writer’s hell:
1) Deep breath! Don’t get annoyed at yourself. Stress only aggravates writer’s block. Shit happens. Part of the suck that comes with creativity is that productivity cannot be turned on and off. You’re at the mercy of inspiration and that oh so elusive artistic muse.
2) And here it comes, possibly the worse writer’s advice you’ll ever read, but hey, it works for me: Let yourself get distracted. My reasoning is that you have to engineer a productivity technique that’s right for you. I’ve tried the Promodoro technique, it only partially works for me. Sometimes I don’t even make it to the 15 minutes mark. Sometimes I get to 10 and start reading about Kettle fish. It happens. The trick is, when it does, catch yourself and give yourself 5 minutes to gain inspiration. If that means you work for 10 minutes, indulge for 5 and work for 10, so be it, so long as you’re making progress. There’ll come a point where what you’ve built up suddenly becomes more interesting than the article on Japanese delicacies you distracted yourself with.
3) If you’re gonna submit to distraction/take a detour, read about something that’s related to your task at hand. It’s a type of procrastination that might pay off. Think of it as gaining context. But only context. Try to avoid reading about the entire history of the yeast fermentation just to complete a sentence on baking bread (the type of ridiculous thing I’m repeatedly guilty of).
4) Listen to music. Not just any music. Ellie Goulding may make you feel energetic and dancy but she wont help with the rhythm of sentence construction. But that’s exactly what focus@will is designed to do – its “a neuroscience based subscription service that uses phase sequenced playlists of instrumental music designed to improve users’ productivity” and something I find uber helpful. Creepily helpful, as if the playlist’s hypnotize my unruly subconscious into focused submission. After 60 minutes you can gauge the level improvement. 25% better? 50% 100%?!
The underlying question:
So how do you know if you’re suffering from a total lack of focus or if the to-ing and fro-ing is just part of the creative process? Let the product of your meandering be the decider. If you managed to finish your task with a richer perspective but it took you twice as long, then maybe that’s just the way it has to be sometimes. If you detracted yourself so much that your task is half done and you’re stressing more than ever, ask yourself why. I really believe procrastination is the best indicator for directing your energy in life. If a projects sucks your energy rather than elevates it, it probably means your doing the wrong type of work. If you love the work but just have a love-hate relationship with the process, then it’s just a matter of adopting a different approach.You need to remind yourself why you love your work, inspire yourself again.
The question for creatives should be, is it really procrastination, or is it part of the creative process? The line between “productive” and “work” is oh so blurred. Like those ad creators out of Mad Men – just drinking and smoking until the idea hits. There’s no dishonor in purely being an ideas person, surely? So long as you know when to ride the wave when it finally hits.