There is a lot of noise out there. All the time. Sometimes it is stressful, unpleasant noise – sometimes it is entertaining noise.
The problem is, it’s noise.
And creativity often requires silence.
This silence doesn’t have to be actual silence – I’m not suggesting you have to lock yourself in a soundproofed cell. For some people music is an essential part of their creative space. For others, white noise, natural sounds, or the traffic going by outside can all help create the necessary headspace.
For actual aural noise which causes distraction, I suggest investing in noise-cancelling headphones (or nicking your partner’s, as I did).
But that’s not the same as noise. Noise is the stuff that batters at the creative space. The sly distracting imps of the internet. The awareness of the undone washing-up or the unanswered email. The nasty chittering anxieties of your own thoughts. Money worries, relationship worries, worries about your creative life – am I doing it right? Do I have a right to do it at all? Will I get anywhere? Will anyone notice? Why is Writer/Artist X doing so well when I’m not?
All of this is noise. Stuff. Some of it may be real, genuine stuff – stuff that you will have to deal with at some point – but you shouldn’t be trying to deal with it right now, because right now, you’re trying to get some work done.
So try to cut the noise.
There are a number of techniques for this. Meditation is one, and there are plenty of simple guided meditations available online, very cheap, or free. As one who has only recently begun to do it with any sort of regularity, I can recommend it – both for improved focus, and for reduced stress. It doesn’t necessarily block out those uncomfortable thoughts, but it can help you let them pass through your head without turning into a complete logjam in the way of your work.
It can help to make lists of the real-life things that need doing and tell yourself you’ll deal with it – after you’ve done some work. (If you want to try this, do it outside the time you’ve allotted yourself for the work – maybe the night before – because otherwise you’ll end up using your creative time for this).
The worries about creative work itself? That’s another post. Several other posts (including last week’s). But try and put them aside for now. Again, you might want to write these worries out – not now, not in your allotted creative time, but some other time – before or after you’re trying to work. Get them down on paper (or screen). It’s amazing how much being written out can weaken these monsters.
Programmes like Freedom or Self Restraint are useful cages to lock those internet imps in. Because do you really need to find out what’s going on in the latest Twitterstorm? Will that help your work, right now? No. It’s more likely to be upsetting or irritating, even if you don’t get drawn into it.
Do you need to see if anyone’s responded to your last Facebook post? Will that help you work? If they have, you may get drawn into responding to them, and then it’s a conversation, and then your creative time gets eaten. If they haven’t, you may (if you’re like me) start agonising about whether you said the wrong thing, or maybe everyone’s ignoring you, or thinks you’re boring…just, no. You do not need those thoughts in your creative space. So don’t let them in.
Do you need to keep up with the latest news or appalling human rights violation? Unless you’re a working journalist…no. Not right now.
And preferably not just before you’re about to try and work; there is interesting research suggesting that things that make us feel threatened – i.e. news of terrorist acts, miscarriages of justice or the latest grim thing humanity is doing to the planet – can trigger a response which pushes us towards things that comfort us or make us feel powerful, (snacking, for example, or shopping) but away from things we may already find stressful. Like doing creative work.
(On a side note, there is also research suggesting that looking at pictures of cute animals can help focus your concentration. Really. Something to do with sparkng a protective impulse which makes us more focussed. This does not translate as a license to search for new posts on Cute Overload every five minutes. I suggest a picture of something fuzzy in your workspace instead. And if your idea of cute is a cuddly Cthulhu, go for it).
Creative space isn’t just outside, it’s inside. And the more rubbish, i.e. noise, you can clear out of that space before you start working, even if all you’re doing is shutting it in a cupboard for later tidying, the easier you will find it to work.