Splattering Bad. Moodling Good. - Christine Kane

“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.

  • Erin Blaskie

    Hi Christine!

    Great post! Did you know that there is actually an online learning environment system called Moodle? I use it to run a group coaching program as it’s basically like an online university.

    I thought it was neat that you called your creative process that because when I am feeling creative, I log in to Moodle and I write content for my courses.


    Erin Blaskie
    Business Services, ETC

    Giving Business Owners Freedom by Managing the BS, etc.

  • Jeanne

    I’ve been gone from here a few days and it was a real shock to see someone offended by that comment – I was certainly not intending to disagree with Elaine’s comment on the word moodling as I actually kind of agree with her – not as much about moodling as about so many of the cutesy “emo” terms used by and about artists these days.

    Mostly I was thinking that words can lead you into traps and looking at the interplay between the elaines had actually led me to an answer to my problem.

    I don’t know if anyone is still reading the comments on this post, I wish I could think that the appropriate Elaine would see this!!

  • Christine Kane

    oh okay – i just re-read the comments up there elaine, and yes, i can see how that could be perceived as jeanne and i “talking about” your comment. i didn’t feel it like that. i apologize. i was just chiming in as in “yes, i get hung up on words..” and i felt it continued on my own comment about discipline. so, yes, i can understand your anger. all the best to you on your blogging journey!

  • Christine Kane

    wow — i must have missed something here, elaine. i didn’t read that into jeanne’s comment at all either. (of course, i’m on the road in a tiny hotel room and just cramming comments in between rehearsals – so i might’ve not paid attention.) but you wrote “…because from Jeanne’s comment it seems you’re not really interested in hearing anything but “you go, you cute playful moodly girls!” ” which is simply untrue. i was referring to my own hang up on “discipline” and jeanne’s hang up on “scheduling.”

  • elaine1

    Hi elaine

    I feel that Jeanne was only building on my comment about personality labels and how some people need them as it helps them understand/perceive ‘why people are that way’ etc..etc..(I guess we’d kind of moved the conversation around to personalities and labels, building on your thoughts around slogans for personalities – which I totally agree with you)

    I don’t believe that she was in any way referring to you, and was talking generally building on these ideas. I loved your discussion and sad to think that you’ll not return to this blog…

  • Elaine

    oops, apology for my typo. “In case you didn’t notice” is what I meant to write.

  • Elaine

    Well Jeanne . . . I don’t think I’m hung up on labels and words (though I am a writer and care deeply about language and communication, just as Christine does) but I am a bit stunned to be insulted by one of this progressive blog’s readers for having an opinion that’s different from yours. I don’t think my opinion is silly or hung up. The post is about a WORD, in case you didn’t noticed, so of course the discussion is going to be about the word. And Christine, the thing I love best about your amazing work is that it doesn’t reduce important stuff to being trite. But in this case, for me, it did. Enough said. So I will stop visiting your site daily as I have been for a long time — because from Jeanne’s comment it seems you’re not really interested in hearing anything but “you go, you cute playful moodly girls!” And that’s a shame, because your work deserves better.

  • Elaine B aka Elaine 1

    Ok…Elaine 3 is actually Elaine 1…I was trying to help differentiate… we’re not multiplying in huge numbers… honestly!!

    Have an amazing evening in chautauqua (just how is that pronounced??!!)…I’m just heading back to the submerged UK!!


  • Christine Kane

    Hi Jeanne – I used to have a phobia about the word “discipline.” Now, I really love it because I’ve put it into a different context. And yes, we all do get hung up on words and labels! (I think it’s called being human. That’s why it’s so good to always question your assumptions.)

  • Jeanne

    Hi Christine, its me again. I figured it out – its the word scheduling. I can’t schedule anything – I have a phobia about the word. One of my housemates just told me I’m not talking about scheduling – I’m talking about formatting – suddenly I can see the possibilities in formatting my time to separate moodling from splatter.

    speaking of Elaine #3s post – Silly how we can get hung up on labels and words, isn’t it?

