A while back, I wrote about my internal editor (I call him Ed, the editor demon) and how his incessant need to second-guess my every word and punctuation mark disrupts my writing. I shared the techniques I use to convince him to shut up long enough for me to get some work done.
Every writer has an Ed (or whatever you’ve dubbed your personal nitpicker), but the little jerk lords over other creative processes, too. When you’re trying to get in the zone, his nagging voice lures you away with distractions. After all, the harder creating gets, the more tempting doing anything but becomes. Here are four ways to stop listening to that devil on your shoulder and stay in the flow.
1 Make a plan
We don’t think of planning when we think of creativity, but if you’re feeling stuck, a plan can provide the push you need to get productive and avoid creative plateaus. Sometimes, the block we experience is our brain’s way of wrestling with a bunch of competing or formless ideas. Making a plan will not only help you decide which ideas have the most promise but also give those ideas shape. When you have a direction, you’re less likely to let the editor demon lead you astray.
Start by identifying the outcome you’re hoping for. Then, ask yourself how you’ll get there. Generate some ideas. (You might start by brainstorming with a little mind mapping.) Once you’ve offloaded some of your thoughts, sort through them and identify the ones you’re most excited about. What’s your Big Idea? What steps will you take to manifest it? Write them down. Don’t get too hung up on the hows of planning; focus on the whys—planning as a bridge to creativity. Play with the process until you’re so excited about your project that you just can’t wait to begin. Then, get busy and leave your internal editor in the dust.
2 Put yourself on a social media diet
When creating gets frustrating, your editor demon knows that temptation is only a browser tab away. I’ve developed the bad habit of opening a tab and scrolling through my Facebook feed when my brain is foggy. Odds are good I’ll spot a funny video I just have to watch, or an article about modern society that gets me thinking, or a political post that gets me—well, let’s not talk about political posts. Social media seems like a perfectly respectable way to kill a few minutes when you’re bored and in a creative rut, but . . .
Social media can divert your flow from Creativity Creek into the Swamp of Lost Time. (Keep track of how many minutes you spend checking your social accounts for just one day and you’ll see what I mean.) There’s a place for social media, particularly for creatives who need to self-promote, but if social media is distracting you from your process, it makes sense to limit your activity. Turn off those notifications while you’re working so you won’t be lured astray. Work in full-screen mode so you’re less likely to open a new tab. And if you need a little extra persuasion to keep you from habitual social media surfing, consider research that suggests frequent use of Facebook could be making you unhappy and less successful.
3 Organize something
Clutter tends to follow creatives, and there’s even a study that links creativity with messiness. So, why organize things? Cleaning up can have surprising physical and mental benefits. Not only that, but doing a mundane task, like cleaning up your desk or tidying your creative space, can help spark creativity. When you zone out as you’re organizing, you may tune in to your creative mind and tune out the voice of your internal editor. Win-win, right?
4 Stop listening to Radio KFKD
Writer Anne Lamott, in her book on writing, Bird by Bird, refers to the voice of her internal editor as Radio Station KFKD. It’s a station every creative person hears in stereo. From one speaker comes the stream that tells you you’re special, gifted, and tragically misunderstood. From the other comes a barrage of criticism, self-loathing, and doubt.
The key to tuning out KFKD is simpler than it seems—acknowledge the garbage you’ve been listening to and change the station. When you recognize the familiar beats, they become less oppressive and easier to ignore as nothing more than useless noise. Remember, thoughts don’t create reality. In other words, just because you have a moment of self-doubt and think that you’re an untalented hack doesn’t mean you are.
5 Commit for the joy of it
Want to really give Ed the boot? Do something you’re passionate about and give him absolutely no say in the matter. Choose something not that you have to do, but that you want to do, just for the joy of it. Tell yourself there are no external stakeholders, that you’re doing this beautiful, creative thing just for you, and that you’ll be the better for it.
When you’ve identified your passion project, make a promise to yourself that you’ll devote sixty minutes per day to it for thirty days straight. During those sixty minutes, you have but one goal—to make some progress. It doesn’t have to be a lot of progress, and it sure doesn’t have to be perfect. (You hear that, Ed?) It just has to be for the love of it. When you make your creative pursuits a habit, you’re investing in yourself.
Our internal critics are a powerful force, and they can keep us stifled and blocked. The more ways you discover to keep the editor demon’s nagging voice away, the happier you’ll be, and the more freely you’ll create. Now, brush Ed off your shoulder and go make something wonderful.