Guest Post: How Consumption Influences our Creativity
When I started writing for NaNoWriMo last November I dedicated myself to reading a half hour a day. It seemed annoying some days, why not spend that half hour writing instead? I noticed my progress wane on days I’d skipped my “warm-up reading” and felt a nudge that quality consumption was influential in my creativity. As a soul who loves answers to seemingly proverbial questions I created an experiment.
Two days a week I began my writing time with a book. Two more days I’d write without any use of transitional materials. And the final two days a week (assuming I take a day off), I’d prime my mind with Facebook or Instagram or even a recorded TV show. I needed to see how my choices affected my creative output. You’re not going to be entirely surprised to find out my word counts and the quality of my writing suffered immensely on the free-for-all consumption days.
Your mind isn’t critically engaging with your Facebook friends, it’s merely surveying their current state of life. You aren’t thinking about the tone or theme or depth of characters on your Instagram feed, instead you’re making binary choices: double tap or scroll. Television can be educational, but it’s a passive brain activity not requiring you to opinionate about storylines or perspective. However, you do all these things while you read.
I proved to myself (and now to all of you) that the way I started my writing time was a valuable source of inspiration and creative energy for the work laid out ahead of me.
Draw your creative process back to lessons we’ve learned in nutrition: in order to expend energy (creative or otherwise), you must nourish yourself with rich sustenance. While marshmellow fluff is delicious (never before have a refused a serving of that cloud-like heaven), it doesn’t leave me feeling fuelled and hardy in the way scrambled eggs do. Are you taking in all kinds of light, airy treats without providing your creative process with the fuel it needs to keep momentum? Often the answer is no, but we avoid the real work of cleaning up our habits of consumption.
It’s simple, really, to avoid empty forms of inspiration. The hard part is identifying where the empty sources lie
Three ways to clean up your consumption
1. Avoid being a voyeur
We’re all guilty of keeping our eye on the trainwreck as it’s happening. But then the carnage and mess traumatize us. So, why not unfollow the mess before it gets started? You know those people you can see ruining their businesses with angry backlash at dissatisfied customers or those hate forums on the internet or the Facebook friends who could star on a soap opera they're fascinating. But your fascination turns into valuable time wasted keeping tabs on their mess instead of pouring into your latest project.
2. Be honest about your viewership
This seems easy and natural. But as a fan of the Real Housewives of Orange County from the beginning, I’ve dedicated an hour a week to watching the women get together and raise hell in each other’s lives. Just recently my husband watched an episode with me and when it finished he turned to me and said, “So you watched women fight over fancy dinners for an hour?” I wanted to defend myself, but couldn’t. Because that’s what I was watching, grown women –who are my mom’s age- fight over nothing. And suddenly, my diehard fan-girling seemed pathetic, not loyal.
3. Track your time.
I know you’re hearing this all over the web and beyond. Have you tried it? Honestly, I was terrified at the end of my work day. My day job is balanced delicately with my Etsy shop and blog and plethora of writing and marriage. I feel like I manage my priorities well and may have been known to brag about my ability to get the work done. But the serving of humble pie that I was served after tracking each minute of my time for three days was enough to make my brain explode.
Though I’d like to claim the title of quick learner, I am not. So when I opened my handmade art Etsy shop, I assumed my mind would always overflow with ideas for new pieces. Alas, it did not.
So I tried the experiment over again: two days started with reading, two with visual observation online, and two with no outside inspiration. And the results were the opposite of my writing habit.
On the days I scrolled through Instagram or Pinterest ideas flowed, colors complimented, and my time in the studio was fruitful beyond belief. In contrast, the days I started with reading were slow-moving, awkward, and frustrating.
Be mindful of how your eyes allow inspiration into your brain. Be aware of the way one creative endeavor is different than another; so different, in fact, they may be opposites. All these words and examples boil down to one thing: your consumption matters for your process.