  • Christine Kane

    hey kammie – great to hear from you and thanks for your thoughts!

    elaine #1 – (i’m in chautauqua, NY right now – and it’s lovely!) thanks for the thoughts on business. i actually see so many similarities in both worlds (arts/biz) that it’s hard to differentiate. and yes, i think EVERYONE deals with attention splatter no matter where they find themselves!

    elaine #2 – thanks for the very kind words. and as far as “moodle” goes, i guess i like any word that sounds like what it is. moodling is “cutesy,” yes. but it’s also (for me) a great way to take the heavy-important-i’m-so-artsy pressure off of the activity of creating. that’s why i use it. and maybe we are both “serious” artists – but IMHO, the more “serious” we get, the more play we need! (and the less seriously we need to take parts of ourselves!)

    elaine #3 – (is this for real?) thanks for the moodle thoughts!

  • elaine B

    Hi there! I guess I don’t see ‘moodling’ as cutesy… I see it used as an adjective to describe what is happening…I think it describes what you are actually doing (I quite like saying it… trying to get it into a sentence sometime today!!) Re: personalities… I guess that some human beings like to ‘pigeon-hole’ and label characteristics or traits, as it’s comforting for their logical minds… so we can say ‘ahh!!! that’s why they are like that!!! We love putting people into categories. Labeling is not necessarily a good thing

  • Elaine

    Dear Christine, I am a huge, huge fan of your writing – and you should write a book – you bring an intelligence to new age thinking that is rare and wonderful. But I’m going to be the naysayer who really dislikes this word “moodling.” It’s affected and cutesy. For Brenda Ueland’s time and emotional climate it might have not been so, but for me it’s like the worst part of the Artist’s Way — all the cutesy slogans and names for your different personalities. You’re a grownup, and a serious artist, and so am I; don’t need the cutesy affectations. I see I’m obviously in the minority here but I would gently suggest that a little “moodling” goes a long way — not the activity, bu the term.

  • Elaine

    Hi Christine

    I think business people struggle also with ‘attention splatter’. I have been working recently with many managers who try to ‘spin’ too many plates at once and are writing emails, whilst attending a teleconference, whilst answering a text on their mobile phones… the day to day demands of coming to work ‘to do’… – too much ‘doing’ not enough Moodling perhaps?? Their intentions are good but their focus is screwed!!!

    Hope it is sunny and warm in Asheville… I left the UK at the weekend on business (escaping all the horrendous floods!!! BUT the heavy rain seems to have followed me to Geneve!!)

  • Kammie

    Hey Christine,

    It’s been a while since I’ve stopped by and was happy to see your article about moodling. I actually first came across that term last year when I cited this quote on the PMP blog…

    “Moodling, a combination of musing and mental doodling, can lead to floating over any number of obstacles…” ~Jane Champagne

    I LOVE the term and thanks for bringing it out into the light even further. As one of the “creative mind/corporate minders”…I have to float back and forth between both worlds.

    “Moodling” is definitely a process that helps me navigate the ebb and flow better! It can certainly help float over any number of obstacles.

    Hope you are having a fabulous summer lady. I’ve taken advantage of some free time to moodle.

    Peace and oodles of moodles,

  • Sylvia C.

    Duh. I am re-reading the post now, to see your quote at the beginning…sorry about that!

    I’ve heard many good things about her book. I am currently reading “The Right to Write” (Julia Cameron), which I have also heard many good things about. I am loving it.

    I love these writer’s books, because you can enjoy them over and over again.

    Thanks again..


    Sylvia C.

  • Christine Kane

    hi sylvia,

    no i didn’t make up the word. i think brenda ueland made it up. at least that’s the ONLY place i’ve ever seen it (her book is called “if you want to write.” it’s the very first book i read about writing, and at the time, it was the perfect thing for me.) thanks for the note!

  • Sylvia C.

    Hey there, Christine,

    I agree there needs to be a book (written by you!)

    So, I have a question: did you make up the word moodling? I’m sure the technique isn’t really made up by you, because it is something, like you said, that all artists can do so naturally if we just allow ourselves.

    I really enjoyed your perspective…like always. I hope you had a great weekend!


    Sylvia C.

