Joe Hill’s Secret to Achieving Creative Focus

One of the things that makes the great truly great is their ability to make difficult things seem effortless, at least when they’re looked upon from the outside. It’s one of the reasons I’m intrigued by seeing the process of great writers up close, even if I’m long past the stage where I believe there’s some mysterious secret to writing that will unlock everything.

In this respect, Joe Hill’s tumblr post on creative math achieves greatness twice over. It makes his writing itself seem effortless, while simultaneously acknowledging the effort that goes into his work, and its a distillation of a great deal of complex thought and experience into a single elegant point:

what’s my trick for staying focused on a project? Happiness. I follow pleasure. It makes me feel good to stay focused on one thing at a time, to pour myself fully into it, so that’s what I do. I think any creative act usually grows naturally from enjoyment. Experiment with your approach and see what gives you the best high… then do that.

via Creative math: 1 > 2 at Joe Hill’s Thrills

When you consider the overall complexity of Hill’s creative output – he’s a novelist, a comic-book writer, and a damn fine short fiction writer – this advice seems wildly counter-intuitive. Monthly comic books have deadlines that roll through faster than novel deadlines, which means you naturally end up having to stop one and work on the other.

Judging by the rest of his post, Hill’s secret doesn’t seem to be working on something until it’s done, but creating hard edges to the times he devotes to a project. When he does a chunk of novel, he looks for a natural stopping point and allows it to lie fallow until he’s ready to pick it up again. 

Given some of my recent reading into the power of incubating creative work, this too seems like solid advice for creative-types with multiple projects running.

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