Unfortunately, I often I find it hard to keep focus even when mundanity is not interfering. After all, there are so many things that are just begging to be made! I know this is an issue (my desire to do everything) and I have learned that I have to draw a line somewhere or I will have so many things going at once that I cannot, in reasonable time, ever finish anything. However, I I also understand that I need a certain amount of creative chaos or I lose interest in everything, as there is such a thing as "doing too much".
To manage both my aspirations and time, I periodically have a heart-to-heart with my creative self. Knowing where my true passions lie helps me to weed out the things that seem exciting for a moment, but would not hold interest long enough to finish the work (a side tracking which in turn impedes the progress of the really inspiring items).
For me, digging down deep into Viking costuming and fiber arts is really what keeps me motivated. Other things often spark my interest, but do not hold it for very long. I have learned to evaluate which new endeavours are likely to bear fruit and which are not, and if need be, I force myself to step away from an item or idea. Unlike many SCAdians who quilt or crochet or who make modern jewelery, mundane arts rarely grasp my heart long enough to see them completed, so I have learned to very seriously look at any anachronism that might grab my attention. Weaving a few quick scarves for holiday gifts? That is in the realm of possibility as I love giving hand made gifts. Therefore, undertaking a task like that could be part of a pleasant foray into mundane arts. Taking the time to make new machine embroidered new curtains for a guest bedroom? That is unlikely to ever happen, even though the idea has appealed to me at various points in time. After careful evaluation, I would need to step away from that project.
Learning to weed out the less inspiring items, however, is only half of the solution to my organizational dilemma. To help maintain focus I sit down and map out my research into different areas. I list what I want the final goal to be for each (sometimes it is a final project resulting in an item and sometimes it is just a better understanding of a period practice). I then start working on materials for classes I plan to teach relating to these things (because to me, art and knowledge are both meant to be shared). Preparing class materials and notes forces me to deeply reevaluate my work and be more systematic about how I organize things. It shows me where my knowledge might be lacking in an area and it gives me time to conduct the additional research necessary to fill in those gaps.
I make lists of items I need to create or source to help illustrate what I plan to teach and make plans to finish those items in time for a class (or a large A&S display). These are the projects I will work on for the foreseeable future. (Often, I also categorize those into "immediate" and "long-term".) And yes, I have multiple things going at once. Working on a single item at a time leads to me becoming almost immediately bored. To resolve that problem, but still maintain focus, I do keep the plethora of projects relevant to each other, which still provides some continuity in my work.
For example, I currently am trying to update my sheep breeds research. This involves academic research but also spinning the newer samples I have acquired. In addition to that, I am working on a woven sampler of period Viking weave structures. I also am really intrigued about ways to produce the fine worsted yarn in some of the upper class "Birka type" fabrics so am doing additional spinning samples (and research) as time allows. The range of items helps me to keep my focus, and interest, without being so far across the board that it causes some sort of breakdown or road block that might render me incapable of proceeding with any of the projects. Having everything tied together also leads to unexpected revelations about one item while researching another, always a pleasant bonus.
What happens when I get sidetracked too far? Last fall I choose to update my Ottoman research as I was asked to teach some classes and get information out about Ottoman costuming for Atlantian 12th Night. The research itself, and the resulting articles, was inspiring and something I greatly enjoyed, but the creation of the new costume that I felt I had to do for 12th Night was nothing but frustration because my heart was not in it. I have been more careful since then in evaluating how badly I want to create something before I start.
In short, the way I best keep focus is:
- Evaluate and understand what most inspires me: How much do I really want to pursue an area of interest? Do I think I will keep interest long enough to see it to completion? Will I feel guilty if I step away from my primary passion to engage in a new project? Answering these questions will tell me if stepping away from what I consider my primary focus is worth the effort.
- Plan for Teaching: Even if I am new to a subject, I approach my studies as if I were going to some day teach it (or another way to look at it would be to envision that I were in a class teaching it, how would I want the material presented to me). This helps me to better map out a direction to my work and gives me a list of the items I would need to produce to make sense of it.
- When possible, have projects that build on each other: From my spinning experiments and spinning the samples for sheep breed study, become a better spinner which in turn can lead someday to an entirely hand spun garment. Each work builds a skill necessary for my larger goals.
- Occasionally allow myself time to breath. Sometimes you need to plow through something just to meet a deadline for a class or display. That is fine, but I know that I personally get burnt out more readily under constant pressure. I also do know that other distractions can be healthy and inspiring, so it is necessary to find the balance that can keep my motivation strong.