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Creativity coach, writing and creative process instructor, speaker, author of Around the Writer's Block: Using Brain Science to Write the Way You Want (Penguin/Tarcher 2012) and Dancing in the Dragon's Den (Red Wheel Weiser), Teaching Artist at the Loft Literary Center.

Why You Need to Pay Attention to What You’re Paying Attention To

When we put pen to paper or fingers on keyboard to write, our state of consciousness shifts to a hypnagogic state, a kind of waking dream.

“It’s a funny state,” writes Pulitzer Prize winning author Robert Olen Butler in From Where You Dream. “It’s not as if you’re falling asleep at your computer, but neither are you brainstorming. You’re dreamstorming, inviting the images of moment-to-moment experience through your unconscious. It’s very much like an intensive daydream, but a daydream that you are and are not controlling.” (p. 31)

Note: The Entering the Flow class I’m teaching at the Loft will help you develop your ability to dreamstorm.

The danger for writers is that the more we splinter our attention by trying to drink from the fire hydrant of information that constantly floods our brains from cell phones, internet, email, text messages, social networking, TV and print media, the more difficult it is for us to shift to this hypnagogic state. We can’t get into the waking dream of writing if we are constantly interrupting ourselves with trivia. Writers are particularly vulnerable to and negatively affected by our culture of distraction.

Writers need focus. Of course, there are times when we need to soften our focus and let our attention wander wherever it will; this is the origin of spontaneous, intriguing, new ideas. We need to move from focused to unfocused and back again; this is another one of those creative polarities.

Learning when to tune in and when to tune out and giving ourselves both time to be laser-focused and time to jump from thing to thing without apparent purpose is essential for creative work. We can’t allow the default setting of our attention system be distracted, splintered and unfocused. We have to pay attention to what we’re paying attention to.

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