I fight a war every day.
My adversaries are distraction, fatigue, and the demands of ordinary life. These adversaries include things I love (my husband and children) and things I loathe (laundry and shopping) as well as an oft-neglected need for renewal (of mind and body).
I fight these things each day so that I can do the one thing that fulfills my need to bring something new into the world: my creative work. My writing isn’t just my profession (although I give it that level of respect and ardor in its pursuit) – it is a calling (see The War of Art for a deeper understanding of this). It’s my contribution to the collection of human expression, rendering stories through my unique lens on the world. I’m radically egalitarian: I believe every person is called to express themselves in the world through their unique potential and that everyone has something worthy to contribute.
This is the first key: properly valuing the work.
Once you properly value something, you can easily find time for it, right? In fact, we don’t actually do this – we often don’t make time for the things we value most (in other words, we don’t put first things first, see 7 Habits of Highly Effective People). But if you acknowledge that writing is a vital part of who you are and you add a determination to put first things first, you will have a new urgency in seeking out time for your writing. Like the hot pursuit of a new love, you won’t have to be convinced to find time; you’ll be too busy seeking every opportunity to spend time with your work.
The second key is building creative endurance.
By creative endurance, I mean sustaining a creative focus long enough to immerse yourself in your work. You may have to start with small blocks of time and build up, just like a new exercise program. But blocking out time and muting distractions is vital to building endurance. For me, I can work in 40 min to 1 hour blocks and then I need a mental/physical rest. If I stretch, take a walk, get a drink – something that has no danger of turning a few minutes into forty – I can return and do another hour of creative work. If I Facebook or check email, I am lost (see Manage Your Day-to-Day). If I manage my breaks wisely, I can sustain my creative endurance for many hours at a time, day after day. Usually, though, I only have a limited number of hours each day before life requires attention, so husbanding those hours and spending them in pure creative work is vital to productivity.
The third key is (ironically) complete separation from creative work.
When I am tending to children or other duties – even the relatively mindless ones – I strive to stay present in the task at hand. The mind wanders, especially for creative types who like to live in their heads to begin with. But attention to the task at hand, rather than perpetually living (mentally) in that creative space does two things: 1) it makes you more likely to accomplish your demanding tasks, and 2) it gives your creative brain a rest by engaging it in alternative work. A mom who is both discussing the events of the day with her teenage son AND worrying how to solve a plot point is doing neither very well. Trust your subconscious to work those problems for you and bend your conscious mind to attending to your teen. Or fixing the dishwasher. Or deciding which ingredients are needed for tonight’s dinner. Even relatively mindless tasks allow an opportunity for stillness, which the mind also needs. Creating that mental separation can be difficult, especially for people who love to live in their worlds. Which is every single writer ever born.
The fourth key is creative renewal.
In a sense the third key is also renewal – giving your brain a rest via stillness or active alternate work that is not your creative work. But the fourth key is more specifically about creative renewal – a deliberate renewal of your creative soul by actively engaging in creative works. Reading, free writing, watching movies, TV, engaging in erudite discussions – all of this feeds the creative well. It will fill your subconscious mind with the raw stuffs you will use to create your work when the time comes. This isn’t TV-as-distraction or a brain-dead-reception of whatever is put in front of you, but an active, voracious consumption of creative works. This will renew – and inspire – you when your creative work block-time comes around again.
To recap the keys:
1) Value Creative Work
2) Build Creative Endurance
3) Practice Mental Separation
4) Seek Creative Renewal
If you practice these daily, you will not only find more time to write, the time you spend will be more productive, allowing you to accomplish more in less time. And leaving time for living life as well.