On being creative every dayJuly 20th, 2012 at 8:06 pm ET
I’m trying to resume a daily writing habit again, after reading Laura Vanderkam’s short book (really just a long article) about making more out of your mornings. I have a limited appetite for business books (and I have to be in the right mood, and the author has to be less oblivious of his/her own biases than they usually are, etc. etc.), but I liked this one, in part because she was making three main points that everyone basically already knows but most people are too lazy to do anything with:
- If you want to incorporate a change into your life, don’t just dabble; instead, work systematically to make it a habit. That way, you won’t have to think about whether or not to do it. Your inner autopilot will take it over.
- You have more time than you think; you’re just spending it watching Toddlers and Tiaras and screwing around on the Internet (or sitting around drinking, or whatever) rather than in pursuing the life change you say you don’t have time for.
- For most people, early-morning time is both potentially high-productivity time, and relatively free of external obligations, so it’s a good point in the day to try inserting some life-changing habits.
That’s it. You don’t have to read the book now (although you can; it’s easy and there are a few nuggets I didn’t quote here).
I flirt periodically with a daily writing habit (see, for instance, this post); it’s hard to keep up. But I seem happier when I’m getting daily creative exercise, so I’m going to try again. In terms of the emotional benefits, it turns out I’m fairly ecumenical regarding what it is I’m working on. I have a couple of poems and longer essays going; there’s a short story or two; and then of course there’s this blog, with both the short pieces I dash off and the longer pieces that take some thought. And, of course, there’s the cartooning class that I’m starting next week, which may turn out to be a bust but that I’m still excited about.
The problem isn’t finding time to write, it’s finding time to write when I’m feeling energized and creative and loose. I do have a history of productive mornings, at least before the Internet came along and ruined everything — left to my own devices I fidget for a while but I do eventually settle down and work. I’m too smart for tricks like Freedom, and besides, it’s nice to have the Internet to look things up; not screwing around on it is a matter of good habits rather than enforcement. So I think I’m going to experiment with a regimen like this for a while:
- Set a consistent wake-up time (let’s call it 7:00 during the week, 8:00 on weekends). Go to bed early enough that I can tolerate that. If I can, I’ll inch the weekday wake-up back toward 6:30 or even 6:00, but let’s take this one step at a time.
- Out of bed when the alarm sounds (and, based on my history, I’ll probably wake up at 6:58 without it). Shower, dress, and make coffee, and be seated in my “creativity spot” in the house by 7:20.
- Allow one hour (until 8:20) for unbroken creative activity. If I get fidgety, I can stop at 8:00 (40 minutes), but under no circumstances before. Fidgety is part of the point — I want to know what the awkward silence ends up producing.
- No restrictions on what: writing this blog, taking notes, doing research toward a creative project, drawing my cartoon series that will make me world-famous, finger-painting, deciding what recipes to include in my cookbook, etc. Creative work on the computer counts, or with pen and paper, or (theoretically) on a typewriter; writing in my journal counts; work for an audience or work for my secret self counts. No rules.
- Actively police my Internet screwing around during this time. Turn off notifiers. Directed Googling for links is okay, but no Internet rabbit-holes, no Twitter, and no email. Especially no work email. There are plenty of other times in the day for that.
One of the important points here is that I’m not predefining what “creativity” means. Really anything I do that is expressive or experiential, rather than about consuming the endless stream of low-signal-to-noise junk that’s around in the air, ought to count.
After that, we’ll see. But I’ll live with that for a while and see what happens. I’m excited!