Confession: I have never churned butter. But lately I’ve felt the constancy of churning words and platforms and social media posts. Truth be told, there are times the toil makes me tired.
It reminds me of an important book I encourage every writer to read, Deep Work, by Cal Newport.
The premise of the book is this: to produce beautiful, stand-the-test-of-time work, we must have space in our days to create. We cannot create deep work with shallow activities wooing us constantly. We need to set boundaries, turn off our phones, find quiet, and give ourselves permission to be quiet.
Some of my favorite quotes from the book:
- “What we choose to focus on and what we choose to ignore plays in defining the quality of our life. . . . Our brains instead construct our worldview based on what we pay attention to.” [Lesson: I need to ignore some things in order to create great things.]
- “All activities, regardless of their importance, consume your same limited store of time and attention. If you service low impact activities, therefore, you’re taking away time you could be spending on higher impact activities. It’s a zero sum game.” [Lesson: time is a commodity that slips away, moment by moment. To create well, I must be mindful of my mindless activity.]
- “The deep life, of course, is not for everybody. It requires hard work and drastic changes to your habits. For many, there’s a comfort in the artificial busyness of rapid email messaging and social media posturing, while the deep life demands that you leave much of that behind…But if you’re willing to sidestep these comforts and fears, and instead struggle to deploy your mind to its fullest capacity to create things that matter, then you’ll discover … that depth generates a life rich with productivity and meaning.” [Lesson: To create great work, great sacrifice must be made.]
It’s so easy to let the churn invade your creative time. And when I do give into the rush of social media while I’m creating, it’s like I’m trying to churn butter from water. Lots of effort, no result. To get to the cream, I must retreat, reset, and rest. Otherwise the raw materials I need to create are anemic or lacking. I cannot create from an empty, distracted heart.
David Brooks writes, “If you want to win the war for attention, don’t try to say no to the trivial distractions you find on the information smorgasbord; try to say yes to the subject that arouses a terrifying longing, and let the terrifying longing crowd out everything else.” I fear I’ve allowed trivial pursuits (no pun intended!) to silence that “terrifying longing,” that part of me that interacts with God on the page. The churn of life and distractions emaciates my imagination and stymies original thought.
How are you with the churn? What is your terrifying longing? How do you create space for deep work? I look forward to your answers.