The Creative Magic of Absorption

The way to get creative projects rolling is to get enthusiastic about them. We must keep thinking about what we propose to do long enough for the priming effect of absorption to begin drawing forth the relevant ideas and information from our inner and outer lives. Isaac Newton believed that to solve a problem required “thinking on it continually.”

Archimedes by Domenico Fetti (1620)

We are at our creative best when completely absorbed in what we are doing. (Photo: Wikipedia)

By continually thinking about our project, we get into the creative mood specific to that project. A cocoon or atmosphere of feeling surrounds what we are doing. We have enveloped ourselves in a creative possibility cloud. As our mood-focussed attention gathers the relevant ideas, images, and bits of information around the emotional nucleus, the proposed project will take shape and the momentum will steadily increase. American sculptor Louise Nevelson said of the artist’s work, “It absorbs you totally, and you absorb it totally, everything must fall by the wayside by comparison.”

The ability to become deeply absorbed in a creative project is itself a talent. Existential psychologist Rollo May claims that absorption – being caught up or wholly involved in a work – is the hallmark of the artist. Characterizing the ability is a cultivated sensitivity to subtle feelings and finer shades of meaning and a developed skill in deploying the various mental and emotional resources at the creator’s disposal. In other words, we master absorption by deliberate practice while paying attention to what works. The English painter William Hogarth, like Thomas Edison, insisted, “Genius is nothing but labour and diligence.”

English historian Edward Gibbon has branded solitude as “the school of genius” because it facilitates absorption. The engrossed state of mind is one of the essential elements in the development of a creator’s unique vision and the bedrock necessity for steady production. Johann Sebastian Bach said, “Ceaseless work…analysis, reflection, writing much, endless self-correction; that is my secret.”

This business of sticking to it is vital. We cannot allow either personal or professional crises to break our absorption. We must pay close attention to where we expend our energies. Sometimes, it is not immediately apparent just what it is that has engaged our absorption. Especially for the more experienced creator, where absorption has become second nature, the process is not always conscious.

The need to maintain absorption in the face of life’s constant demands means creativity is a juggling act. The balls are time, attention, and energy. Moreover, creators must develop a strong emotional link to what we are doing while at the same time remaining as objective about the work as possible. Objectivity enables the critical eye without which we have no hope of assessing the true value of what we have done.

If you desire to become a creator of some kind, find your area of greatest interest, scare up an idea for a project, and get started by practicing the fine art of absorption.

Author: Thomas Cotterill

I am a manic-depressive made philosophical by my long struggle with the disruptive mood disorder, during which I spent sixteen years living as a forest hermit. I write philosophical essays, fantasy, and science fiction. My attempt to integrate creativity, psychology, philosophy, and spirituality imbues everything I write. You will find hundreds of related essays and articles on my blog. I live quietly in British Columbia's scenic Fraser Valley, a beautiful place in which to wax philosophical.

9 thoughts on “The Creative Magic of Absorption”

  1. I have nominated you for the Silver Quill Blogger Award! You must see my site to view the rules on how to accept this award! Congratulations! 🙂

  2. This is an excellent post, Thomas. I find that one of the things that is often hardest to explain to non-writers is the fact that a writer is never really off-duty; when you’re working on a creative project, it absorbs your entire being and dominates every aspect of your life. When I’m wrapped up in any given project, I find that I’m working on it constantly, regardless of what I’m actually doing. I think about it while I’m cleaning the house, walking the dog, cooking dinner; I even, occasionally, dream about it. It becomes a complete obsession, in a way that some people might find eerie, but which I think is one of the most wonderful things about creative writing.

  3. I cannot recall who, but someone once said, “obsession is the best weapon.” It is also the most powerful creative tool. Pertinent to your remarks, Mari, is the inability of non-writers to grasp the idea that writers are actually doing something when they appear to be just sitting in the chair or lying on the couch. I can’t count the number of times when someone has exclaimed, “I don’t know how you can just sit there like that!” This usually happens when I’m in the middle of working out a very nice piece of dialogue! And they wonder why I’m such a grouch.

  4. I feel blessed to have come across your blog. I’ve read a number of posts so far, each one as enlightening as the next… I plan to continue coming back to it 🙂
    You have the gift of understanding and translating subtle ideas beautifully. You seem to understand the idea from the inside, therefore it resonates with readers. It’s been very helpful to me (understatement!)
    Thank you.

  5. Thank you for the generous praise, Emma. You have made my day! I must add, however, that when it comes to politics and social issues I can get a bit irritable. Should you come across any of those more-salty posts, you have been warned. 🙂

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