Welcome back to the Creative Life Adventure.
The title of this post doesn’t refer to the 1979 horror film When A Stranger Calls. Instead I’m talking about, from time to time, scheduling a change of scenery.
Long periods of deep focus are common with creative work. This is necessary and if you’re struggling to stay focused, Deep Work by Cal Newport, Essentialism by Greg McKeown, and Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi are a few books I recommend.
However, too much time spent on solo work in one environment can lead to monotony and stagnation. Sometimes we have more freedom than we realize; forgetting this can lead to voluntary self-imprisonment (as the Eagles sang, “So often times it happens that we live our lives in chains, and we never even know we have the key”). I experienced a little of that myself over the summer, feeling at times as if I was repeating the same day over and over. Some routine is a good thing, overall it helped me stay productive. But at some point I felt unfocused and my productivity was, in fact, slipping. I had started work on a new writing project but struggled to find the words.
Coincidence favored me. My wife had a professional commitment in another city and invited me to join her. We even made an adventure of it and took Amtrak instead of driving or flying. After only two days away, I returned home creatively rejuvenated and the words began flowing on my work-in-progress.
A change of scenery now and then is essential, not only to the creative process, but to life. When you feel truly stuck in life, you might need a dramatic shake-up such as moving or changing jobs. As I’ve written before, travel can transform your life in wonderful ways. However, most times you don’t need to leave town for a change in scenery. A simple visit to a coffee shop, a walk around the neighborhood, or lunch with a friend can serve the same purpose. A recent walk in our own town gave my wife and I a chance to reconnect during a busy week, but also put us in touch with the changing season and cooling temperatures (a blessing here in Florida) more vividly than we might achieve during our day-to-day routine.
Be your own judge as to when you need to get this kind of temporary transformation. Wait until you’re in a creative slump, or include “scheduled disruptions” in your calendar to keep yourself creatively charged. At the end of Ian Fleming‘s final James Bond novel, The Man with the Golden Gun, our hero contemplates settling down and concludes (spoiler alert) that he must live the life of a field agent because, “For James Bond, the same view would always pall.”
In real life, you don’t need to battle secret agents. Just get out of the house now and then.