Not everything is a distraction. You cannot create 24/7. Things like sleep, play, exercise, love, day dreaming are essential elements to finding your balance in life. And work, if it is not your art, can be a massive, but necessary, distraction that will keep you away from your real work. Seek out distractions like mind clutter and eliminate as many of them as you can. This is why late late nights and early mornings may be your best times for creative production, there are far fewer distractions.

But distractions are not the only enemy of your creative talent. Maybe the more important discussion is not distraction but focus. Focus is your superpower for killing distractions and getting on with your creative work.

How do you create focus in your art?

One the ways I have found to build creative momentum and give focus to my production is to imagine the series or sequence of work that can become fascinating to you. Note it is you that is in need of the structure. If you can fascinate yourself with an idea (one self-portrait a week, one song a day) you may find a track that pulls you along, that finds illumination of some deep creative recess in your brain, and you will begin working the idea like a prayer, ceaselessly dreaming up new approaches or chapters of the project.

Before you can capture the imagination of others with your brilliance you’ve got to fascinate yourself. And it is in the fascination that you may be able to find the momentum to carry you along. And as you have successes in your process, and continue to find joy in the craft of building this larger body of work, you will be refining your craft. Really, that’s the goal, at this stage in your life. Sure, you are creating a body of work, but as a young artist you are really trying to find the niche that gets you super-conducted as an artist. Only through this super-conductiveness, this faster and faster acceleration of your art, can you build up to the super-collider of joy that will become your life’s work.

Of course, you realize, I’m speaking more from theory than practice here. At least in terms of finding the path to achieve escape velocity. At 50, I am still working for a living. I am still looking for the super-conductive path that could pull me off the planet and into orbit. But I’m not complaining. At this point, distraction is less and less of a problem for me.

Here are a few of the distractions that I have eliminated.

  • TV – I might watch a show (GoT, Mad Men, Orange is the New Black) but I don’t turn on the TV, ever. I don’t even have one.
  • News – TV news might be the worst for me, because I cannot get the visual images out of my brain, but even newspaper, newsfeeds, Huffington Post, are all distractions.
  • Partying – some is good, too much is a dead-end
  • Driving my body to exhaustion – yes, in the name of art it is all too possible to let inspiration destroy our energy by going too far
  • Games – I love a good game as much as anyone, but they will suck you in and suck out some of the most valuable hours of the day
  • Desserts – too much dessert and I wind up fat and tired
  • Reading, Listening, Exploring – these are wonderful and essential things in moderation, but they can also be a distraction

Find your distractions. Learn which ones feed you, charge your energy back up. And eliminate or limit the ones that pull your spirits and motivations down.

Today, you still have most of your life ahead of you. But the sooner you discover your energies and contain your passions by capturing the excess energy in your creative process, the further along the path you will be by the time you reach my age.

The part of the process that is essential to understand: this is a marathon that you are running for the rest of your life. If you sprint around the track to win in your twenties, you may wear out or burn out too soon. Find the glowing ember in your mind, that you can count on during times of highs and lows. Find the project that consistently pulls your energy and focus back. Give yourself ceaselessly to your art. Make this project your mistress. Make love to your canvas, or guitar, or word processor. The successes of live and love will follow in the long race. But your pace, stride, and cadence are more important to establish at this point in your life.

I am still working on my training. I am still striving to eliminate the distractions from my life. And, of course, I am still seeking the trajectory that will take me up and out of the world of non-creative work. The cool thing is, I’m still a believer. I am still arcing towards my creative projects. I am still trying to erect creative structures I can lean into with my imagination.

To pull back from distractions is to pull up on the controls of your art and aim skyward.

If you can find the key to your motivation and commitment you have unlocked the third rail, the one with the electric power to turn up the speed on your own bullet train.

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John McElhenney

image: expo station, william cho, creative commons usage

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