Shallow ideas have fleeting impact, while deep creativity impacts the lives of others and the broader culture. If Christians want to have significant influence, their creativity must be fueled by the principles of deep creativity. Silly nostalgia is no good. Kitsch will only distract audiences and dilute the seriousness of the gospel, and sacrifice of our Savior. Our era requires creatives passionate about engaging the heart of the culture, and doing so requires deep creativity. As a matter of clarity, I want to note -the concept for this article was inspired partially by the work of Cal Newport in his book, Deep Work. It’s a great book, and I encourage you to read it.
Deep Creativity From Deep Faith
When we become adults we put away the naivete of little children(1 Cor 13:11). We seek to learn wisdom, and love it as Proverbs exhorts us to love wisdom. This does not mean we lose our sense of wonder or joy. Jesus rebuked the Pharisees who thought religion was about having the appearance of wisdom, wrapped up in perfection. Jesus calls us to maintain our sense of wonder, even as we are called to grow in wisdom.
In a statement that offended the religious elites, Jesus told people we must enter the kingdom with faith and humility like children(Mat 18:2-4). Thus we are to seek to trust God like little children and to remain humble like children, even while we are to grow in wisdom and become holy. We must pursue one without losing the other. This is the sign of a mature Christian. One who has joy and wisdom, deep theology and deep compassion.
Deep Love Fuels Deep Creativity
We know we are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength. A little reflection enables us to see our creativity and imagination flow from the same sources – the mind, heart, soul and strength. Our love for God should drive us to create with passion and deep creativity. We want to be good stewards of the gifts God has given us, and this means learning how to minimize distractions and to develop deep creativity that speaks more powerfully to others.
Deep Creativity is Increasingly Rare
“In an age of network tools, knowledge workers increasingly replace deep work with the shallow alternative—constantly sending and receiving e‐ mail messages like human network routers, with frequent breaks for quick hits of distraction. Larger efforts that would be well served by deep thinking, such as forming a new business strategy or writing an important grant application, get fragmented into distracted dashes that produce muted quality.”
‐ Cal Newport
Distractions are the enemy. Emails arise like a warbling wave to distract us each morning. Alerts and notifications pester our pockets and vibrate in our vests until we silence them. But we have been distracted already. In an instant our retinal scan over the glowing screen has launched a thought pattern far away from the next great film we are trying to write, or the next grand installation we have been commissioned to design. Our focus has been hijacked by comments on Instagram, and texts from difficult people. Our imagination divided. Our focus compromised.
This is why deep creativity is rare. From the convenience of texting a babysitter to the detrimental FOMO (fear of missing out), all these distractions keep us from creating content and artwork at the top of our game. We can justify it, but we cannot deal with it until we address it head on.
Deep Creativity is Increasingly Valuable
The good news is that other creatives have the same challenge. They have bills to pay, crazy friends who won’t stop texting and family needs just like you. They have to fight to do deep creative work just as hard as anyone. Only those who do the creative deep work will rise to the top. Anyone can be a copycat. Anyone can spit out a quick melody, or create a twist of another’s idea with Photoshop in a few minutes. The world doesn’t need more quick, shallow ideas. The world needs deep thinkers and creators who will provoke us all to see God’s perspectives and to celebrate what is true, good and beautiful in this world. The hunger for such art will always exist.
Four Strategies For Deep Creativity
Cal Newport offered three strategies for deep work. The fourth is my addition to further aid creatives of faith. Here are those principles:
First, schedule distraction periods. This means you need to create boundaries around the time spent on emails, social media, etc. This usually is best in the afternoon, but should be limited to an hour or so when you do it. As we all know, social media can quickly become a black hole. Set an alarm, and stick to it. Then get back to the deep work.
Second, develop a deep work ritual. If you saw my blog on time management for creatives you will remember the importance of ritualizing. This ties in nicely with Cal’s conceptual framework. For most people your most effective time for deep creativity will be in the early morning because there are fewer distractions. Days just seem to fill up with phone calls and distractions the longer the day goes on. However, I do have creative friends who prefer to work at night after everyone goes to bed (especially if you have little kids). Do whatever fits with your personal life and natural gifting. The one other thing Cal notes is that it is usually best to work in blocks of 1 to 3 hours at a time based upon what works for you. He also notes that it’s best if you work in 60-90 minute intervals, with maybe a small break in-between.
Third, create an evening shutdown ritual. Sleep is critically important, but the way you shut down the day is also important. Cal recommends making a plan for the next day on how you will finish any unfinished tasks of the day, so you can take it off your mind, and leave it on the page/ in your planner. This is incredibly powerful for creativity because it frees your mind up from remembering tasks so your mind can dream about ideas for upcoming projects. Getting a full night sleep is more important than you think. A great book on this is, Why We Sleep , by Matthew Walker.
Fourth, Take time before your deep creative work to deal with your heart and your soul. If you are anxious, fearful or worried you don’t have to just ‘suck it up’. You have a resource in God. So take time to read some of the Psalms, and take time to pray. Confess your sins, and ask for God’s help in areas of weakness. Then ask God to give you joy in the process as the Holy Spirit comforts and inspires you.
An Example of Deep Work and Deep Creativity
J.K. Rowling finished her last book of the Harry Potter series by getting away from all distractions at home. She stayed in a hotel in Edinburgh. She initially did it as a trial and didn’t plan on staying, but writing went so well away from all distractions, she finished the whole book.
Implementing Deep Creativity: Tools and Techniques
Some artists have studios without phones or even the internet so as to eliminate distractions. Others simply buy noise-cancelling headphones, so they aren’t distracted by the rest of the kids in the dorm or family members in the house. Look for simple answers.
There are also software tools now to help you block notifications on your phone for a set time, or to block you from accessing the internet on your browser for a set time. There are apps like Free, RescueTime, and StayFocusd that you can setup to give you back some boundaries and self-control. No shame in using whatever it takes. Realize this: The Stanford School of Psychology has trained these software giants to be master manipulators and distractors. Your will power is not designed to withstand the tools and ‘nudges’ they utilize.
Be wise, and do whatever it takes to gain back the ability to focus and do deep work with deep creativity. Be careful. All too often, if you are like me, we can spend more time looking for some high-tech tool when something much simpler will suffice. Whatever it takes, kill the distractions, and focus on deep creativity.
What Tools Do You Use?
I would love to compile a list of tools people use for deep creativity. What helps you focus? No matter what it is – digital aids, homemade alarms, old hourglass timers….etc. Let’s help each other out by sharing tools for pursuing deep creativity.
….Place your answer in the comments down below and let’s encourage each other.
Copyright © 2022 Joel & Michelle Pelsue. All Rights Reserved. Used with Permission.