Talk and drive, walk and chew gum, or carry on two conversations at once – we are familiar with the idea that while we can participate in two things at once, we suffer from the inability to do both of them well since our brains aren’t wired to multi-task.
These examples deal with superficial activities that we participate in every day, however, I challenge us to look at the idea of multi-tasking at a deeper level, at the level of creativity.
Take this real-life example: as a writer, I am grateful to not be “working” at the moment and the difference in creative production compared to when I was working is tangible. BUT there are bills to pay, student loans primarily, so my leisurely days of writing are now interrupted with tweaking resumes and scouring craigslist. As I’ve focused on job hunting these past few weeks, I’ve definitely noticed my creative outlet is stifled. I can’t apply my emotional energy and investments into writing when I necessarily must funnel those elements into resumes and interviews. We can only do one thing at a time.
My second son recently graduated high school. He barely made the grades to do so, but I didn’t push him too much about it. He is a highly creative individual, and although he wasn’t reading class assigned prose, he was (still is) reading Thich Nhat Hahn and Eckhart Tolle. He didn’t participate in prom and loathed school assemblies, he sought instead a form of spirituality through the third eye and wrote rap lyrics about a higher calling in life. His energy and time were vested in creativity, school took a secondary seat and this mother was unwilling to bridle his ventures into the mysterious for the sake of a four-point-oh. We can only do one thing at a time.
Think about it in terms of living with an addict, of any kind. I lived with an alcoholic for several months and I’ll never forget that my energy and creative flow were robbed in order to deal with the addiction and its fallout. Writing came to a near stop and the ideas kept their distance, knowing they would be thrown away in the face of having to survive the consequences of walking on egg shells. We can only do one thing at a time.
If you’re frustrated in your writing. If you’re anxious over the slow pace of your manuscript. Give yourself a break and examine your life at the moment: is there something else taking up your emotional energy and drying up the creative outlet as a result? Don’t beat yourself up over it. Acknowledge that we aren’t able to multi-task at the emotional level where writing is grounded if our attention is called to other places. And then, be mindful. Stay open to the creative tap so that when those creative moments do come up (they can’t help themselves, can they? it is a curse we live with as writers) at least get them down in shorthand form on your iPhone note app so that you have the thing for later. Keep track of your progress, it will help you find the time. My personal ‘game’ is to keep a running total of the number of words I write each day. Some days my goal consists of a mere five hundred new words added to a working script, some days I can afford to increase the goal to two thousand. The idea is to keep the work cooking and maintain the creativity spout on at least a drip output level. Some is always better than none.
A writer’s life is not an easy road. Creativity takes time, investment and an unoccupied mind, yet a thousand other details compete for our attention. May we find a balance between the two and may we give ourselves a generous amount of grace in the process: We can only do one thing at a time.
Write on, kids.