Staying Creative and Focused When Everything Seems Crazy

It’s been over eight months since the Coronavirus pandemic shut down businesses and schools, locked down communities, and created a culture of wearing masks, caused us to use hand sanitizer everywhere, and made us wary of being close to anyone we don’t know. Add to that protests for social change, a crazy political climate, and financial uncertainty for millions, and the very thought of sitting down to write and be creative can be off-putting to some.

While I understand that the world has its ebbs and flows of chaotic news and events, as writers, artists, musicians, and other creatives, we have an obligation to ourselves and our own mental health to continue to indulge in the creative process. Through our art, we can help ourselves and others make sense of the world, understand our emotions and feelings, and get our thoughts out in a tangible form. 

It can also allow you the opportunity to escape the negativity of the world for an hour or two, to embrace an activity that provides a sense of normalcy in a world that keeps throwing pessimism at you 24/7.  Like you, I get overwhelmed with the news, the images, the statistics, and the political noise, which is why I’m happy to share some of what I do to keep the world out and keep my sanity and creativity in play.

Unplug

This has become a ritual for me on Saturdays. I turn off my phone, put it out of view, and either read, write, or do something that doesn’t involve continually scrolling my newsfeed or social media. It seems like a crazy idea at first since we all seem to be glued to our devices, but it can be mentally refreshing to distance yourself from your phone and not have the constant beeps, buzzes, and chimes of alerts attacking your brain every few seconds.

Even if you can only sit down and write, read a book, or even binge-watch a couple of episodes of something uninterrupted for an hour (not the news) or two, you will find that a lot of the noise in your mind will dissipate. You quite possibly will feel a bit calmer thanks to your phone being off and away.

Remember, even if you turn off your phone for a few hours to write or do something else, it’s not like the chaos will go anywhere.

If you have a family and they all have phones, plan a few hours each weekend to do things without phones and other devices. Connecting with people and not screens is a challenge these days for sure, but it’s a welcome respite from the constant barrage of news, politics, and pandemics.

Create a Creative Space

Maybe you’re not ready to sit down and write or create at the moment. That’s fine. Unplugging can benefit you no matter what you do with the time away from your phone.  However, if you are looking for an escape to a creative place, I recommend creating a space for you to work and be creative in your home or apartment.

It doesn’t have to be big, just a place where you can go and sit with a laptop, a pad and paper – or, if you’re really old school, a typewriter – and write for an hour or two. This should be a space void of your phone, social media, and the internet (yes, you can turn it off on your laptop or desktop), especially the news. 

In this space, you are the boss. You make the rules. And you are there for one job: to create. 

So, I have a studio apartment, but I have a space where I keep my laptop and a VARIDESK to stand if I feel like it. I have a comfy chair, as well. I have a legal pad and pen to jot down questions to look up later online, and a bottle of water. That’s it. Everything in the space is geared toward writing and creating with as few distractions as possible.

Now, once you’ve created your space, choose a time that best suits your schedule. If you have young kids, this might be in the evening once they’ve gone to bed, but the key is to enter the creative space and make the time to create. I write best at night, so I usually work for a couple of hours in the evening as often as possible.

Use Music/White Noise to Stay Focused

I just started doing this this past year and have found that it really helps me stay focused when I’m reading or writing. There are many, many ambient noise choices available on YouTube, but devices like Alexa also provide a library of ambient noises as well (and yes, if you want to use the ambient noises found on YouTube, you can leave the Wi-Fi on on your computer, but do your best not to go down the dreaded YouTube rabbit hole and become distracted). 

Personally, I prefer listening to a thunderstorm or snowstorm, but there are hundreds of these ambient noise videos to choose from that you can have on in the background as you write. Most of these videos range from one hour in length to ten hours, and the ones I have used don’t have ads that blare to life in the middle of the video. I highly recommend headphones or earbuds to help immerse yourself and block out any external noises.

Here are two that I use most when writing and reading:

Music is also a great choice, but make sure what you choose isn’t distracting. It should be music that helps you focus on your creativity and not pull you out of it.  Music can also be a great way to set the tone or mood for what you will be writing. 

Consider Your Time Writing as an Escape for Your Own Mental Health

Being creative is not a selfish act. It is a way to refresh yourself and your mind. We use films, TV, and books to escape reality, so being creative should be seen as another form of healthy escapism. 

As a writer and artist, you form new worlds, new characters, new stories, and new relationships. You can’t control the world around you, but you can – even for an hour – be the creator of your own worlds and give the real world a timeout.

Stay Positive. Enjoy the Time Creating

Even though 2020 hasn’t been a great year for most of us, we have to remember to stay positive. It is the arts that have sustained societies for generations through song, dance, painting, sculpting, the written word, theater, film, and TV. Humans who love to create and have a passion for creating must take the time to create. 

You must give yourself permission to enjoy the time when you are writing and creating. It’s a welcome respite from the chaos that has enveloped us this year. You can’t let doom and gloom consume you. It’s no way to live, it’s not a healthy way to think, and it can be detrimental to the creative process. 

There’s an exercise I once read about for people who overthink when they are trying to sleep. They are to keep and pad and pen by their bed, then write down what is keeping them up, and that is supposed to help them sleep better, knowing they can now save that worry for the next day.  In the spirit of that exercise, if you feel the world creeping into your creative space, keep a pad and pen handy and jot that item down. Then if you want to think about it later, it’s written down for you to think about once you’re down writing or creating.

Finally, If You Still Have Anxiety or Anger About What’s Going on In the World…

Write about it.  Get your thoughts, your emotions, your solutions down on paper or on your computer screen. Venting about the world is okay. It’s a healthy way to process what you are feeling, and you should take the time (maybe the first ten minutes of your creative time, if needed) to get these thoughts out. 

You could also practice journaling as a way to express these thoughts and ideas. 

I’m human, just like you. I see things on the news or read about events in the U.S. or around that world that upset me, anger me, and sadden me. But as I said before, you can’t allow those negative emotions to consume you, especially if you need to write and create. If you can channel those feelings into what you’re writing, do it. Just don’t let the world creep in and prevent you from being creative. 

I hope you found these tips insightful and helpful. If you have other tips about how you have stayed positive and focused on creativity during 2020, please leave a comment.