Do Not Disturb! Creativity in Progress

You people! Can’t you see that there is an artist at work!?!

Art and writing and any sort of creativity need an awful lot of uninterrupted space and time to brew and percolate and practice and find its way into the world. How much varies for different artists and writers and other creators.

For me, it’s a lot.

A real lot.

A gigantic really massive f*cking crazy absurd lot.

To start with, I’m an introvert at my core. I recharge my batteries by myself.

Do Not Disturb

This does not mean that I am shy, or don’t know how to talk to people, or can’t stand crowds. I like talking to people, even though it drains me if I do too much of it, and I might fumble a bit if it’s gone on too long. I love crowds in certain circumstances, like squished up against the stage or stomping around the pit for my favorite bands.

Introvert means this and exactly this here: I recharge myself by myself. Cool?

I process my creativity by myself, too.

This comes together to mean I really can’t stand unexpected interruptions. I hate people showing up unannounced, even if they’re doing me a favor, and especially if they can’t take a hint and they linger. Situations like this bring about a piece of me that I resent greatly and am doing everything I can to eradicate it: a programmed response of politeness and attention, an inability to say, “yes, it’s a bad time, please go,” because mentioning “all the work I have to do” is somehow not clear enough as the creative moment slips further away with every second.

Next time you surprise your favorite creative friend, consider that this nice and polite person who seems a little distracted may in fact be trying very hard to figure out how to get you to leave. So please take the hint and go. This isn’t like pausing a movie, where they can rewind thirty seconds and get right back into it where they left off.

Even if you think you’re doing your favorite creative person a favor by dropping something off unannounced thereby saving them a trip in the pouring rain, you still may in fact not be welcome – even if they don’t look like they’re doing anything particularly important when you show up. You may be interrupting a mental groove that took hours or days or several other complicated steps to build up to.

When an artist has had to fight or hunt for that groove, when that groove has evaded and eluded for days or weeks or months, and that artist finally stands on the cusp of syncing with it, it really really really sucks to lose it over something as dumb as a package or well-intended but not-critical-at-the-moment information, particularly when a simple email or text to coordinate a convenient time to meet or to convey the information could have made the creative person a lot happier and saved you the trip.

I lose myself in my work, that’s where my best work comes from, in a work zone with big cushions of nothing time on either end, and a physical radius clear of people for several hundred feet with many walls and doors between them and me. I require solitude and a relatively controlled audio environment. I choose my music carefully. I put my phone on “do not disturb.” Hell, right now, as I write this, I even have *the internet* off. Seriously. The internet.


Among the many kinds of image-making I engage in, I work with the particularly unforgiving process of ink on rice paper. Any sort of distraction can mean the difference between a masterpiece and a mess.

To compound the significance of this even further for me, I work in a few different creative disciplines. I write novels and paint paintings and draw drawings and write & illustrate comics and shoot & edit videos, even. I would even pick up the guitar again if I had a bit more time every day. Often while I am painting, my writer’s brain is chewing on some words in the background. Often while writing, I have images come to me that I will paint sometime later.

I’m not overworking, it just happens that way, it’s my brain’s idea of playing in the background or something, I don’t know. Whatever it is, it’s key to putting together and pulling off a lot of the things I’ve put together and pulled off. Words and pictures go together for me even if they ultimately don’t actually go together.

Solidly middle-aged and with a genetic background not known for having a good memory past the age of, say, 26, my brain loses ideas really fast when interrupted very unexpectedly, even faster than it can even forget dreams. *Way* faster. So that could be not just one, but two or even three magical creative eurekas completely lost to an unexpected visitor at the door.

Not every creative type works like this, and I admit I have done some good writing in coffee shops (tho’ that’s more probable if I’m there by myself). But overall, I do best with long hours of alone time, and a good distance between me and the closest person.

And sure, this does not apply to *every* single creative type, nor to such a degree. But I suggest that non-creatives err on the side of caution, or try this homework: Ask your creative friend about this sometime, and ask them to be honest, and above all, don’t be offended if they admit that yes, sometimes they can’t help but be polite, that time you just showed up, they really really just wanted you to go.

Make no mistake: When you enter into an artist’s studio, writer’s office, or any other “creativity happens here” space while Things are being Made, you are invading something sacred, something private, some moment unique and unusual. The Made Things come from inside someone’s head, and anything that comes from outside of that zone will distract from that process and destabilize everything the brain was constructing at that moment. While the degree of this varies with each creative person, if you are non-creative, tread lightly and more enlightened about the Things you might interrupt.

So, on behalf of all the creative people you know, I ask everyone to please make the effort to be expected and known before you show up, unless the building is actually burning down all around your favorite creative person.

And, for the record, even then you still might be unwelcome.

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  1. Finally somebody that see things as I do. I have even my warning sign on my door! And my family know I become a beast if I am writing literature. Not that I am not angry when they interrupt me while writing something else, but literature really meas that I can tell them F&*ck off without even thinking about.

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