don’t worry, this isn’t about politics. it’s about your brain.
anyone’s brain really. first, stop reading this post, fix some tea or coffee and sit and read the following articles for the next few minutes, avoiding distractions, phonecalls, facebook, etc.
“Author Nicholas Carr: The Web Shatters Focus, Rewires Brains” on WIRED (Michael Hyatt recently linked to another incarnation of the same information).
“The Creativity Crisis” by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman of Newsweek.
what does this mean to the creative? what follows is my largely uneducated answer to that question.
the multitude and the solitude
first, it means we have to be careful how we spend our time. there’s so much to know, so much to learn. as creatives, we are inherently curious about our world. as a filmmaker, i find myself wanting to know about all sorts of things. as i research for particular screenplays, i find out just how much there is to know about a given subject. while movies frequently skim the surface of topics, settings, character-types, what it’s like to work a certain job, etc., i am dedicated to providing as honest an experience as possible for my viewer… some nugget of truth. if they don’t believe the world, even a fictional or fantasy one, they won’t believe the story.
i did not really learn well how to learn in either lower education or at film school. the best class i’ve taken to help me research was the library class at Harding Graduate School of Religion back in 02. sadly, i’ve forgotten most of it, but it at least opened me up to the wealth of information that is available if only one were to look for it.
but that’s not so much the problem these days. with the Internet in our coffee shops, our homes, our pockets, access to data isn’t really the issue. in fact, it’s the problem. there’s so much data flying around about any given thing, one has to get used to sorting through it all… all day long. how is a person, in the world of available information, supposed to focus on any one topic, any one mode of thought, any one direction? from film to politics to technology… even information about our friends (facebook, twitter, etc.), the onslaught of information could be damaging to our thinking — no, our brains, even.
the truly creative person is that person that lives with his feet firmly planted in both of these worlds — the multitude and the solitude. the truly creative person masters both the quick processing of aggressively available ideas and the slow steeping of relevant truths. it is not a balance but rather the ability to excel at both that makes a truly creative person excel.
different people are wired different ways, and certainly much of our wiring is a consequence of our own doing. but i’ve realized if i’m going to be successful as a filmmaker — a writer, director, editor, DP, producer — i’m going to have to be intentional about both interacting with the endless evolving web of thought and contemplating the single idea. as a result, i have recently started trying to adapt to a schedule that moves me in and out of left and right brain activities, makes time for things that usually end up being distractions, gives proper relevance and importance to seemingly recreational things like television and movies (which really are essential for me as a filmmaker), etc. it’s by no means perfect, and i am by no means perfect in doing any of it.
my right brain, left brain day
basically this means doing right brain stuff first thing in the morning. hit facebook, twitter, email… catch up on my hulu queue while fixing breakfast, taking care of the dogs, etc. this works best for my 5:30am scatterbrained moar-coffee-pls mornings. after breakfast, i settle into pulling articles of things i want to read. for this, i primarily use Newsrack on my iPad, but also browse twitter for things i’m interested in reading. i send all of these to my Instapaper account. i use the pomodoro technique (25 minutes of uninterrupted work with 5-minute breaks to follow) to stay on task and, more importantly, know when to end a task before it eats up my day. one of the biggest adjustments is getting used to leaving unfinished business.
once the right-brain sorting work is done, my coffee and breakfast have usually hit bottom, and the body and brain are in gear for a productive day, so i take advantage of that time and energy to focus and read some of the articles i’ve just pulled. maybe some music in the background, but otherwise no distractions as i sit and read. i try not to skim or flit about. just read. i also schedule brief meetings in the morning, usually one-time or first meetings with people i’m going to do business with (meetings with friends happen over meals).
at lunch, i might flip through some articles if i’m not with someone, getting that right-brain back in gear. after lunch, i return phone calls and emails, and just take care of quick things that need to get done (here’s a great resource). then large blocks of time in the afternoon, when i’m most productive, are relegated for hardcore attacking my business work… first with the geared-up, well-fed, creative right brain (what are my problems? what are possible solutions to those problems? how could i attack these problems?), then a 30-minute break (usually a TV show on Netflix or Hulu Plus to cleanse the mental palette). Late afternoon, as the morning’s caffeine has worn off, the brain settles down and focuses on executing the solutions i’ve thought about in the early afternoon.
evenings are another block of time for getting work done, or hanging out with friends. or playing in the floor with the doggies. Saturdays are kept open for working on film projects or doing nothing at all. Sundays are for communing with God and His people.
now, this is just a guide. so far, no day totally looks like this. AND i’m still trying to get in the habit of all of this. but as a creative, i very much want to keep both sides of my brain fully-functioning. specifically as a film director, i want to be able to handle a thousand things coming at me, but also focus on a singularity with passion and commitment. so i continue to be conscious of both parts of my brain, and i try to be respectful and dutifully healthy with both. i think any creative should have the same consideration for their most precious personal commodity, their creativity.
i keep saying i recommend this for creatives. so what about the non-creative person? much like the Newsweek article, i submit that there is no such thing.