The human mind is amazing. It creates shortcuts out of common things we’ve seen, thought, done and said to free up processing space for more difficult tasks. But you need to fight that shortcut system, buddy. It‘s killing your creative flow like a heat seeking missile and the longer you sit there and do the same ole’ same ole’ the closer it gets to nuking you.
I’m trying to warn you, but you ain’t listening.
Mental shortcuts are great because they let you focus on novel problems in front of you that require more processing power.
“These are new ideas, kiddo, you better damn well pay attention! We ain’t got a roadmap for this, so buckle up buttercup, and drive the damn skill-bus to learning land!” your blind brain screeched at you from the back seat. Your brain is apparently a cantankerous old craprabbit.
“We are not stopping to take a shit! Keep driving Timmy!”
And I guess your name is Timmy now.
But these shortcuts also make it hard to draw a hand correctly, for example, as your brain has already decided what a hand looks like and you are, in fact, not able to fully ‘see’ it and instead warble on and on with a scrawly pencil and draw some kindof cocaine addled turkey with a broken neck and a balance problem.
You know your drawing sucks but you just don’t know why. Here, I will tell you, it’s creative flow:
“I totally got this,” your brain said while it rolled it’s sleeves up and spit in it’s palms (gross). But alas, no, your brain got lazy halfway through and decided to take a nap while your hand was looking for it’s damn spotter and dropped a weight on itself causing mortal injury — er.
I’m digressing. My mental shortcuts suck right after work, man.
I taught “mindful seeing” to several art students when I was still teaching and I could see how hard their eyes were rolling back into their head even when I wasn’t looking, from across the room. All I had asked was to follow the form of the hand fully and not just scribble needlessly. It was audible! That exasperation. It was clearly visible in my mind’s eye as their eyeballs started to spin and create their own gravity and became small planets and then black holes that then engulfed their already very limited attention spans and pooped their souls out into the negaverse.
They hated me for all of two minutes.
It was hard for them, they realized. But in the end they understood why I was making them stare at their hand like it owed them money.
It’s hard for me still, too.
Mindful art-making is difficult. Mindful writing may be even more difficult.
We use language so integrally in our day to day life that sometimes we simply forget what things feel like to us, smell like, taste, or sound like. It’s because our mind is doing the best job it can to catalog and store common feelings, thoughts, and ideas and work on new problems.
But that’s when your words get stale. When you stop thinking of the wind as a bright gale and a blaring gust, and start thinking of it as just Plain Jane wind. That’s your mind trying to force a habit of knowledge and file away your ideas.
And that honestly only works for stuff you don’t need to think about or tap into on the regular, and creativity is a feeling, thinking, beeping, tapping-into-ing type of fooly cooly dream thing.
Ah? Sorry. My mental shortcuts are going all ‘anime’ on me because my brain is not only blind right now but borderline catatonic. Ignore me. Let’s proceed.
Let me give you some homework.
I know medium probably isn’t good for this sortof thing but I’m new to it and I want to see how far to push this idea of communal writing as a teaching methodology instead of writing snarky articles about why I’m so bitter and I hate everyone:
Open up a playlist of your choice. Any damn playlist — don’t think about it Timmy, just do what your mother tells you! Christ, you are so damn difficult.
Alright. Now, shuffle. ONCE.
That is the song you are going to listen to without doing anything else for the entirety of the song.
Once you are done, pick up your pencil or whip out your laptop or whathaveyou and write/draw how it feels. Not how it makes you feel Timmy, not something like “it’s really loud and angry”!
This is considered a prompt. Follow and write/draw from many prompts, preferably ones outside of your comfort zone, that force you to think long and hard and feel deeply about something that your brain either thinks is ‘easy peasy’ or it makes you feel stupid just trying to parse the particles of the concept of the prompt.
Spend your time mindfully looking, mindfully listening, mindfully thinking, and you can drive the creative flow back into your brain.
I know it seems antithetical. “How can being extra focused allow me to get into the zone (autozone) when flow means you are on a creative roll where time passes quickly?”
I’ll tell you, because it’s very simple, Timmy.
You are the one driving the skill-bus to learning town. And when your flow runs out, your gas is empty, and your brain is asleep in the back seat. Sometimes you need to kick start your vehicle and get some more gas. It’s not going to run off of inspiration’s fumes forever. And how do you do that?
By finding the nearest gas station. Which may be a pain in the ass.