• Late-night thoughts on creativity and electronics

    May 24, 2016
  • Some random thoughts for you. Tomorrow marks the start of the three weeks between the end of my school year and that of my children's. It is the most distraction-free time of the year for me, so I usually spend most of it doing my professional writing for the year. Tonight I'm reflecting on why each year it takes a little longer for the creative wheels to start turning. I think for me, it largely comes down to the effect my attachment to my phone has on my brain. I check my phone far too many times throughout the day for texts, calls, emails, social media updates, etc. (Very little of which, incidentally, is of any value whatsoever. E.g., did you know that Trump and Clinton are still running for president, and lots of people don't like either of them? Plus cats and vacations I'm not on. Did I not just summarize 80% of the information you got from social media today? Yet I still check it. Why? What gem do I expect to find one day that will have warranted all that attention? Yeah.)

    Anyway, I think that fractured focus conditions my brain to most efficiently digest small chunks of information, so when I'm facing something like weeks of creative writing which requires a sustained focus, my brain has some major shifting of gears to do.

    In 2008 when I was working on the common factors book with Drs. Sprenkle and Lebow, I sequestered myself to a remote bed and breakfast in the Sierras for as long as it took to finish the book. All I had was a desk, laptop, tons of reference materials (and as it turns out no change of clothes, but that's another absent-minded professor story). No internet, no TV, no connection to the outside world other than a charmingly quirky host that would bring me things like peach pie and kiwis for breakfast and encourage me to "come luxuriate on her garden swing."

    I don't know. I liked her though - it fit the experience.

    Anyway, I wrote like a man possessed, getting lost in a hypnotic creative flow from which I emerged three days later, having finished my part of the book. It was good stuff too. I experienced a similar flow (minus the kiwis but plus more clothes) in the months I was lost in writing my dissertation - all before cell phones and social media were really a thing.

    Last year when working on the 11th edition of "Family Therapy: Concepts and Methods," my coauthor insisted we send hard copies of drafts back and forth to each other via regular mail and consult as needed over the phone. My wife confirmed that yes, the mail still existed, or at least it had two weeks ago when she had last emptied our mailbox. What I soon discovered, however, was that there was something about the demarcation of time created by dropping something in the mail that really fed my creative process. I would work hard on a section, put it in the mail, and know that for two weeks all I could do was ponder on what I'd written. Then I'd get his draft back and have a head full of creative ideas to add. It was a fun synergy. Paradoxically, though communication took much longer, we finished the project more quickly and I'm convinced it was of a higher quality than had we been emailing little chunks back and forth frantically every day.

    Anyway, there you go. Some random, late night unedited thoughts about my (attempts at a) creative writing process. Do with them what you will. Down with cell phones and everything else that pulls us from our deep, ponderous thoughts!

    But that will never happen, of course. Our finely splintered world is here to stay. We humans are a resourceful lot, though, and I think the need for that creative energy is deep within us, so I'm confident we'll self-correct somehow at some point. But I don't want to wait until then; I've only got one shot down here, and I'm not getting any younger. So, how do I stay connected to my deeper creative processes in a world that conditions my brain to go no deeper than a witty meme?