Using simple meditation techniques to cut down on brain-chatter and to keep your project fresh and exciting.

  • kumada
  • 08/28/2013 07:37 PM
When it comes to creating, the two most important lessons I could ever teach are this: do what you love, and don't be afraid to get stuck in.

Sometimes, these lessons conflict.

The initial enthusiasm for a project cools, the drive to add new scripts and narrative branches and custom assets falters, and the will to plod through reams of data entry for the sake of bug-testing and balance withers away. There are times in any long-term creative process in which we do not love what we do--we see it as a war. Each day we work is a victory over inaction, and most of what is propelling us forward is momentum. This isn't the worst thing that could happen to us, but it makes our projects vulnerable. A sudden change in our daily lives, and blast of inspiration that shakes us out of our current thought-pattern, and that momentum can end up shattered, leaving our creative work in pieces as well.

There's a certain grace to starting over and embracing a fresh project, but for hobbyists of all sorts, the constant scrap-and-redo cycle is an epidemic that weakens us. There's a lesson to be learned in finishing projects, and--with a handful of exceptions--we don't often get to practice it.

As a result, I'd like to talk to you about focus. I'm picking that word very deliberately, since I have no doubts about this community's drive, or dedication, or gumption. By focus, what I mean is being consciously engaged with the thing you are creating. It's a state of heightened awareness, not unlike a flow-state, and it's when you're at your most determined and creative. If you're used to taking lots of little breaks during your creative process, think about that refreshed feeling that you have when you get back to work. That's a very watered-down version of what I'm talking about here, but it's the same kind of focus.

While focus is a great trick to break out of creative stagnation, it's a little bit like one of those unidentifiable muscles in your abdomen that you only discover for the first time when you pull it. Obviously it's there, and obviously it must be doing stuff most of the time, but making it go involves trial and error and concentration.

So, let's try this: if you're familiar with meditation, you can skip on ahead. If you're not, I promise I'll be brief, and that I won't ask you to do any really outlandish hippie stuff.

Our first goal here is just to build up that focus muscle. In order to do that, we're going to try and use some light meditation as a way of screening out all the background thoughts that can get in the way of creating.

So, take a deep breath, keep your eyes open, and just notice where you are. Notice the chair you're sitting in, the temperature of the room around you, notice any tension you might be carrying in your body.

After a minute or two of this, if you're new to the whole meditation thing, your thoughts are going to be going bananapants crazy. Notice that too, but try not to chase after any individual thoughts. Just let them happen. Eventually, you'll hit a point where they stop popping up like a frantically overclocked whack-a-mole board. Then you can return to the task at hand.

This isn't specifically a hunt-and-kill exercise, where the goal is to think explicitly about nothing. It's more about interrupting all those extra lines of thought that can be going through your head at any given time. Worries about tests, job performance, the spread of Africanized Honeybees, or whatever. The brain is an amazingly versatile device, but just like if you open up sixteen different videos in your browser tabs, thinking about a lot of unrelated topics when you're trying to cobble together some dialog or sketch a new piece of background art slows down the process. And that slower speed makes it that much easier to take another hot-pocket-break--because, hey, you're not getting much done anyway.

Once you've got the hang of getting into that mentally uncluttered state, the next trick is staying there. Don't get discouraged if your focus slips, or if you can't maintain it for very long. You don't need this focus for everything, just for the most creative aspects of your project. You can take a break to do some copy/paste eventing or bulk data-entry if you need to, staying on task even when you're not feeling particularly artsy. And if the next thing you need to do is purely creative, don't give up on it. Sometimes the simple act of just getting started is enough to shatter the frustration of trying and failing to focus.

Ultimately, the ability to take a step back, clear your head a little, and then re-engage with your project can be one of the most valuable tricks for long-term creative endeavors. It helps cut down on fatigue, lets you look at things from a new angle without taking a long break, and works to preserve enthusiasm, rather than just momentum. With a little practice, it can be another valuable technique in your gam mak repertoire.


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Great article Kumada, I think everyone has experienced the lack of focus on a project at some point or another and this could be a great way for some people to get back into the creative zone. I know it's worked for me at times when I've hit that wall. Thanks for sharing.
great stuff. wish that meditation wasn't perpetuated as an exclusively hippy, third-eye kind of exercise. Even just breathing and letting go of thoughts with intention can be so helpful for creative and stress-blocks. thanks for the article.
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