It happens more frequently than I can count: a casual conversation, the exchange
of "what do you do for a living," and then the sigh when I tell someone I am a writer. "Oh," the
other person confides, "I always wanted to write."
Mid-life is full of aspiring artists and used-to-be creatives who bemoan the loss of their
dreams, who now content themselves to play among the ashes of what could have been. The
reason they don't go for it is not, as you might suspect, money and other scarce resources. The
need to have a day job to pay for food, clothing, and shelter is not confined to any age, personal
or temporal. (Nobel Prize and Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Toni Morrison wrote in her head
while on the subway commuting to and from her job in Manhattan. Ernest Hemingway was a
newspaper reporter and foreign correspondent as he translated personal experience into novels.)
Rather, when I ask people why they don't write, paint, dance, sing, or whatever creative
verb applies, the reply is almost always the same: "I don't have time."
Time. That cruelest of thieves snatches away opportunities and quells artistic fire faster
than an editor's rejection note. It's so easy to spend an extra moment lingering over a cappuccino
and then -- wham! -- the whole day is gone with nothing to show for it except an empty coffee cup
and a few random notes and doodles.
I have found a remedy, though, that has worked in my life, allowing me to balance client
deadlines, book manuscript consulting, and my own creative writing. Time management.
Admittedly that phrase is anathema to the creative free spirit. We think it's impossible to
be creative "on demand," to put on your novelist, painter, dancer, singer hat for certain hours and
then to be a grownup with a real job the rest of the time. We cling to some fantasy-based ideal
that to be creative you must be "all in," to suffer and starve for that which you create. Well, good
luck with that -- but in the meantime, I'd suggest a little time management to do what pays the
bills while also feeding your creative side.
Admittedly, it is tough to manage it all, and I have found that too often my creativity
became subordinate to everything else I had to do. First, I needed to acknowledge that my
creativity feeds me the way nothing else can, and so I stopped ignoring its importance in my life.
Knowing that creativity is rooted in my purpose, I had no choice but to give it the attention it
deserved, without ignoring my other obligations.
Here are my top tips for time management for the creative free spirit:
- Get a calendar and use it. As anachronistic as it may seem, I use a paper calendar that enables me to spread an entire week across my desk. Day by day, I schedule time to work on various projects, especially my own.
- Give yourself some prime time. Being a self-employed writer, I am able to devote two hours on a Tuesday morning to a short story. Even if your schedule is not as flexible, you can still find time in your day and week, particularly early mornings, evenings, and weekends. Don't expect that time to appear; put it on the calendar.
- Creative time is sacred. Don't allow interruptions during your creative time. It's so easy to become sidetracked by distractions, the biggest of which is the telephone. Unless it's an emergency, don't answer.
- Stick with it. Even with three blissful hours set aside for creativity, you may tempted to investigate that strange object on the lawn (a crumpled paper bag) or to see if there is any more biscotti left in the cupboard. Each time you wander -- mentally or physically -- bring yourself back.