“So you see, the imagination needs moodling – long, inefficient, happy idling, dawdling, and puttering. The people who are always briskly doing something may have little, sharp, staccato ideas, such as: “I see where I can make an annual cut of $3.47 in my meat budget.” But they have no slow, big ideas. And the fewer consoling, noble, shining, free, jovial, magnanimous ideas that come, the more nervously and desperately they rush and run from office to office and up and downstairs, thinking by action at last to make life have some warmth and meaning.” -Brenda Ueland, If You Want to Write
One of the reasons so many of us have Attention Splatter is because we require a dose of unfocused attention in order to function, and especially in order to create. This dreamy drifty unfocused time is called “moodling.” If you are creative, then you need to moodle. (And “creative” is not limited to professional artists. Teachers, parents, social workers, entrepreneurs – these are creative callings.)
Please do not for a minute think that Moodling is the same as Attention Splatter. In fact, I believe that creative types become more prone to Attention Splatter when they haven’t allowed for enough Moodling in their days. Moodling is how their minds process all that they take in each day. It is where their new ideas are born.
When I teach songwriting to beginning students, they look at me quizzically when I talk about scheduling daily small chunks of time to write songs. They want to know, “What do you actually do during that ‘writing’ time?” The myth is the media image of the songwriter or writer having an outline, a perfect title, or a perfect beginning all planned. And then this same puritanical writer uses the assigned hour merely to fill in the blanks – as if the song or the chapter or the poem were a crossword puzzle. This is a daunting image. It’s an image that scares most people away from writing or songwriting or creating anything.
So, I answer their question with one word…
Moodling is play time. It’s the dreamy place where you’re allowed to come up with anything…or nothing. If I’m writing a song, I usually spend the first half hour just playing around on my guitar. I’ll hum some lines, or I’ll teach myself a Kelly Clarkson song just for kicks. Eventually, out of that dreamy space, something concrete clunks up against my brain and says, “Pay attention to this. It’s kind of fun.” Maybe it’s a riff. Maybe it’s a melody line. Or maybe it’s some words. That’s when I grab my recorder or my notebook and get a little more focused. Then, maybe I am focused for 20 minutes or so. Then, maybe I go back to moodle-mode for a while. Eventually, I am consistently back and forth between moodling and editing, or moodling and thinking. Sometimes I’ll get up and make lunch or clean the kitchen while I’m still humming. A line will come while I’m putting a dish away, and I’ll rush back to the guitar.
This looks like Splattering. But it’s not. It’s Moodling.
I do the same thing when I write a blog. I’m a little more focused once I start writing, but when I first get an idea, I have to mull it over and let it have some moodling time. Even then, I typically write a “Shitty First Draft” (a la Anne Lamott) before I bring in the outlines and the organization. I do the same thing when I plan workshops or retreats, too.
Moodling makes things take longer. That might be why so many people are uncomfortable with the idea. But my experience is that it makes writing and creating much more rewarding and alive and deep. Not only for the reader. But also for you, the writer or creator.
Creative Mind / Corporate Mind
The reason I wrote the last three posts about Attention Splatter is because creative people are being challenged to learn how to be business people. It’s a good thing. We no longer have to bow to the almighty corporate executives to make money. We are becoming the corporate executives.
It’s similar to the world of spiritual practice. Would-be-gurus, holy people, and meditators are no longer spending their lives on mountain tops and in temples. They are now in the next office. They’re sitting by us during lunch. They are all around us. Indeed, they are us. They are learning to live among other people and shine the light in every situation, not just in the ashram.
So it is with artists. Artists and creative types are moodling during their creative time, and learning how to focus during their business time. The things that serve us in our creativity don’t always serve us in our business dealings. Attention Splatter is Moodling gone awry. It’s when we use Moodling to avoid the uncomfortable (but important) stuff we need to get done: writing the press release, calling the agent, putting some thought into our business ideas, doing the retail taxes.
So, use the principles from the posts on Attention Splatter. And make sure you get your share of Moodling time.