At the end of August I wrote about Heeding the Call to Create and promised that my next post would be about finding time to create. In the interim we went from Panic to Peace with Hurricane Irma. I also realized it’s not so much about finding time as it is about making time. So today I’m going to fulfill that August promise before September is over!
Back in 2014 when I first started a regular “writing habit” I was thoroughly convinced that I didn’t have time to write. Even though I’d been wanting to write since I was a kid and over the years I had filled dozens of tiny spiral bound notebooks with my scribbling, I kept telling myself I didn’t have time. I was too busy. I wrote on the train on the way to work. I wrote when I was sad or angry and needed to get my feelings out. But I didn’t make it a regular part of my life. It was something I wanted to do but I was too busy.
I remember the first day I sat down at my great-grandmother’s Singer foot pedal sewing machine and started writing in a full sized journal. I set a timer for 15 minutes. I could hear my son in his bedroom, probably needing my attention at that very moment. I could feel my anxiety rising as I thought about getting dinner ready. “I really don’t have time for this.” But I sat and wrote and when the timer rang I closed my journal and put it away. And then I did it again the next day. Gradually I built up a new habit. A month or so later I read The Artist’s Way and decided to start doing Morning Pages. That required more commitment than the 15 minutes a day of “Scanner” notes which I’d been doing, While Julia Cameron claimed that you could write 3 pages longhand in 20-30 minutes I found that it was more like 35-40 minutes for me. But by that time I was hooked. I started getting up at 5:30 in the morning to give myself the time to write. And it felt great. I haven’t stopped since and it’s been over 3 years of daily writing. Yes, I even wrote before, during and after the hurricane! If you’re interested in starting a regular creativity habit, read on!
The first step is awareness that this is something you really want to do. Is there something that you always tell yourself “I’ll do that when I retire”, or “When I’m on vacation I can do that, ” or perhaps it’s “When the kids grow up”? It might not feel like a step in the right direction, but simply admitting to ourselves that there’s something that we want to do FOR ourselves is a big deal. The idea of writing regularly had been with me for several years before I started doing it. What’s been tickling the edges of your consciousness for months or even years?
The next step is looking closely at your current time commitments. Those fifteen minutes between homework and dinner didn’t seem like much time but they were enough to get me started. Fifteen minutes was the most I could commit to when I first started. And since my goal was to write by hand it was important to start small. If you don’t use those muscles they get sore! If you’re telling yourself you can’t find fifteen minutes in your day take a closer look. Do you use Facebook? Instagram or other social media? Do you watch television? I don’t want you to stop reading, because I believe the suggestions in this post can help you find time for your own creative practice, but you’re online right now. Get really honest with yourself about how you spend your time. You may even want to track how much time you spend online using a tool like Checky or Moment. I was surprised to read that people are spending up to 23 hours a week online and texting in this Business News Daily article.
Another way that we convince ourselves that we don’t have enough time is by doing things for other people that they could be doing themselves. This happens most often when we have children who will happily absorb all of our time if we allow it. Setting limits and sticking to them may seem hard or unfair. However, in the long run if you’re being unfair to yourself, you may become resentful. Let your children do some of the things you’re doing for them and give them the satisfaction of gaining independence. Another way our time gets absorbed is by taking care of a loved one who is elderly or has health issues. Ask for help if you need it and take some time for yourself. Otherwise you’ll burn out and may end up with stress related health issues yourself.
Some of us (I’m not guilty of this one) also spend a lot of our free time cleaning house. When it’s all said and done do you want to be the one with the sparkling toilet or would you rather have made a beautiful painting, written a poem or story, or participated in a community theater project?
Finally, look at how much time you’re spending on work and determine if it’s a wise investment. One of my clients was staying well beyond the eight hours a day she was being paid for AND working on weekends. She wasn’t being paid overtime and the company didn’t demonstrate any appreciation for her extra effort. When she stopped spending more than 40 hours and started taking back her time, her life improved and now she’s dreaming of what she really wants to do. If you’re putting in a lot of extra hours or obsessing about your work even when you’re not physically doing it, please pause to consider why and what you could be doing instead.
Starting a new habit can be challenging and sticking with it can be even harder. I loved the suggestions in B.J. Fogg’s Tiny Habits TED Talk and it helped me to make writing part of my life. Start very small, tie it to an “anchor” behavior which is something you always do (like brushing your teeth), and reward yourself when you do it, even if it’s only to give yourself a “high five” in the mirror! The reward might be something intangible like the great feeling you get from knowing you’re creating something important to you. You can keep your habit in place by putting in on your schedule. I write my creative times on my calendar, just like a regular appointment and I stick to it. On those rare occasions when “Morning Pages” become “Evening Pages” I still know I’ve accomplished my creative goal for the day. You can also check off your creative goals from a “to do” list and it’s satisfying to see those check marks adding up.
Another step in developing a creative habit and making it part of your life is accountability. I was initially very shy about my writing but I joined an online group (which has since dissolved) led by Courtney Carver. The members of the group supported one another in our writing endeavors and provided feedback. If you tell someone else that you’re going to blog every two weeks or write in your journal every day or paint for 15 minutes a day it helps to have someone to check in with. This can be a friend who will cheer you on or you can look for a group. There are groups on Instagram that have challenges to post a creative project daily for a week, a month, 100 days or even a year. Depending on what your creative output and commitment is you can can always find inspiration and support for your goals. Just don’t fall victim to “compare and despair” and feel that your work isn’t as good as someone else’s work! And yes, I realize I just recommended cutting down the amount of time spent online but it is a way to find encouragement and support.
For some people investing in their creative habit will help make it stick. I joined a class on children’s writing led by Jon Bard called “It’s Your Time” and the fact that I had paid for the class was a good incentive for me to continue writing. You can also work with a coach who will help you through all of the steps, from being aware of your creative calling, to making time for it, developing it into a consistent practice, and providing accountability for you to continue.
Is there something in your life that’s calling you to create? Please share in the comments. Start with a few minutes a day, you never know where it might lead you… And now I’m going to paint for a few minutes before I start preparing dinner!