Since late November, regular readers of this blog, my blogs on Fast Company and Forbes.com and my followers on Twitter may have noticed that I essentially disappeared. I’d pop up now and then on Twitter from “my book writing cave.” But for the most part, over the last two months, chose to focus my undivided attention on finishing the first draft of my new book. Why? For the following three reasons that will continue to inform how I approach serious, deep-thinking work in the future:
A constantly distracted brain can’t think deeply: One of the experts I interviewed for my new book was Maggie Jackson.
In 2008, I wrote about her wonderful, must-read book “Distracted” (Prometheus Books, 2008) in my Fast Company blog. During our recent conversation, Maggie reminded me of an important point in her book that I’d forgotten, “Because we live so much in the sphere of technology, it makes us unconsciously forget the idea of slow incubation, of percolation of ideas, of sort of hanging in the moment of uncertainty and frustration that’s really part of learning or research.”
I needed to give myself the uninterrupted white space to go deeper and allow for the work to happen.
Creativity requires making mistakes and learning from them: Another amazing expert I interviewed for my new book is Julie Burstein, the creator of Studio 360 for Public Radio International and the author of “Spark: How Creativity Works” (Harper, 2012).
Over the years, she’s met with and interviewed hundreds of artists. From those conversations, she’s identified a framework for creativity, and she told me that to be creative you have to allow time to tinker, edit, add, purge and mold.
The reality is that there are only so many hours in the day to create the room to make mistakes, experiment and revise, so something needed to go. I still had a consulting business to run, and a family to care for over the holidays. That meant I needed to let my virtual connections rest for a few weeks and trust that they will be there when I returned.
I am an extrovert, so to disconnect after connecting is hard for me. Introverts love time alone, which is what you must do when you write a book. You spend hours and hours, day after day alone. Unfortunately, I am not an introvert. In fact, I am a pretty extroverted, extrovert.
In the beginning, I tried to connect for certain periods, then disconnect again. But I found it was so hard to get back into the creative groove. Susan Cain, the author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking (Crown, 2012), who is also in my new book, helped me realize that being alone day-after-day is not my natural habitat. The minute I’d reach out and start connecting, I didn’t want to go back. But I loved writing my book, so it was easier for me to construct a temporary metaphorical “cave” around myself. Thankfully, I’ve begun to reemerge.
So where am I in the process? I’m very please to say that the initial draft is done (Yeah!), and I couldn’t be happier with the result. Now the editing with my publisher begins in earnest which will make the final product even better. I’m excited, and I’m back for the near term. However, I plan to apply the lessons learned from this period of disconnection and creativity to future projects that require focus and attention. So this will not be my last visit to “the cave.”
What about you? Do you think it’s necessary to disconnect to do your best work? Why or why not?