7:30 BELLS: A Challenge from the Bell Tower

As part of the 7:30 BELLS series, I will occasionally write about the essential Bell Tower. For without the Bell Tower’s support, the bell couldn't ring ring with life.

I need two seemingly contradictory things in my Bell Tower to produce my best creative work, to allow the bell to ring most beautifully.

First, Concentrated Sustained Attention: time each day to focus on my story, time sustained over months. This may be only two hours a day, but it must happen nearly every day.

The second thing is Creative Drift: time each day for my mind to play with my story. The best place for this is the hammock at the Farm under the maple tree, or in the winter, a rocking chair facing a window. I swing or rock, proposing questions like . . . what happens when Eckhart is halfway up the mountain? Possibilities drift through my mind. The trick is to be directed enough to keep my thoughts from drifting away from my story altogether, yet loose enough to allow in new images and ideas. Creative Drift is the most important  practice for producing good work.

My best work comes from combining Concentrated Sustained Attention and Creative Drift. However, when the inevitable vagaries of life intervene—crisis, illness, other business—the first thing I abandon is Creative Drift. Why do I abandon it first if it’s the most essential element for good work? Because Concentrated Sustained Attention gets the pages written, the project DONE. To many people, Creative Drift doesn't seem essential.

I forget that getting the project done has no relationship to how GOOD the project will be. Creative Drift does. Our culture has conditioned me to believe that getting something done, is more important than how it is done, or even its result. This is a blind, wrong following of the Protestant Work Ethic that haunts me from cold, northern climes. It’s the idea that the hours spent working are more important than what the work produces. A story that takes ten years to write must surely be better than one that takes two. Every artist knows this is false.

Remember too, Creative Drift can actually save time by leading down better roads.

So from the Bell Tower, I challenge myself and all writers out there: The next time your writing time is pressed, prioritize Creative Drift in your Bell Tower. See if that results in not only a better, but even a more swiftly completed, work of art.

Allow creative winds to drift over the bell
and hear what beautifully rings.