CAUTION: This is a post about creativity and organization, so expect neither. I’ve never been an organized person, at least by my own standards. Sure, I can keep my house clean and my dishes stacked, but those are just maintenance work. True organization evades me, and nowhere is this more pronounced than in my writing. Want an example? I’ve written over 150,000 words on two stories since I left Oklahoma three years ago. I have written exactly zero stories, though, because although flinging my ideas onto paper is nearly effortless, straightening their corners and stretching their edges into shape is… impossible.
Maybe it’s the ADHD. Honestly, I’ve started so many creative projects and left so many unfinished, orphaned drafts that I’ve developed a tactile fear of even trying. Its the fear that the Wright Brothers must have faced after each crashed prototype that left them with only wreckage and pissed investors. The fear that no one takes me seriously because (lets face it) they can smell the futility on my breath, the panting desperation to turn out just one finished project. I’ve stopped telling most people that I even write, and instead focus on my music when people ask what I do for fun. At least with music, all you need is two choruses, two verses, a bridge and 16 bars front and back for people to be impressed. Writing fiction is (excuse the pun) another story entirely.
When I sit down to write, the biggest distractions that set my ADHD on fire are Social Media and a brash beast called the Blank. Social media is easy enough to ignore if you have the right tools. A quick search of the app store, play store, or just Google will find you a fistful of productivity apps subtly designed to lock your brain in a box for an hour of typing. If you’re physically unable to visit Facebook until a timer runs out, it’s much easier to keep your fingers on the keyboard.
The Blank, however, is more sinister. To anyone who has ever created anything: I know you’ve experienced it at least once. That damp, futile hush that falls when you simply can’t care anymore about anything you worked so hard to get on paper. That moment when you need to see your story, to cry with your characters and speak in their voices, and suddenly words fail you. The keyboard clicks slow down, the clock in the upper corner seems to pulsate, and you don’t care about your characters. The networks and neuron pathways are suddenly empty. Your attention is caught by nothing. Focus becomes a conscious action, paddling rudderless and spinning through a stagnant pond. If you’re smart, you’ve been taking notes so the only loss is your chance of writing more until the Blank is gone. That might take an hour, but it will probably take twelve.
The Blank is my biggest enemy. It strikes every time I get about 100 pages into writing a book. Heck, it strikes when I’m reading a book. After a set amount of time, the fuse runs out in my brain, and I just don’t care anymore. The Blank is the reason I own a PS4 that gets played twice a month, because after a short while that game I just had to own has lost my interest, and I’d rather go run or listen to music.
Because this is getting long, I’ll get to the point. For people like me, you’ll never beat the Blank. It’s going to come back over and over, even if you power through most of the time. I won’t say I’ve found a solution (not yet), but I have found some tricks that help me and hopefully might help you when your brain can’t stay in place.
The Green Light
Long, long ago, I knew the nickname of man who owned an illegal speakeasy in the warehouse district of Houston. The house hunched over, bruised like Sylvester Stallone after his title fight in Rocky. During the day, armed thugs posted around the gate, and I know they were armed because two of them pulled guns on me once for being too determined to get in before opening. This was a place where you did what you were told, or they stopped talking and started doing.
Inside the speakeasy, the only light came from swaying green light bulbs, their patchy glow casting everything in mellow, acutely turmoiled shades of flickering emerald. This place was a mosque of creativity and depravity. Little piles of white and beige powder blew off tabletops whenever a breeze crept in, and sometimes bands would stop by unannounced to play impromptu rock shows for the underaged punk crowd of 3rd Ward. People sat in corners drinking coffee, and people sat in corners smoking dope. It was lawless and quiet, as if (despite the criminal activity inside), the inhabitants respected the atmosphere. When the green lights were on, you didn’t cause trouble.
I know what I’ve described sounds like a bourgeois crack den. Maybe it was. I only visited on occasion to hear live music and smoke unfiltered cigarettes in a kitchen where the stovetop had been replaced by a waist-tall Buddha statue. I found that place oddly serene. The green lighting stuck with me when I went home to Oklahoma. I bought a green bulb (#bigpimpin) and have replaced it for four years now. The idea is simple: when the green light is on, I create things or have sex. All other tasks are for the normal lights, and normal thoughts.
Your light might be blue, or red (if you’re the devil), but the point remains: lighting changes everything, and the right light can help lock you into a useful state of mind.
I’ve pimped out Spotify for years now. I sell so many subscriptions to Spotify Premium that (har har) I ought to be on the payroll. You should really check it out. It’s best feature is the ability to create playlists from virtually any song in wide circulation, and sync that across all your devices so that, whether at home or abroad, I can get myself right into the headspace that I need for each scene. I have playlists for each character (a work in constant progress), playlists for each book, even playlists for individual moods I want to visit. As someone who can’t write without music (who am I kidding, I can’t breathe without music), Spotify is the absolute best resource for quickly finding the tune to even out your scattered thoughts.
I’m far from alone with these. I think every creative person has a specific ritual that must take place before the magic comes out. Like dance, the value is in the rhythm, not the moves, so I won’t tell you what to include in your rituals. But as for me, I can’t write without a brief toke, a change into my “writing pants”, and the sound of running water either natural or recorded in my ears. Because of trying to maintain all three in order, I’ve nearly been arrested at more than a few public fountains in Oklahoma.
I really can’t read books like I used to. The Blank hits halfway through Act Two and I start thinking of how many insignificant things are bawling for my attention, and my eyes start (literally) bouncing away from the page. This was actually what first clued me in to my ADHD: I lost the ability to read. I went from reading John Grisham and Terry Brooks at 12 years old to reading one book a year at 21, and failing a humbling number of classes in college due to the fact that I simply couldn’t keep my eyes on the page. My brain acts on its own when its bored, which if you think about it is truly frightening. Welcome to my life.
I have no remedy for ADHD, but I’ve found that (even if I can’t read a whole chapter), I can make myself read eight or nine pages of a book that sounds good, and then forcibly tear myself away before the Blank sets in, switching from Kindle to Microsoft Word with an alt-tab so that I land breathless in the middle of my creative endeavor. The same works for songs: I’ll listen to half a Dillon Francis track before whipping over into Ableton and working while the adrenaline is fresh in my veins. Then when I begin to slip, I return to the original book/song, rinse and repeat.
So there you go. Three quick tips from the undisputed featherweight champion of procrastination. I don’t know why I’m writing all this, or why I’m maintaining a blog that I don’t advertise or (really) expect to be read. All of this is just a sort of chronicle of my thoughts, a familiar desperate attempt to line up the highways in my head. I think I wrote this today just to prove that I could write something more than 400 characters. Anyways, thanks for reading.