  • Christine Kane

    hi kathy – the best way i know of to allow for moodling time is to actually schedule it. call it “creative” time if that helps. but that often creates even more pressure to CREATE something. when i first return from a road trip, i tend to be hyper and jumpy, and it’s hard to sit still and write. allowing for moodling time as my songwriting time – especially for the first full week – will gradually ground me back into my creative self.

    hi caren! it’s funny that you bring up kids. when i am really kicking butt on a song – i feel like a kid – not like some maniacal genius of a songwriter. I just feel happy and playful. that’s IT. (and I think I’ll write the book AFTER the next studio CD comes out! maybe there’ll be more time then!)

    hi michelle – yep, it’s a great word. and it gives you permission to allow for that time too!

    hi jeanne – my sense of it is that you simply KNOW when you’re splattered. moodling for me can be really uncomfortable cuz my voices are often shouting, “what EXACTLY are we doing here?” but i KNOW it’s an activity unto itself. maybe i’m sitting with the guitar. Maybe i’m working on a class i’ll be teaching next week. i’ve scheduled in the time and i’m sitting with that time and moodling. HOWEVER, if i’m checking email and trying to pay a random bill and i’m putting the dishes away with no sense of why or how – THAT’S spattering! make sense?

    thanks mindi! i think you’ve added to some of what i wrote above! congrats on starting your blog! and i’m so happy to hear you’ve done all that stuff since last week’s retreat. it was great to meet you!

  • Mindi

    It’s hard to define the difference between moodling and splattering–I know sometimes during the day (often early afternoon) I need a break and I end up splattering (checking email and random stories on the net, etc.) but I recently (as of last Thursday) tried scheduling in a different sort of time–creative time, I called it (didn’t have the word “moodle” yet!) and it was awesome! I used that time to think, to write, to listen to music, to play–and then I found I was more focused on the “work” later that needed to be done.
    Thanks for a great post, Christine! And you’ve inspired me to finally start my blog–rev-o-lution.blogspot.com 🙂

  • Jeanne

    And now I have to think -which IS this? Am I moodling, or just splattering? Some of it is necessary, and leads to ideas for the studio (I’m a glass artist.) But which is the stuff its OK to do and which should I try to stop doing? SInce you can’t really moodle with glass like music, I’ll have to figure out which kinds of things do lead to ideas and which are just time killers.

    I know I do too much time killing and I also know that the moodling time is necessary. I keep having to explain this to family who think I should be working – I AM!

    Hmn, got to think on this.

  • Michelle

    What a great word! MOODLING! I love it. I moodle its just a part of my creative process. I just never really knew what to call it. Now that I have such a great name for it, it suddenly seems to have more importance in my process already. Isn’t that great how giving something a name changes the value you put on that time.

    There are so many instances in life where moodling is discouraged, we are conditioned to keep going and work hard, to pay attention, to stop day dreaming so to speak.

    I think everyone needs to take time to Moodle!!!

  • Caren

    Annnddd… just after I commented, got an e-mail from the Sudbury Valley discussion list (www.sudval.org), with this wonderful video, thought it was a propos:


  • Caren

    Wow! Christine, I’ve never read anything quite like this before. I knew I needed “downtime”… and I knew I needed space to create, connect with myself, and give my ideas room to be born… but always, always, I would end up splattering, feeling worse than when I started — *forgetting* my ideas! Scheduled moodling time! This is revolutionary! You understand the artist’s mind so well! (From living it with awareness, I imagine) *WHEN* is your book coming out?!!

    Ya know…one of the many reasons I unschool with my boys is there is NO moodling time in school, no time to lie on the grass and let your mind go. I would never have considered homeschooling, but my oldest is a dreamer, deep thinker… I knew “school” would not feed him, so I looked for something that would work.

    This balance between the “business” of life and… what? The dreamtime of life? I was about to say between the business of life and the living of it, but it’s all living… between the business of life and our *purpose* in life, that balance is something *so* necessary… thanks for showing us what you’ve learned! And singing along the way! 😉

  • Kathy

    Moodling. What a great concept. My being most definitely needs it. I’m one of those creative types trying to function in the business world. I think what happens to me is that my multitasking work life often pushes out moodling time….and it’s only when I lay down to sleep (or meditate!) that finally the creative moodling can surface. Sometimes it’s in the form of dreams or sometimes, depending on my stress level, it comes out more forcefully keeping me awake at night. If I would only allow myself some moodling time in every day, who knows what would happen! Thanks for the suggestions and I think I’ll log off and moodle right now.