How to Have A Deeply Creative Work Session

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For a while, I was having a hard time getting into my projects. I postponed working on my fantasy novel. I was scared to pick up my math problems or environmental research. My creative projects were usually my biggest source of joy and fun, so it took me a while to figure out why I didn’t want to work on them.

An obvious clue was that the rest of my life was a bit chaotic. Mid-pandemic blues had me neglecting housework. My files were in disarray and my backlog of errands filled pages and pages of my bullet journal.

Here is a comic I made at the time, poking fun at the situation:

Trying to laugh through the tears…

However, this situation wasn’t new. I haven’t been a stickler for organization, and usually, jumping into a project was my avoidance-tactic of choice. The housework and other errands managed to get done in erratic binges, and a rocky equilibrium was maintained.

What was different about this time was that the chaos was getting to me. And I knew I had to stay in the real world to sort it out. I couldn’t jump into Creative World without letting the situation back home get worse.

All the reading about the Hero’s Journey for my novel got me thinking about my creative projects as their own world that I projected into, sort of like the Spirit World in Avatar the Last Airbender. (I feel compelled to add that I was into ATLA before it got on Netflix and everyone started talking about it.)

In that show, your consciousness wanders the Spirit World while your body sits still without you. So you need to find safe circumstances to sit down and meditate, before you go exploring other worlds.

This is exactly what I was finding harder and harder to do.

The first problem was getting INTO Creative World, because my regular world was in chaos. I was scared I’d come back to a pile of overdue bills, an empty fridge, and missed appointments.

My second problem was that when I DID get in, I got stuck. I’m prone to hyper-focus, and since I visited Creative World so rarely, when I got there, I tried to do EVERYTHING. And I’d stay in for hours and hours, unable to pay attention to anything else. (And of course, those absences increased the disruption in my regular world.)

And lastly, since I was leaving long gaps between sessions on my project, I completely lost the thread each time I left. I’d steel myself to work on my novel, only to find I’d forgotten the story and had to read my notes as if they were someone else’s (if I could even find them).

The imagery of a portal to a separate world was stuck in my head. And solutions started to come into view as well – what could I do to make the entry easier, by first securing the premises in my regular world and getting organized?

A desk next to a colorful portal. On the desk, a list says "First eat. Meeting tonight. Remember to buy carrots."
Reminding myself what to do when I come back

Could I leave myself a map to get around the Creative world once there?

Leaving breadcrumbs for myself each time I visit Creative World.

And could I make the return smoother and less disorienting, by NOT doing that dumb thing I do: rushing to get to the next task without getting my bearings?

A person sits at a desk. A faded portal on their right. Wind whips the person's hair and blows papers around the room
I’m back! What just happened?! Am I late for something? Run, run, run!

I found specific tweaks I could make.

  • A checklist for constraints and urgent matters to get out of the way before jumping through the portal.
  • A log tracking what I did on the project each time, what needed to be done next, and where the work was stored.
  • Consciously taking a moment to rest when I was done with a creative session.

It’s helped enormously. I’m finally working steadily on my novel and a giant (years-long) math project, after months of being too intimidated to touch them. I’m about a third of the way through my novel’s second draft now.

This framing has changed the way I think about how to be creative and prompted ideas for more tools I can develop specifically for each stage of a creative session – entering the portal, navigating Creative World, and the transition back to the regular world.

Want a fun resource, in the form of a fillable comic that will guide you through this process for your own creative projects?

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