Creators: Focus Not Exclusion

(This column is posted at and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

If you’re a creator – writer, artist, cosplayer, etc. – then there’s probably a list of things you have to do. This list, no matter how organized and ranked, can be a source of stress as there’s just so much to do. Sometimes being well-organized can be stressful as you have a very good grasp of how overloaded you are.

It’s hard to pick what to do isn’t it? Sure you can do this item, but what about this one? What about this new demand? Maybe you can get things in order, but you want to do these other things. You have a lot of ideas and don’t want to exclude them.

Let’s think about it differently.

We’re afraid of excluding things, but don’t think of making choices what to do as exclusion. Think of it as focus first.

To get something done you need to focus, from 30 minutes of writing a day, to a weeklong binge to finish a costume. When you focus there are things you don’t do, but not as you’re excluding them, but instead focusing on getting something done.

Don’t think of all the things you’re not doing – instead choose to focus on one thing and get it done at a time. Take the first item on your list and finish it. Then the next, then the next. Your intent is not leaving things out (even though you are), but it’s getting something accomplished with focus.

Yes, this is a trick of language, a sort of word hack. But it works. It’s a way of changing perspective to see what you’re doing differently so you’re less worried (and thus distracted) and more getting things done.

You’re a creative person. Getting creative with perspective helps you get more done.

Steven Savage

Timely Isn’t Always Relevant

(This column is posted at and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

Thus it is that the Great man abides by what is solid, and eschews what is flimsy; dwells with the fruit and not with the flower.

  • Tao Te Ching, Chapter 38, Legge translation

Over at his blog, Serdar discusses the seeming constant need out there to keep track of what’s timely, relevant, and so on. There’s so much to keep track of, and people want us to have opinions on everything. We can’t, yet we’re somehow supposed to because everyone demands our time, demands opinion.

If you’re any kind of writer or artist, if you comment on culture and politics, you know what this feels like. I experience this myself.

There’s a sinister side to this as well, beyond the merely annoying. It keeps us distracted, it keeps us fighting, it keeps us arguing. If you’re a news junkie like myself, you know how exhausting it to watch the media clog with manufactured outrage or see important issues disappear under a wave of B.S.

Ultimately it’s up to us to decide on what’s relevant and what matters to us and bow out of where we can’t. There’s only so much attention to go around, and society has made itself into a spectacle enough as it is.

It’s also up to us to give people a break and understand their limits. They too have only so much time to spend or space to care. Much as we need our boundaries, they need theirs.

Maybe if we give each other enough space to focus on what matters, enough truly important issues will be paid attention to.

Steven Savage

Writing Thoughts: Focus, Not Limitation

(This column is posted at and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

Lately I’ve been talking about how we need to focus on our work to get anything done.  My friend Serdar has been following up on my musings, with discussing selecting work as triage or how we select our work carefully like a DJ.  Each column is a reading-worthy videpoint.

However, I have come to dislike the triage metaphor, and in further discussions with him, came to the realization that we creatives, writers, etc. often look at limiting ourselves as bad.

We don’t want to limit ourselves.  We want to tell every story, explore every nook, paint in colors no one has yet seen.  We want to do it all.  Creativity means a head full of infinity in a mortal frame that has to pick and choose what parts of that endlessness to let into the world.

We make it even harder because we often talk about our need to be selective and to cultivate work in negative ways.  Triage. Limitation.  Pairing ideas down.   Killing your darlings.  We come up with the most negative ways to talk about this, ensuring of course we want to do it less.

Thats the problem.  So let me make a suggestion – as a creative don’t talk about choosing what work to do in the negative, find positive terms.  Yes it’s a psychological trick, but by using negative terms you’ve already been tricked into seeing this as a bad thing.

Think of it as:

  • Focusing on the best choices you create.  You decide on what brings the most benefit and do it.
  • Curating the most important works you can do.  You’re like a librarian or a DJ creating a best-of for people, chosing what they truly need from your infinite repertoire of possibilities.
  • Cultivating a garden of possibilities.  You choose what to “grow” in your works and nurture it to life.
  • Being a steward of ideas.  Perhaps that means not just developing them, but also knowing when to pass ideas on to others.

So I challenge you as a creator to look at your need to focus and find the most postivie way to look at it that is still rational.  Find a way to see the good in it, and you’ll be able to focus better and more effectively.  In doing so, your need to make choices will be much easier.

You don’t need triage when the DJ has you dancing to the best tunes already.

– Steve