The Weekly#3: creative concentration as a skill

March 22, 2018

Well, I'm already bored of the weekly blog format I have so far been doing. Twice. It felt like I was starting to only fill in the gaps, which weren't that interesting, and when I had mainly been working all week, I don't have much daily life things to talk about, because it is just repetitively working (and eating of course). 


So I thought I would take a topic each week instead and provide my opinion as to the matter. This week it is about creative concentration, and how to switch it on. I've been finding concentration hard this week. After being sick for a couple weeks, my body clock is still tuned to insomnia, and so, with trying to get up at a more work-friendly time (i.e. breakfast time, not lunch time), I am quite tired each day. This then leads to only wanting naps, as opposed to working. Also, my desk has been looking frightfully piled up with everything unnecessary to be on a desk, which means the continual lugging of piles here and there before and after working. Yes, I need more storage furniture. And seeings as I haven't been working as much as normal lately, my existentially anxious mind has been overthinking about every creative decision I make.  


As a result of these three things, work seems like a hard thing to get into. I also think creative concentration is different to normal concentration. We need concentration to watch TV, to drive a car, to package up our orders, but this is almost rote, it is often uninteresting, limited in our actions or just steps we know we have to do and we just do them. Creative work is a bit different, and I feel other things come into play so that we can concentrate on our creative work. If these are lacking, we can't concentrate for more than a few minutes at a time.


To me, these include confidence, physical comfort, drive and a little bit of pressure, preferably external. What I mean is this: we need to believe we can get through the steps involved in the task (even if we are anxious, a bit unsure, experimenting, etc), we need to be able to sit at a desk with a chair or in some position that can be sustained for hours without physical discomfort, we need some purpose like a commission or creating a personal or portfolio piece, and we need some reason to finish it, such as a client's deadline or another job starting in a couple weeks. These things help with being able to concentrate on our creative work, because we are in the zone, feel alright about achieving our end goal, and feel like we need to. 


Things that work against our concentration, for me, include hunger, annoying repetitive noises, not having a proper desk to work at (a bit of time in bed or in front of the TV working is ok, but is not sustainable for hours of work leaning over paper/wacom every day as an illustrator) and a complete lack of confidence in being able to figure out the project. This last one is probably the most daunting, but can definitely be overcome. It is often a sign for me that I need to slow down and immerse myself in the process of the work, not just thinking about the end result and final piece, as doing this only increases the pressure to succeed without giving me the hints as to how. Every new piece is a new adventure for me and I have no idea how it will look as the finished piece, but that's why we're doing it, right?  


Creative concentration is a skill that can be honed, and it can be switched on. Not as easily as a lightbulb, mind you, but with practice, it is something we can work towards as a skill where at the start of the day we can sit down and concentrate on the creative work we have to do. Some things I have found to be helpful with doing this, and I'm writing this down as much for me as for you, is to do the creative work first if this works for you, or alternatively last if you find getting all the boring emails/admin out of the way works for you!! I am with the former group, which yes means some admin is pushed to the next day, but at least I was able to more readily tap into that creative energy. I will shower/dress, make sure I have a clean desk, make sure the cat has food and the dog has had enough attention, look at instagram enough to feel like that's done (or don't at all), make a cup of tea or have a glass of water, and do a warm up. The warm up means you can start to get into the zone without your sleepy brain mistakes being a worry on the proper work. The warm ups can also turn into some great ideas, but don't put pressure on them to be anything great, and don't post them on social media, this will again only increase the pressure to make a simple thing seem "like-worthy". Some suggestions for warm ups include stuff on your desk, what you're wearing, a new way to draw a tree, stuff starting with a specific letter (lettuce lightbulb llama) or close your eyes, draw a squiggle and make something out of it. Once you've done a few doodles, write or look at your to-do list of what you need to do next. 


What works for you may change, even day to day. We're creative, we're moody, its ok. Sometimes I like to have inspirational illustrations on my wall next to my desk. Sometimes I don't want to be influenced by them and take them down. Some days I'll be crazily ticking off tasks on my to-do list, other times I'll stare out the window more than anything else. What I find most important is to not put a time limit on my work flow. Again, this may be the opposite for other people that want to work for 7 hours a day and THAT IS ALL. If I was to start at 9am knowing I would go until 5pm, I may die. For some reason, I can work much longer hours if I don't keep track of it and just keep coming back to it during the day. Just be careful that it doesn't go too close to when you should go to bed, as this can start to invade your thoughts and downtime (unless there is a great big looming deadline, of course!)


Anyway, let's leave it there. I guess all I'm saying is that creative concentration, while different to what is required with normal concentration, is a skill that can be honed so that you can have your creative job working for you enough during healthy work hours to be sustainable. That's a long sentence, sorry. 


Until next week! And I still like the idea of posting on a Friday, even if it won't be as much of a recap, at least I can use the week to think of what topic is of particular relevance to me. See you next week!



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