The Distracted Perfectionist

For the last two days, I’ve been writing about creativity as a daily practice. The first day was about the importance of a daily practice and the second was about setting a priority of daily practice–the possibility of choosing to do your daily practice rather than something else. What I focused on was housework.

The lure of housework is not obvious. It’s a good thing to have a clean house. But when we use chores (and it can be gardening, errands or other not-doing-creative-work), we diminish the time spent creatively.

clock and calendarThere is another, far worse, way to ruin a daily practice. It’s the very computers we use to do a lot of creating. Once you are writing, drawing, creating on your computer, you are one click away from choosing a more interesting diversion. Playing computer games. Shopping online. And if you are a perfectionist, you can pretend it’s a virtue.

Playing games is a “needed distraction,” shopping is “faster than going to the store.” True, but it also is “not getting creative work done.” Computer games are addictive. After all, I have a post on advancing through levels in Zuma. I thought it was a mindless distraction, until I got stuck in level 12. Last night, I spent two obsessive hours trying to beat a computer game instead of something creative.

I felt slightly dizzy and guilty. I love creative work and wanted to do it, but I grabbed at a distraction and lost the time. Sure, I can say a little distraction is good. Yes, I can enjoy a little mindless fun. But when mindless fun begins to eat into creative time, when your creativity isn’t getting fed, when what I choose to do isn’t helping my daily practice, I have to consider what I’m doing.

And I think what I’m doing is letting myself get hooked into playing Zuma or online distractions. In fact, if I’m really honest, and I add up the hours I’ve spent doing both the past week, it’s a big number. It’s big enough to make me think about addiction. That’s a scary word, but if I spent as much time drinking as I did playing Zuma or engaging in online distractions, I’d be a serious drunk.

As a recovering perfectionist, I’ve told myself I need some downtime to regenerate and playing is good for me. As a creative person, I know I’m wasting time to avoid solving a creative wall I’ve hit.

It’s hard to look at our down time without rationalization, but it’s a good exercise. Perfectionists, particularly, want to be good at everything. It’s easy for me to say that playing Zuma is a way to get good at something I have little experience with–computer games. It took me a while to recognize the rationalization–similar to “I need to be informed about pop culture, so I’m reading People and Us this week, and watching reality shows on TV.” It’s the same kind of resistance to overcoming a creative block by reaching for drivel. It doesn’t help but it fills time so I don’t have to think.

This week, no Zuma. Just to see how much I miss it. Because I’ve rationalized that it teaches me something (hand/eye coordination) and even I recognize that as crap.

What’s your favorite distraction? How much time is it eating out of your daily creative practice? I don’t think I’m the only one to use online distractions as a hiding place. See what’ s holding you back. Put it down and see what happens.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer, artist and creativity coach. See her work at  Image of building with clock and calendar: Alfred Molon, 2005.  (c) 2007 All rights reserved.