The Joy Of… Having A Short Creative Attention Span

2014 Artwork Casual Creativity Sketch

It might be the fact that my attention span has been shorted to a few nanometres in length from years of playing violent videogames, eating too much sugar (what? I still have seven years’ worth of sugar consumption to catch up on! Long story…) and sitting too close to the TV screen, but I can never usually seem to work on a single creative project for more than a couple of weeks at most.

In fact, the longest piece of fiction I’ve ever written was about 30,000 words long and it took me a little more than a whole month to write. Likewise, the longest narrative comic (sort of, it’s more like a short story collection) I’ve ever made was only 175 A5 pages long and it also took me between one and two months to make.

Both of these projects felt like exceptional “never again!” marathon projects to me. But, of course, some painters spend months on a single painting, some writers spend years on a single novel and some games companies *cough* 3D Realms *cough* spend over a decade on a single game.

For some reason, some creative people are drawn to creating things over long periods of time – in the same way that some creative people work better in teams (I still can’t quite understand this). I’m not.

I guess that everyone has their own creative “style” when it comes to the kinds of projects that they work best on – mine happens to be what I call “Casual Creativity”.

So, I thought that I’d talk about it a bit, in case you also have a creative style like this – or if you know someone else who has.

For some reason, I seem to be much more drawn to shorter projects and shorter creation times. I love the idea of picking up my sketchbook and emerging about an hour or two later with a finished watercolour pencil painting. I love the idea of making short, self-contained comics over the space of a couple of days (or even a couple of weeks).

I love the idea of writing lots of self-contained non-fiction pieces rather than sinking several months into writing a non-fiction book. On the very rare occasions that I write fiction these days, I never write anything longer than a novella.

I don’t know why, but I just love the idea of doing things quickly. I love the idea of having a finished “thing” that I can enjoy and/or show off in less than a week (or, more often, less than a day). I love the idea of having lots of little self-contained stories and comics rather than one longer story or comic.

If I spend too long on any single project, then my enthusiasm for it gradually starts to wane unless I can keep finding ways to keep it fresh and interesting (eg: by using things like exploratory storytelling). I still don’t quite understand this, but it seems to be something of a trade-off between time and enthusiasm for me. The more time I put into a project, the more my enthusiasm for it slowly declines and I start to feel like I’m “trapped” in the project.

Maybe it’s it’s just the way that I’m “wired” (or “weird”, depending on how you spell it), but I have a short creative attention span – and it’s great!

You see, having a short creative attention span isn’t a “bad” thing if you know how to handle it properly. For starters, you end up with a much larger body of work than someone who has a much longer creative attention span (and only creates one thing in the time it takes you to create two hundred smaller/shorter things).

Secondly, if you know that you have one then you can avoid even starting longer projects that are inevitably going to be left unfinished. Surprisingly, I didn’t really learn this skill until a few years ago – seriously, there are probably at least fifty unfinished “novels” that I tried to write when I was a teenager.

Thirdly, it gives you a lot more practice. If you only like spending short amounts of time on each thing that you create, then you can create more stuff. And, if you create more stuff, then (even just by sheer repetition alone) you get more practice. It’s as simple as that.

Fourthly, it helps you to keep a sense of perspective about your work. If you’re creating at least one new painting every day or writing a short story every couple of days, then you’re not so disappointed when one of your paintings or stories doesn’t work out. After all, you can try to (and possibly succeed) come up with something a lot better within the next couple of days. It’s no big deal.

Fifthly, it makes you throw perfectionism out of the window. Yes, you’ll probably still want to make good art or write good stories, but you won’t spend forever editing and tinkering with whatever you make. You’ll just put it out there and eagerly move on to the next exciting thing. Yes, this might mean that your work may not always be “perfect”, but it means that it will be finished and you’ll feel less anxiety about showing it off to people.

Finally, and most importantly of all, it never gets boring.

———–

Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

(Hmm… I like the title of this article, I might write some more “Joy Of…” posts in the future.)

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4 comments on “The Joy Of… Having A Short Creative Attention Span

  1. Thank you for this! I’ve been wrestling with this subject for a while, and I’m encouraged to know that I’m not the only one with a short creative attention span.

  2. Thank you for this blog post! I used to beat myself up for not doing better. I like the blog called “Sustainable Creativity.” The man who writes it suffers from CFIDS instead of a short attention span, but a lot of his ideas can be applied to people with ADD and ADHD as well. I plan on bookmarking this.

    • pekoeblaze says:

      No probs, I’m glad that you found the article useful 🙂 You might also find this article useful too, although it’s about a fairly obscure genre of fiction. Although I haven’t got ADD or ADHD (I was considered “hyperactive” when I was younger, but I think this was something different), I’m glad that the article is also useful for these things too.
      But, yeah, having a short creative attention span isn’t a problem if you choose and/or structure the types of projects you make carefully (eg: ever since I got back into making webcomics, I usually release them in an episodic format, like this one or this one. Each group of 6-17 daily comics takes me less than a week and a half or so to make [Edit: I thought that one of my upcoming projects took me longer to make than it actually did but, looking at the dates, it only took five days], so it’s kind of like a long-running series, but structured in a way that takes my creative attention span into account.) So, yeah, it’s all to do with project choice and/or project structure, I guess.

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